Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. A good night’s sleep often makes the difference between awaking renewed and refreshed or tired and hung over. Quality sleep sharpens the mind, boosts the immune system, and helps protect against stress and anxiety.
Unfortunately, with age, good sleep may become more difficult.
The internal clock advances, meaning that you get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. Increased susceptibility to noise and other changes in the environment can also disturb restful sleep.
In this month’s blog, I’d like to share with you five doctor-tested tips: natural and holistic secrets for a better night’s sleep.
During my years in the ER, I had trouble sleeping, too. I had to contend with constant shift rotations, which wreaked havoc with my circadian rhythms. I didn’t want to go the sleeping pill route and risk addiction and morning drowsiness. In the end, I experimented with every conceivable way of enhancing quality sleep without the prescription pad, from yoga to natural herbs to sound healing.
Before I blog on and share those secrets, let’s better define insomnia and list its three most common causes.
What Is Insomnia?
Do you often take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep?
Do you get six or fewer hours of sleep a night?
Do you get to sleep OK, only to become wide awake in the middle of the night?
If so, you may be one of the millions of Americans with insomnia. Symptoms the next day may include tension headaches, irritability, falling asleep at work, or difficulties with memory and concentration. The end result is a lack of feeling physically rested and mentally refreshed.
What Causes Insomnia?
In our modern society, the most common cause of insomnia is stress and anxiety. Many folks can’t sleep because their minds are racing about problems: problems with finances, relationships, co-workers, etc.
Sometimes medical conditions can cause insomnia — for example chronic pain, difficulty breathing, or gastric reflux.
Other contributing factors can be the use of chemical stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, or Sudafed, or too much media stimulation just before bedtime.
No matter what is causing your insomnia, here are 5 non-prescription tips that can help naturally:
Secret #1 Pitch Black is Back
Perhaps the most overlooked sleep secret is the most obvious: a sleep environment that is calm, quiet, comfortable, and dark. The bedroom must be pitch black. If you can still see your hand in front of your face, the room is not dark enough. For many, a black sleep mask is an absolute essential. Even one LED light from a phone charger is enough to tell the brain, “Dawn is coming soon, cut back on sleep hormone production.”
Take the Dark Room Challenge
If you have not been sleeping in a dark room, I predict that you will be astounded to discover what a difference a sleep mask can make. Try the Dark Room challenge for a week by using a mask (or blocking the windows and removing all LED lights). Please e-mail me your results at asktheholisticMD@gmail.com.
Secret #2 Ayurvedic Herbs: Better Than Prescription Pills
I don’t recommend prescription sleeping pills anymore, except for some international travelers who seek help overcoming jetlag. I have found a number of alternative ways that ensure a better night’s sleep. One of the best natural herbs for sleep is ashwagandha, an herb that comes to us from Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India. Take 300-400 mg of ashwagandha one hour before bedtime, with a cup of soothing chamomile tea. Another popular Ayurvedic sleep herb is jatamansi.
Please see my previous BoomShop blogs for more details.
Secret #3 Pratyahara: Turning Down the Noise
The 5th part of the 8-part yoga system, and perhaps the least known in the West, is pratyahara. Often defined as “control of the sensory input,” pratyahara is all about rest, relaxation, and non-doing. Sleep itself is a natural type of pratyahara that renews the body, mind, and spirit. In practical terms, it means turning down the noise of overstimulation.
If you watch TV, turn it off at least one hour before bedtime and go sit in nature, read a book of wisdom, or do a guided sleep meditation instead. Avoid watching violent movies at all costs. “Don’t put junk food in the mind or the body” is one of the credos of yoga.
Secret #4 Lights out at 10 pm
For most adults, the best circadian window for sleep occurs at 10 pm. This circadian opportunity is gone by 11, so make the most of it. Be prepared; a regular bedtime routine is essential.
Begin to prepare for sleep right after dinnertime (a light supper is best). Slow mental activity down by gazing at the sky, trees, or a body of water. Perhaps take a 10-minute walk. A hot bath followed by a coconut oil massage will help you get ready for “rest and digest.”
Secret #5 Guided Meditations For Insomnia
One of the easiest ways to relax so you can get to sleep is the use of a guided meditation audio. All you have to do is listen as the narrator guides you, step-by-step, into deeper and deeper relaxation. Sleep is a natural process that involves letting go instead of trying harder. The harder you try, the more frustrated you may become. Guided meditations help us let go of trying too hard. Try the guided meditations for sleep on the MIT website, or email me (asktheholisticMD@gmail.com) about my “Guided Meditations for Sleep” CD, coming in 2016.
Restful sleep can be yours naturally as you make wise choices that support your physical, mental, and emotional balance. Choose friends who inspire and uplift you. Choose foods that nourish and heal you. Choose a place to live where you feel connected with spirit and with others. Sleep well.
Dr. Harrison Graves, M.D., FACEP is our expert in holistic medicine, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, or insomnia. He is heavily influenced by Ayurveda, the holistic medicine of India, and believes that many illnesses, especially those that are anxiety related, can be prevented with Ayurveda, lifestyle changes, and yoga. In his articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, Dr. Graves provides insight on alternative methods of maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. You can learn more by visiting his website, asktheholisticmd.com.