Sleep is an essential part of life, because as organisms, we have certain limitations. We need to give our organ systems time to rest, recover, process nutrients, build up energy, heal, and generally power down. The complex activities of being alive can be very exhausting, and sleep is the body’s natural way of recovering from the stress and demands of life. That being said, regardless of what our bodies need, sometimes we are unable to fall asleep ruselting in insomnia.
What is Insomnia?
The condition called insomnia, or sleeplessness, and there are a number of different types, including medications, stress, bedroom behavior, chronic conditions, depression, hormonal imbalance, irregular activity, excess stimulation, food, drugs and alcohol, and other outside factors. The official definition of insomnia is when someone is unable to fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to get undisturbed, restful, and restorative sleep more than twice per week for a period of at least three weeks. Beyond that definition, the condition can be broken down to primary, psychological, idiopathic, and paradoxical insomnia, which have different characteristics. If you are experiencing intense signs of insomnia or sleeplessness, speak to a doctor for further information about the specifics of insomnia variations.
To reduce signs of insomnia, it is important to recognize what the main causes of your symptoms are, and then proceed to fix them more effectively. For many people, the symptoms last for only a night at a time, in which case home remedies can be effective. For others, the symptoms might be recurring, and that is the case where we begin to label the problem as “insomnia”. Sleeplessness can have a wide range of negative effects on the body, and if unchecked, can become dangerous and even fatal, particularly through indirect causation. For example, people who do not get sufficient amounts of sleep are far more likely to become depressed, chronically anxious, or develop mental deficiencies. Also, they are at higher risk for heart disease, as well as natural accidents at home, at work, or while driving/traveling due to exhaustion. In terms of general happiness, they are more likely to be unproductive, despondent, and enjoy life considerably less, as though they are always halfway between sleep and waking.
There are a number of home remedies for insomnia; some of them are behavioral, while others are more traditional “treatments” or activities. All of them are beneficial in various cases, it simply depends on which approach works for you! A comprehensive list and explanation can be found below:
Behavioral Changes to Improve Sleep
Alcohol and Nicotine
When people are experiencing sleeplessness or insomnia, many of them choose to turn to alcohol or nicotine, either to induce sleep or to get a boost of energy following a bout of insomnia or a sleepless night. This is a poor choice, as these both have negative health effects over the long term, and it is only a temporary remedy. It increases the negative cycle of sleeplessness and can actually exacerbate the problem by forcing your body to be awake or tired when the other chemicals in your body are urging you not to be. This internal struggle is a stress on your body. By cutting these out of your routine, particularly in the afternoon or evening, your body can naturally get back on the right schedule. Specialists suggest no caffeine or alcohol after 2pm, and removing that crutch can help your body get back to normal! Alcohol related insomnia is also more prevalent in women, so be extra careful depending on your gender. Nicotine consumption and subsequent withdrawal, even over a short term, can result in insomnia.
Late Night Eating
If you eat 2-3 hours before going to bed, it can stimulate your body to stay awake, since your body will naturally want to metabolize and digest the food. If you are going to eat something, try to avoid refined carbohydrates and excessive sugar, since they can act as a stimulant and can increase the “fight or flight” response in the body by boosting adrenaline or cortisol levels. If you are going to eat, try complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, bread, or whole grain cereals. These can regulate your glucose level in a normal way and stimulate the secretion of serotonin in the body, which is a beneficial neurotransmitter that creates a feeling of happiness or relaxation. Serotonin is then converted to melatonin in the brain, a known sleep-inducing agent.
Being active before bed is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly sexual activities, since they can release serotonin and other sleep-inducing chemicals in the body, but intense exertion is not recommended. Your body needs time to wind down from your high-energy activities of the day, and having a definite change in the daily cycle will help get your body in a normal circadian rhythm that incorporates healthy, restful sleep as a normal part of your daily routine.
There is an old adage that says not to ever go to bed mad, and it turns out to be true. Being overly mentally stimulated can keep your mind working while it is trying to relax and get to a rested state. Cliff-hanger books, action packed movies, fighting with your spouse, or engaging in very intense or stimulating conversation right before bed can increase your neural activity and inhibit the effects of sleep-inducing hormones and chemicals that will help you sleep.
Specialists have long proposed sexual activity as a healthy way to induce sleep. It is known to eliminate anxiety, and the release of chemicals and endorphins during the act of lovemaking can have a generally calming and stress-reducing effect on the body. Endorphins have a soothing and calming effect on the body, and help thousands of people to fall asleep naturally. If you have a partner or a spouse, sexual activity may be your best option for that last push towards sleep if you are struggling with insomnia.
No matter how comfortable your couch may be on a lazy Sunday afternoon, avoid taking naps if you find yourself suffering from chronic insomnia or sleeplessness. This disruption of your normal sleep pattern can train your body to be tired during the day and alert at night, exacerbating the tendency to be awake when you want to be sleeping. Napping is also habit-forming, and can be one of the most difficult routines to break once it is solidified in your normal circadian rhythm.
It is important to organize your bedroom behavior to two things, sleeping and sexual activity. Your mind is powerful, and will begin to associate the bedroom space with other activities like stimulating conversation, television, reading, or eating meals if you do these things regularly. Don’t let your mind build those alternative neural connections and pathways, which can be confusing when your body is finally ready to go to sleep!
Music and Aural Stimulation
Many people who suffer from insomnia find relief from listening to music, although hard rock and high-energy music is not the best path. Soothing, relaxing music like soft jazz, and music without lyrics or words is usually recommended, since it can induce a relaxed state in the mind. Many people who suffer from insomnia are hypersensitive to stimulation around them, so silence can almost be deafening, and they focus on every creak and whisper of noise, not allowing their mind to relax. Try music, and see if it can lull you to sleep.
Bore Yourself to Sleep
The brain might be smart, and prefers to stay active, but you can trick your own mind into boring itself to sleep by trying to focus on things which aren’t interesting to you. Think about the local business leaders of your town, government regulation, or other traditionally boring subjects to which your mind will begin to daydream away from, and be too bored to actually remain active, thereby inducing sleep.
Build A Sleep Schedule
Life can be unpredictable, but if you are struggling with insomnia and sleeplessness, then do your best to build a sleep schedule that you can consistently stick to. The variation that we force our bodies to account for, like binge drinking, late nights, early mornings, all-nighters, lazy weekends, and every other variance in our behavior is a confusing mix. To establish a reliable circadian rhythm for sleep, do your best to find the schedule that is realistic for your life, and also has some sort of consistency to it so your body can try to figure out exactly what it is expected to do.
Home Remedies For Insomnia
Home Remedies for Insomnia are as follows:
The debate on acupuncture in treating insomnia continues to go back and forth, and although certain studies claim to be inconclusive, thousands of years of tradition and numerous modern medical studies point towards acupuncture as a legitimate solution. Abdominal acupuncture is specifically useful for women, and depending on what your underlying cause of insomnia may be, different types of acupuncture are recommended. Speak to an authorized acupuncturist for further details and an examination of your needs for that specific type of remedy. Some of acupuncture’s effects appear to be psychosomatic, but whatever the reason, if it helps you get to sleep, it is probably a good thing!
Many naturopathic practitioners suggest hot baths with Epsom salts before bed to induce sleep and relaxation. The relaxing nature of the warm bath, combined with the privacy, is believed to stimulate the release of various endorphins in the body that result in natural sleep. Asian cultures commonly utilize baths before going to bed, and those that do this regularly show a greatly reduced appearance of insomnia.
One of the most widely used and well studied solutions to insomnia is aromatherapy. The inhalation of vapors from certain essential oils and plant materials can stimulate hormonal activity and chemical releases in the body which can regulate your sleep schedule. There are dozens of relevant aromatherapy techniques that can positively affect your sleep patterns, and millions of people find relief from this approach. Learn more about the health benefits of essential oils here!
Although, as we explained earlier, excessive sugar can act as a stimulant, small amounts of sugar can actively regulate your insulin level and induce the release of tryptophan, which then stimulates the release of serotonin. This natural cycle of sugars is well known to cause sleep, on the smaller scale of a sugar high and subsequent “crash”. A piece of candy, or some honey in milk can do the trick, and if you are lying down when that chemical “crash” occurs, then your body can drift off into peaceful, natural sleep.
Melatonin and Magnesium
Melatonin is basically a timekeeper for your internal schedule, and it will tell you when your body is ready to go to sleep. As we mentioned earlier, a small amount of milk and honey can help you get to sleep, but not only because of the sugar in honey. Milk not only has tryptophan in it, but the calcium in milk helps the brain make tryptophan, the chemical that stimulates serotonin and eventually melatonin to be released in the body. This is why a warm glass of milk is so common in traditional solutions for insomnia!
Magnesium accomplishes the same goals as calcium, but it approaches the problem differently. Magnesium causes a reduction in speed of nerve impulses and thereby induces a relaxed or low-activity level. It is also responsible for reducing the presence of stress hormones in the body, so it relaxes our muscles, calms our nerves, and eases us into a state where sleep can occur. Magnesium supplements can be easily acquired, or food with high magnesium levels like leafy green vegetables, beans, lentils, brown rice, and certain types of fish like halibut have high magnesium content.
Melatonin is a very important hormone in the regulation of sleep, but it is not the only one. Hormonal imbalance can result in all sorts of challenges to establishing circadian rhythms, disruption of organ systems, and a general state of unrest in the body. Managing your hormonal levels through the proper intake of essential vitamins and minerals is one of the best ways to make sure your endocrine system is functioning normally. Speak to a doctor about regulating your hormones naturally with food and supplements if necessary.
A Final Word on Insomnia
Sleeplessness is a serious problem that affects millions of people every day. You can take control of your sleep if you actively try to change your behavior and mentality regarding rest. Before you make any drastic changes, or start any of these home remedies, be sure to speak with a doctor to make sure the causes are not something more serious, since some forms of insomnia are manifestations of dangerous or potentially fatal conditions that need appropriate medical attention.