Americans spend billions on prescription sleep aids each year, even though the drugs produce a number of unwanted side effects. Natural sleep remedies, on the other hand, are generally side effect-free. For the most part, they help you fall and stay in deep sleep without relying on sedatives. And because they’re muscle relaxants, they also help alleviate pain and may even improve libido. Some to consider:
L-theanine, an amino acid (protein) derived from green tea, improves deep sleep and helps people maintain a calm alertness during the day. It also plays a role in the formation of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that’s critical for sleep. Take 50 to 200 mg at bedtime; L-theanine can also be used for daytime anxiety.
Hops reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, studies show, and they also reduce anxiety and help muscles relax enough for you to fall asleep. Take 30 to 120 mg at bedtime. Often used in combination with valerian and lemon balm, hops have to be dried to have any medicinal effect—the hops in beer, however tasty, provide no sleep benefit.
Passionflower (Passiflora) is an herb commonly used as a calming agent. Take 90 to 360 mg at bedtime.
Valerian helps reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep you get—without next-day sedation. Take 200 to 800 mg at bedtime. (Valerian causes wakefulness in some people; if that’s the case for you, take it during the day to reduce overall anxiety.)
5HTP (hydroxytryptophan) is what your body uses to make sleep-inducing serotonin. One downside: It can take up to six weeks to start working. Take 200 to 400 mg at bedtime. If you also take serotonin-raising medications (for example, antidepressants), make sure your holistic practitioner supervises the use of the 5HTP to keep serotonin levels from going too high.
Melatonin retrains your circadian rhythm so you become sleepy when the lights dim and wake up more alert at morning light. Take 3 mg at bedtime for three nights and gradually increase to 6 mg if necessary. Melatonin is not recommended for teens, however.
How Yoga Helps Improve Sleep
“Most insomnia has to do with ‘restless mind syndrome,’” says Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, a physical therapist and author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times (Rodmell Press, 1995). Because the mind is always spinning, you need to do something physical to allow the central nervous system to come into balance. This quiets the mind and lets the parasympathetic nervous system dominate while you sleep—crucial for the body to restore. Three poses to help you drift off—and stay asleep:
>> Before bed: Savasana
This is the gold ring of relaxation poses, says Lasater, because there’s no stretching at all. Lie down on the floor with a blanket folded under your head and neck, another blanket rolled under your knees, a soft cloth over your eyes, and a blanket to cover your body. Stay in the pose for 15 to 20 minutes or longer if possible. Use a breathing practice with a long, slow inhale and a slightly elongated exhalation; the exhale helps stimulate parasympathetic nervous–system dominance, prompting your body to go into “rest and repair” mode.
>> Can’t fall asleep? Halasana
Also known as Plough Pose, this legs-over-head pose is especially helpful if you have trouble winding down. A modification: Lay on the floor and rest your thighs on a padded chair, so thighs and shins are parallel to the floor.
>> For midnight awakenings: Side-Lying Savasana
“Side-Lying Savasana is a position of emotional comfort,” says Lasater. “It’s great when you feel exhausted and overwhelmed, pulled in all directions.” Lie on your left side and put a pillow or bolster under your right knee, right arm, belly, and head so you feel completely supported.
Feng Shui for Fostering Sleep
The ancient art of feng shui seeks to maximize the flow of life force energy, or qi, through environments, homes, and other structures. Five guidelines to set your bedroom up for good sleep:
- Place your bed diagonally across the room from the entrance, so you can lie in it and still have a full view of anyone entering.
- Try not to position your bed so you look directly through other doorways (to the bathroom or closet, for instance). If that’s unavoidable, shut the door at night.
- Don’t set up your bed directly beneath a window, otherwise you’ll lose vital energy during the night.
- Keep clutter to a minimum; it can agitate the flow of energy in the room.
- Add objects that help stimulate the movement of qi, such as mirrors, plants, and stones or statues, and remove overstimulating items, such as the stereo, computer, and TV.