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14 Natural Remedies To Beat Insomnia

Plus Tips to Get a Better Night's Rest

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Updated April 04, 2014

Man sleeping in bed Yellow Dog Productions/Photodisc/Getty Images

Although it's common to have the occasional sleepless night, insomnia is the inability to sleep or excessive wakening in the night that impairs daily functioning. Here are 14 natural remedies that may help:

1) Melatonin

Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions. A naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain, melatonin is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night. It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag. 

Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia, according to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research. In the double-blind study involving 170 adults with primary insomnia, timed-release melatonin was effective in reducing sleep latency (time to sleep) and improving sleep quality without withdrawal effects. Another study found that low doses (0.1-0.3mg nightly) appear to be as effective as higher doses (3-5mg nightly).

In most studies on melatonin for insomnia in older adults, melatonin was taken up to 2 hours before bedtime for up to 8 weeks. The timing is important - when melatonin is taken in the morning, it delays circadian rhythms, but advances them when taken in the afternoon or early evening.

MORE: What You Need to Know About Melatonin.

2) Meditation

A regular meditation practice may help to promote sleep by slowing breathing and reducing stress hormone levels. Meditation is a technique that involves consciously directing one's attention to an object of focus, such as breathing or a sound or word, in order to increase awareness of the present, relaxing the body, and calming the mind. Some types of meditation include guided meditation, vispassana meditation, yoga nidra, or body scan. Also try:

  • Visualization: Involves actively imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed for 20 minutes before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
  • Relaxation Response: A mind/body response that occurs after following specific instructions patterned closely after Transcendental Meditation. Learn how to elicit the Relaxation Response.
  • Mindfulness: A type of meditation that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present. Learn mindfulness.

Early evidence suggests that meditation techniques may improve sleep, however further research is needed. According to a study evaluating the effects of a weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction group in adolescents, the six-session group treatment resulted in longer sleep, fewer awakenings, and improved quality of sleep. 

MORE: Meditation for Better Sleep

3) Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestion. Although how it works is not understood, hypnosis may bring about physiological changes in the body such as decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and alpha wave brain patterns, similar to meditation and other types of deep relaxation. 

Several preliminary studies suggest that hypnosis may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep duration and sleep quality.  

MORE: Hypnosis for Sleep

4) Aromatherapy

The scent of the aromatherapy oil English lavender has long been used as a folk remedy to help people fall asleep. It is one of the most soothing essential oils. Preliminary research suggests that lavender essential oil may lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and help people feel refreshed in the morning. It appears to work better for women, possibly because women tend to have a more acute sense of smell.

Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow or place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief. Or add several drops of lavender oil to a bath -- the drop in body temperature after a warm bath also helps with sleep. Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are chamomile and ylang ylang.

MORE: Aromatherapy for Sleep

5) Light Exposure

If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning. Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.  

On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning or have advanced sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light late afternoon and could try taking a walk outdoors or light therapy for 2 to 3 hours in the evening. Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist.

6) Food and Diet

  • Limit Your Intake Of Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine - Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine. Alcohol consumption can result in nighttime wakefulness.
  • Cut Back on Sugar - Although sugar can give a burst of energy, it's short-lived and can cause uneven blood sugar levels. This can disrupt sleep in the middle of the night as blood sugar levels fall.
  • Eat Foods That Help You Sleep - ​Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat carbohydrate snacks such as whole grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6, found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas, which enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan. 
  • Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods - ​The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast, and whole grains. In addition to including these whole foods in your diet, you can also try juicing dark leafy green vegetables.

7) Yoga

A system of relaxation, breathing, exercise and healing with origins in Indian philosophy, yoga has been described as the union of mind, body, and spirit. According to a small pilot study that examined the use of kundalini yoga in the treatment of insomnia, there was significant improvement in sleep efficiency, sleep time, number of awakenings, and quality of sleep after eight weekly 30-minute sessions. 

8) Vitex Agnus Castus

The herb vitex agnus castus (chaste tree) may help insomnia during menstrual periods or insomnia that is a side effect of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In one study, women with moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome were treated with either a vitex agnus castus extract or a placebo for three menstrual cycles. Participants were asked to document their symptoms with a PMS diary with a daily rating scale of 17 symptoms. All of the symptoms, except for lower abdominal cramping, improved with the symptoms of insomnia and negative affect showing notable improvement.

MORE: How Vitex Helps PMS

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