Between 15% and 20% of Americans struggle with chronic insomnia, and nearly everyone has trouble getting some shuteye from time to time. Whether anxiety is keeping you up at night or you're a long-term insomniac, you may have considered sleeping pills. While there's nothing inherently wrong with taking medication, sleep aids are not without side effects. Prolonged use is especially problematic, increasing your likelihood of addiction and exposing you to heartburn, headaches, daytime sleepiness, and a host of other health challenges. Before you pop a pill, try these natural sleep aids.
1. Practice good sleep hygiene
Your body knows it's time to sleep based on associations—the time of day, the amount of light in the room, how much you're thinking. Good sleep hygiene helps your body understand when it's time to sleep, helping to get your circadian rhythms back on track. Try the following:
- Go to sleep at the same time each evening, and awake at the same time each day, regardless of what you have to do.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
- If you haven't fallen asleep after 15 minutes, get back up.
- Don't keep a TV in your bedroom, and if you do, don't watch it before bed or as you fall asleep.
- Put on quiet, soothing music as you sleep.
- Wear an eye mask to block out light.
- Keep your room dark, and lower the temperature in your room by about five degrees before bed. Your body temperature has to drop before you can go to sleep.
- Keep a worry journal so that your anxious thoughts don't keep you up at night.
If racing thoughts keep you up every night, it doesn't matter how quiet and calm your body is; your mind is racing halfway around the world just as you're trying to get to sleep! Take 10 minutes to meditate before going to bed. Focus on a peaceful, affirming thought, reflect on an object of personal significance, or simply allow your mind to drift into deeper awareness of the present moment.
3. Try an herbal remedy
Though hundreds of herbal remedies market themselves as “miracle” sleep aids, only a handful have been proven effective. Consider trying one of these options before you seek a prescription drug:
- Valerian root
- Chamomile, especially in tea form
- St. John's Wort, which can help reduce depression and anxiety
Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal remedy, since some herbal supplements can interfere with the effectiveness of other medications.
4. Watch your diet
Your body is just like your car: what you use for fuel matters. You already know you should eat a diet rich in fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, so if your diet is a bit lacking, now's the time to correct the issue. Cut out refined sugars, and limit caffeine consumption to the hours before 3 PM. Caffeine any later during the day can keep you up, even if you don't feel like it's affected you.