Sleep may elude us for many reasons: pain, depression, anxiety, too much light or noise, hot flashes or jet lag. Finding and treating the underlying cause of sleep problems can be very effective and often does not require medications with side effects. But regardless of cause, some tips can help nearly anyone with sleep problems. Here are few of my go-to treatments.
- Some people have difficulty staying asleep because their blood sugar drops while they are sleeping. An easy fix is to eat a handful of nuts, especially walnuts, before bed. This will provide healthy fat and protein to help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, especially if you have insomnia or anxiety. Some people metabolize caffeine much more slowly than others, which means it can still be in the blood stream when you are trying to go to bed.
- Aerobic exercise during the day can help improve sleep quality, even if it is just 20 to 30 minutes.
- Exercising shortly before bed, however, may make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Herbs such as lavender, hops, lemon balm and passionflower can be used to gently ease you into a sleepy state. These herbs are available in capsule, tincture and tea forms and can be purchase at your local supplement or natural foods store.
Nutrients and Minerals
- L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which plays an important role in sleep. Taking one to two grams with a small carbohydrate snack (but without protein) is the most effective way to use L-tryptophan. If you are taking anti-depressant medication, consult with your doctor before taking L-tryptophan.
- Magnesium can be helpful for sleep, especially if you have muscle tension or restless leg syndrome. The usual dose is about 300 mg per day.
- Make sure your bedroom is completely dark. This is important for melatonin production, which help regulate sleep and wake cycles.
- Keep cell phones out of the room or far away from the bed and have as few gadgets plugged in as possible. There is evidence that electromagnetic fields from cell phones and other electronics interfere with sleep patterns.
- Give yourself an hour with no screen time (computer, TV, etc.) before bed.
- Consider wearing ear plugs or getting a white noise machine to deal with noisy surroundings.
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- In traditional Chinese medicine, different conditions in the body correlate with specific sleep issues, such as difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently or waking too early. These can be treated with acupuncture and/or Chinese herbs.
- Acupuncture can also be great for relaxation, which helps promote sleep.
— Lela Altman, ND, LAc, naturopathic doctor and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.