Health and Wellbeing
How to Beat Insomnia Naturally
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can affect as many as 35% of adults. The sufferer has difficulty getting to sleep (sleep initiation) and staying asleep (sleep maintenance) through the night. Everyone (including this sleep expert!) might have one or both of these issues with sleep from time to time – that’s normal - but it is classified as chronic insomnia if they last for three months or more. There can be serious implications of chronic insomnia including to excessive daytime sleepiness and exhaustion, a higher risk of accidents including industrial and car accidents and also, reduced quality of life. After all, we all feel better after a good night’s sleep, don’t we?
Insomnia can be caused by stress, poor sleeping habits especially overuse of electronic devices, mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and trauma, physical illnesses and pain, neurological and sleep disorders. Also, with the faster pace of life and stresses wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not surprising that globally the sleep industry is now worth billions of pounds as many people seek solutions to not being able to sleep. Latest NHS data shows a million people in the UK are now prescribed insomnia medication each year. In the US, one in three adults regularly take some form of medication to help them get a good night’s sleep. However, as any doctor will tell you, sleeping tablets won't work forever and they can become addictive and even lose their efficacy with continued use.
Fortunately, researching and practising sleep techniques with thousands of people over the last 25 years (including working with patients in a psychiatric clinic for over a decade) has led me to realise that there are a host of practical, highly effective and sustainable strategies that can help people to beat insomnia naturally, thus helping avoid a trip to the doctor. A vital part of my work is to help restore confidence - confidence on the part of the 'sufferer' that they can in fact sleep again and without pharmaceutical assistance.
Here are some strategies that I have been recommending for years, which have helped many people sleep naturally and restoratively again.
1. Follow my 5 Non-Negotiables for getting a good night’s sleep
Have you read my article on the Oak Tree Mobility Blog? If not, head over there now and learn about the 5 things that can really help you to sleep better and beat insomnia naturally.
2. Natural herbs and supplements:
Many people find the following natural supplements to be helpful with treating insomnia naturally. However, there is still further research to be done to determine their clinical efficacy:
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
This is thought to affect levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—a calming chemical in the brain. This herb is commonly taken as a tea or capsule that is taken an hour or so before bedtime.
Similar to valerian, this supplement is thought to be helpful for treating anxiety and insomnia and can also be drunk in a tea or tincture before bedtime.
This is the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana). It comes from the hemp plant but does not cause a ‘high’ if taken by itself. Early research suggests that CBD can be beneficial for treating insomnia although there is still more evidence to be collected.
The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative and there is some research to suggest that it can help with insomnia. Magnesium can be taken as a supplement before going to bed or ingested in foods such as Pumpkin and chia seeds, almonds, cashews, and peanuts, spinach, soya milk, black beans and edamame.
An aromatherapy oil that can help with sleep and relieve muscle tension and anxiety. It can also be drunk in a tea and although clinical studies are somewhat inconclusive, many people find that winding down at night with a cup of warm chamomile tea helps them to get a good night’s sleep.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that occurs naturally in foods such as mile, cheese, fish, turkey and chicken, peanuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. This amino acid is a building block for the mood hormone serotonin which is also converted to melatonin at night. Again, there is more research to be done on the effectiveness of tryptophan for treating insomnia.
3. Holistic practices and therapies
Acupuncture, tai chi, yoga and meditation, hypnosis, Ayurveda and aromatherapy have all been shown to help insomnia by relieving anxiety and stress.
4. Breathing techniques
Techniques like box breathing can also be helpful for getting to sleep. Practice the following technique while sitting in your Oak Tree Mobility rise and recline chair and notice how relaxed it makes you feel:
Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number. Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head. Slowly exhale through your mouth, focusing on getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.
The more you practice this simple technique when relaxing during the day, the easier it will be to use it at night if you are having problems getting to sleep or getting back to sleep.
Getting outside for at least 30 minutes every day may help to improve your sleep by calming your mind and allowing you to decompress. Getting lots of natural light by opening blinds and curtains can help regulate your hormones that tell your body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) when to fire up certain systems to enable you to be active and when to dampen down to enable rest.
6. Focus on resting
If you can't sleep, then rest. Not being able to sleep is horrible (and bad for your health) but becoming obsessed with it doesn't help either. If you notice the word 'sleep' popping up in your vocabulary far too many times (‘I can’t sleep!’, ‘I need to get a good night’s sleep!’) try using the word 'rest' instead. This is a subtle but effective shift in mind set. If you're lying in bed unable to get to sleep, then just say to yourself 'I'm going to use this time to rest'.
7. Go to bed feeling grateful
There are many well-validated studies that show that feeling optimistic and grateful is good for the mind, body and spirit. It is also particularly effective for helping you to let go of the day and fall asleep too. So, if you're struggling to get to sleep or you've woken during the night, just cast your mind over the day you've had remembering all of the small, positive things that happened and give thanks. Sometimes old-fashioned advice - counting your blessings - really is the best.
Finally, don’t forget, your bedroom should be your sanctuary for resting and sleeping. So make sure that it is uncluttered and calm – a haven of peace. This is the place where you come to rest in your Oak Tree Adjustable Bed to sleep deeply, restoratively – and naturally.
Remember, each of us has a unique relationship with sleep so experiment with a few of these strategies for at least 21 days to give them a chance of working for you. None of them are meant to be substitutes for taking medication but they might help to wean you off sleeping tablets or even stop you needing them in the first place.