Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. Insomnia is a common complaint and can be caused by a variety of reasons. A naturopathic physician can help to identify the possible obstacles to a good night’s sleep and make recommendations to optimize sleep quality through an extensive toolkit of options. First and foremost, establishing a good sleep hygiene routine is crucial to healthy sleep/wake cycles. Here are some basic tips I recommend patients follow to help optimize sleep:
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Develop a routine that helps you wind down and relax before bed, such as taking a warm bath, drinking sleepy time tea, reading a book, or listening to calming music.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Use blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary.
- Limit exposure to screens before bedtime: The blue light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with sleep. Avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can disrupt sleep, so it’s best to avoid them before bedtime. Caffeine should be avoided for at least 10 hours before bedtime for some people.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can improve sleep quality, but it’s best to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
- Manage stress: Stress and anxiety can interfere with sleep. Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to help manage stress.
- Light exposure: Exposure to natural light is an important factor in regulating our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Daily exposure to natural light first thing in the morning can help to signal to our bodies that it’s time to wake up and start the day. By getting outside or exposing yourself to natural light as soon as possible in the morning, you can help to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep later on. In the darker months of the Pacific Northwest, I often recommend the use of a full spectrum lamp in the mornings.
If you’re still struggling to get a good night’s sleep, there are natural sleep aids you can try to help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Here are some of the most common natural sleep aids I’ve found effective in my patient population:
- Lavender essential oil: Lavender has been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. You can try diffusing lavender essential oil in your bedroom during the evening hours, or add a few drops to your pillow or a warm bath. I also incorporate lavender in supplement form, when appropriate.
- Theanine: Theanine is an amino acid that is found in tea leaves, particularly green tea. Theanine is a natural sleep aid that can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality without causing drowsiness the next day.
- Magnolia Bark Extract: Magnolia bark extract is a natural supplement that is derived from the bark of the magnolia tree. Magnolia bark extract has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with sleep. By reducing stress and anxiety, magnolia bark extract can help promote better sleep quality.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used in traditional Indian medicine for centuries to promote health and well-being. It has a number of potential health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving cognitive function, and boosting immune function. Regarding sleep, ashwagandha can help reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, increase GABA levels, and regulate the sleep-wake cycle, enhancing more quality sleep.
- Melatonin supplements: Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep. Taking a melatonin supplement before bedtime can help improve sleep quality, especially if you have trouble falling asleep. If the problem involves frequent nighttime waking, slow-release melatonin may be a more effective option.
- Magnesium supplements: Magnesium is a mineral that can help promote relaxation and calmness, which can lead to better sleep. It is also helpful for stress, headaches, muscle aches and restless leg syndrome.
- Valerian root: Valerian root is an herb that has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Valerian root supplements can be taken before bedtime.
- Passionflower: Passionflower is another nervine herb that has been shown to promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. It is thought to work by increasing the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a neurotransmitter that helps to calm the nervous system.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, is a water-soluble vitamin that is involved in a variety of bodily functions, including the production of neurotransmitters and the regulation of sleep-wake cycles. Vitamin B6 can help promote relaxation, increase serotonin and melatonin levels, reduce symptoms of restless leg syndrome, and regulate circadian rhythms.
As you can see, there are a variety of natural options for sleep support that can help promote relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality. It’s important to note that while these natural sleep aids are generally safe, it’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplements or herbs, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication. A naturopathic physician can help guide the use of these therapies and understands which are safe to be used together or in combination with other medicines.