Sleep eludes many of us. In fact, more than one-third of American adults report having insufficient sleep, according to the most recent CDC data.
In severe cases, as with diagnosed insomnia, medication may be needed, but most of the time, getting a good night’s rest just means unlearning bad habits and finding ways to wind down from our 24/7 lifestyles.
There are various ways we can lull ourselves to sleep the natural way, without any negative side effects or dependence on narcotics. Try these different tactics on their own or all at once — create a special night-time routine that works for you.
Drink Natural Herbal Teas
Resources that the Earth provides — like herbal teas — can be just as effective as man-made medications.
Valerian tea, for example, derived from the perennial flowering plant, is a natural sedative that helps you fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality.
Chamomile tea is rich in antioxidants, particularly one called apigenin, which binds to specific receptors in your brain that eases anxiety and calms you.
Passionflower tea is another tonic traditionally used to alleviate anxiety and promote sleep.
Even the act of sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a book (not on a tech device!) in bed, can be soothing enough to start making those eyelids weigh heavier, and heavier.
Breathe in Essential Oils
The power of smell and the memories and emotions it can evoke is hard to deny. Practitioners of aromatherapy use essential oils derived from plants to manipulate our sense of smell, and its connection to the brain, to naturally alter our moods.
Specific scents such as lavender, clary sage, chamomile, sweet marjoram and bergamot all have a calming effect, and you can even find essential oil blends that use these different essences together.
Diluting your essential oils using an at-home air diffuser can really set the mood for bedtime relaxation.
You know that moment after completing a gentle yet satisfying yoga sequence, and you’re lying in savasana and you feel yourself drifting off? Yoga before bed is an effective way to get out of your head and literally tire out the body so that you’re just aching to rest.
If you typically work out in the morning, because exercise energizes you that’s OK, too. You’ll still feel the effects of exercise later on at night, when your muscles are regenerating and the body wants to rest in order to recuperate.
Various studies have shown the positive relationship between exercise and better sleep, although people with chronic insomnia might need to exercise regularly in the long-term to see any changes.
Find Your Zen Through Meditation
We could be as tired as ever as we climb into bed, but it can be hard to quiet down our brains and shut off our racing thoughts. To combat this, meditation has been widely practiced — and we’re talking since antiquity — and used to promote mindfulness and mental clarity.
There are different traditions and practices of meditation, but the most basic one involves slowly breathing in and out, focusing on the breathing. Your mind will inevitably wander, but if you gently nudge it towards your breathing again, you’ll get better and better at clearing your mind and staying in the present moment.
With regular practice before bed, your thoughts won’t feel so cluttered, and you’ll start to feel a noticeable difference in decreased stress and anxiety. If you’re inexperienced, start off small, with a five minute meditation practice and eventually work your way up to 20 minutes. There are plenty of apps that can walk you through this.
Set the Tone With Ambient Music or White Noise
Like our sense of smell, sound can be just as powerful in altering our moods.
A repetitive but soft, soothing sound, like the sound of a fan going or a white noise machine, or something more natural, like pattering rain or crashing waves, might just be what you need to fall asleep at night.
Music is also therapeutic.
A study out of Hong Kong found that participants who listened to music for 30 minutes before bed, set at tempos between 60 to 80 beats per minute (our approximate heart rate when sleeping), reported falling asleep more quickly. Keep this in mind when choosing your bedtime playlist — house music or raging rock might not be the best lullaby.
Keep It Dim
A big reason why many of us have trouble falling asleep at night is our addiction to our devices, which emit blue light. This artificial light shining from our phones, computers and tablets can mimic the effect sunlight normally has on a person — disrupting our natural circadian rhythm and making us alert and awake.
To help you fall asleep, shut off your devices or put on “Do Not Disturb Mode” a couple hours before bedtime. Not only will this decrease the amount of distractions at night, but it will help ease your body into sleep mode. If you do need to look at your screen before bed, use blue-light blocking glasses or change the screen settings on your phone and computer to night time mode.
To take it one step further, decrease the amount of bright lighting that you are exposed to while getting ready for bed. Use a dim, red light, such as a Himalayan salt lamp, which are used to naturally improve air quality and help you sleep.
Create a Nighttime Ritual
At the end of the day, give yourself some time — you’ve earned it — and create your very own nighttime ritual.
You’ll be sending signals to your body and mind that it is time to sleep.
You might start by taking off your makeup, shutting off all your devices and turning on your essential oil diffuser. As you go through your steps and doing things that are only relaxing and therapeutic, you’re essentially training the body and mind to switch to sleep mode.
Climb into bed, in your comfiest pajamas, and sip on a warm cup of chamomile tea as you read a book or meditate for 10 minutes.
And, then, let the sleep just take you away.