How to Sleep Better Naturally

Four Methods:Improving Your Sleep HygieneFinding the Right HerbsUsing Herbs and SupplementsPracticing Relaxation Techniques

Everyone has had a night when they couldn’t get to sleep or when they couldn’t stay asleep. Newborns sleep 16 to 18 hours every day, which decreases as we get older, to the point where teenagers require nine to 10 hours every day and adults need seven to eight hours a day.[1] While sleeping problems are common, if you find these problems continue night after night, there are a number of approaches you can take. There are ways to practice good sleep hygiene and use herbs and supplements that will safely and gently help you get to, and stay, asleep.

Method 1
Improving Your Sleep Hygiene

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    Exercise. One way to help you be more tired at the end of the day is exercise. It helps burn off energy and tire you out, with the added bonus of helping your burn calories. It also helps energize you right after you work out, which gives you an extra push during the day. Plus, the tiredness from the exertion comes on later in the day to help you sleep better at night.
    • Never work out two or three hours before bed. This kind of activity that late is too stimulating for your body and will keep you up.[2]
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    Limit other activities in your bed. To improve your sleeping situation, you need to improve your sleep hygiene, which is a series of steps that help you get regular and restful sleep. Make sure you limit activities in your bed that don't relate to it. This means you should only use your bed for sleep and sexual activity.
    • Avoid watching TV or reading in bed, because your body will start associating wakeful activities with your bed, which can interrupt your sleep patterns.[3]
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    Avoid certain foods and drinks. One reason your body may not be falling asleep is because it is working overtime to digest food. Because of this, don't eat anything heavy at least two hours before you go to bed. Your body will still be digesting it, which can make you have more energy and cause sleeplessness.
    • Also avoid caffeine, especially late at night. For some people, caffeine should be stopped after noon. For others, a little later in the afternoon is fine, but make sure you avoid it at night.[4]
    • If you are hungry and need to eat close to bedtime, try foods that have tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce sleep inducing brain chemicals. These include milk, yogurt, oats, bananas, eggs, peanuts, tuna, and poultry. A small bowl of cereal, for example, is a great snack to eat close to bedtime that may help induce sleep instead of keep you up.[5]
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    Cut down on light. To help you sleep, you should avoid letting too much light into your room. Exposure to light decreases the production of melatonin, a hormone that encourages sleep that is stimulated in the dark. If you have too much light, your melatonin levels will stay low, which may cause sleeplessness.
    • This light can also be from electronic devices. Avoid too much exposure to light in the hour or two leading up to bedtime. [6]
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    Create a proper sleep environment. Sleeping requires a comfortable bed and bedroom. This can vary from person to person, but common things that contribute to comfortable bedrooms are cozy sheets and comforters, proper pillows, and comfortable pajamas. Since you are enveloped in these things when you sleep, any irritation from them can disrupt your sleep cycle.
    • Temperature control is also important when sleeping. If you are too hot or too cold, you may have a hard time sleeping. Find the right temperature for you.
    • Noise also causes uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. If you live in a noisy area or have noisy roommates, use earplugs or soft, calming music to block out annoying and loud sounds.[7]
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    Maintain a sleep routine. Every day, follow a routine for going to bed and waking up. This will help your body get used to the activities and make your sleeping patterns more regular. The routine can be anything that works well for you. Activities such as reading, washing your face and teeth, changing into your pajamas, preparing tomorrow’s lunch, sitting outside for awhile, or practicing relaxation techniques are common in nighttime routines. Try a few combinations to see what works best for you.
    • Whatever routine you choose, make sure it isn't too stimulating and that you associate it in your mind with sleeping and rest.[8]
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    Avoid frustration. When you can't go to sleep, you may get annoyed and frustrated. Try not to, because this will only make it harder for your to go to sleep. If you don’t fall asleep right when you get into bed, don’t fight it. Just get our of bed and do some part of your routine or something else relaxing that might help you move towards sleep.
    • In these moments, avoid eating a midnight snack, doing anything too stimulating like video games or exercise, or working yourself up because you can't sleep. The point is to relax in order to move closer to sleep, not move your farther from it.[9]
    • A glass of warm milk may help calm you down, both from the warmth and the tryptophan.[10]

Method 2
Finding the Right Herbs

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    Try valerian root. Valerian root is a mild herbal sedative that has been in use for over two thousand years. Sedatives helps you get to sleep quicker and improves the quality of your sleep.[11] It is available in supplements as well as tea, though valerian tea is an acquired taste. When you make this tea, add a bit of honey, cinnamon, cloves, or lemon to improve the taste.
    • If you take any medications, talk to your doctor first about using valerian root. Children under the age of three should not use it and it can interact with many prescription medicines, including those for anxiety and depression.[12]
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    Take passionflower. Passionflower, also known as passiflora, is an herb originally from South America and was historically used by the Aztecs. It works by reducing anxiety. When ingested, it is easy to eat because it is light and tasty.[13] It can lower blood pressure, so if you take blood pressure medications, talk to your physician first.
    • Do not use passionflower if you are pregnant. It may induce uterine contractions.[14]
    • Passionflower has never been medically tested for use in children. However, it has been used traditionally for children throughout history. Ask your doctor before giving it to your child.[15]
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    Use chamomile. Chamomile has a calming effect and lessens anxiety.[16] Chamomile can be German or Roman, and either can be used. This herb has been used for generations to promote sleep, but no current clinical trials are available to prove its effectiveness.
    • Avoid chamomile if you are pregnant. It may cause a miscarriage.
    • Children can drink chamomile tea, but dilute it with more water. Make a cup with half water, half tea to dilute it for children.
    • Ask your doctor about chamomile if you are on any prescription medications. Chamomile may interact with them.[17]
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    Try kava kava. Kava kava, sometime called just kava, is a mildly hypnotic herb from Polynesia. It has been used for years and years to help with anxiety.[18] There has been some controversy regarding its safety, but the concerns dealt with the supplements, not the tea. Because of this, only use kava kava as a tea, because there are not the same safety concerns.
    • If you take prescription medications, ask your doctor before taking kava because it may interact with them.[19][20]
    • It’s safety has not been studied in women who are pregnant or nursing or for anyone younger than 18 years old. Do not try it without specific care and instruction from your doctor if you fall into these categories.
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    Take lemon balm. Lemon balm helps you sleep and lowers anxiety. Although it can be used by many people, it should not be used by anyone with an overactive thyroid or anyone who is pregnant.[21]
    • Lemon balm carries the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status in the US.
    • For children three years and older, give them lemon balm in tea, but make sure to dilute it. It should be a 50/50 mix with water.[22]
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    Use withania. Withania, also known as ashwaganda, is an Indian herb that helps induce sleep, treats anxiety, and is used as a general tonic.[23] It can interact with diabetes and high blood pressure medication, so discuss taking this herb with your doctor if you take these medications.
    • Traditionally, withania is given to children in milk at half the amount adults usually take.[24]

Method 3
Using Herbs and Supplements

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    Make herbs into tea. No matter which herbs you pick, you can make them into a tea. Start by boiling water on the stove. While it heats up, add one teaspoon of loose dried herbs or one tablespoon of fresh herbs to a mug of boiled water. Let the herbs steep in the hot water for five to 10 minutes.
    • Once the herbs are steeped, strain the leaves out. You can add a little honey or lemon if you want to sweeten the tea.
    • You can also buy many herbal teas as prepackaged bags as well. Each tea bag makes a mug of tea.
    • For herbal teas, reputable companies include Alvita and Traditional Medicinals. For loose teas, try Mountain Rose Herbs or Gaia Herbs.
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    Buy the right supplements. If use the herbs in supplement form, try to ensure you buy quality supplements by buying only organic supplements, checking to make sure the expiration date is far off, and looking for correct contact information for the manufacturer. When you buy, also make sure the bottle has a seal of approval from the Natural Products Association (NPA), Consumer Labs, or the US Pharmacopeia (USP). These companies regulate supplements and help keep them safe.
    • You also want to make sure the manufacturer follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which means you will likely need to do some research.[25][26][27]
    • Always follow manufacturer’s instructions for any supplement you take.
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    Make an herbal sleep sachet. To help you sleep, try making a herb sachet. To start, measure ½ cup of hops, chamomile flowers, lavender flowers, and lemon balm into a bowl and mix them together. Pour the mixture into a small cloth bag or small pillow case. Tie it off and place it next to the pillow.
    • This method is extremely useful for children as well.[28]
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    Use herbal essential oils. To help you sleep, you can use herbal essential oils. Try a warm foot bath by adding one to two drops of chamomile or lavender essential oils into warm, but not hot, water. Put your feet in the oil infused water to let the scents and oil calm you.
    • You can also make an herbal balm. Mix one to two drops of chamomile or lavender essential oil to one ounce of shea butter or caster oil. Mix it together well and place a small amount of the balm on your temples.
    • These two treatments have been very effective with children.[29]
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    Take melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally creates when you aren't exposed to too much light. Considered the sleep hormone, melatonin helps regulate your sleep cycles.[30] If you feel you aren't producing enough on you own, or if you are looking for a non-habit forming sleep aid, melatonin may be a good choice for you.
    • Melatonin may interact with some prescription medications. It also should not be taken if you are pregnant or nursing.
    • Do not use more than 1 to 3 mg of melatonin nightly, unless your doctor instructs you to do so.
    • As a non-supplement alternative, a glass of tart cherry juice has been shown to increase the amount of melatonin in your system.[31]
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    Try 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). 5-HTP is used by the body to make serotonin, which is involved in helping your sleep. Taking supplements of it can help increase the production of serotonin, which will help you get to sleep better. Do not take more than 50 to 100 mg nightly, unless you are directed to do so by your doctor.
    • 5-HTP is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.[32]

Method 4
Practicing Relaxation Techniques

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    Try deep breathing. One thing that can help you get better sleep is to be more relaxed when you go to bed. If you can't achieve this on your own, there is a deep breathing technique you can try to help you sleep. Start flat on your back with pillows under your neck and knees in a comfortable arrangement. Place your hands, palms down, right below your rib cage on your stomach area with your fingers touching. Take a large, slow, and deep breath in through your belly using your diaphragm, which pulls more air into your lungs. Your fingers will separate if you are doing it correctly. Do 10 to 12 repetitions.
    • If you aren't breathing through your diaphragm, keep trying until you do. Many people breath into their chest normally, which causes your shoulders to move up instead.
    • You may experience some dizziness at first, but this is common. The increase in oxygen can make you lightheaded. If you feel like you are going to pass out or are uncomfortable, stop and rest a moment before you repeat the exercise again.
    • If you want to make your diaphragm stronger, try a humming breath. This variation follows deep breathing, but adds a humming noise with your mouth as you exhale. [33]
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    Do Chinese breathing exercises. If deep breathing doesn't relax you, try Chinese breathing exercises. Start in a comfortable seated position. Then take one short breath in through your nose, exhaling as you lift your arms in front of you at shoulder level. Take another short breath through your nose, moving your arms to the side while remaining at shoulder level. On your third short breath through your nose, lift your arms over your head. Repeat the cycle 10 to 12 times.
    • If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, stop this exercise immediately. Return your breathing to normal and let the feelings subside before trying again.[34]
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    Use progressive muscle relaxation. Aside from breathing exercises, there are muscle relaxation techniques that can help you get a good night's sleep. Focus on your feet and toes, tensing the muscles in your feet for five seconds, then relax them for 30 seconds. Move up to your ankles and legs, following the same five-30 pattern of tensing and relaxing. Follow this trend up your whole body, including your face, until every muscle in your body is relaxed.
    • Consciously relaxing your muscles like this helps your body calm down enough for sleep. The addition of the tensing step helps you distinguish between a tense and relaxed muscle in order to increase your comfort.[35]
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    Perform positive visualization. Mental relaxation can be just as important to a good night's sleep as physical relaxation. Positive visualization helps drive away negative thoughts in order to help you relax. For this exercise, think about your favorite place, which doesn't have to be a real place. You can also relive a good or happy memory. Try to recall the smells, sounds, and feelings of the place, or make them up if your place is imagined.
    • For example, if your visualization take place at a snowy cabin, you may want to recreate the sounds of a serene, snowy natural expanse, smell the fire burning in the fireplace, or stand outside and hold a handful of snow.
    • After some practice, you will be able to get yourself there without so much work, but the early visualization of these small details can be helpful.[36]

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