Let’s face it, few things are as frustrating as tossing and turning, looking at the clock as another hour goes by, and wishing (and wishing) for a good night’s sleep. Sleep is important for optimal health, which is why you should do all you can to get better sleep. Fortunately, there are several easy ways to ensure you sleep better and start reaping the benefits of sound slumber.
Six Surefire Tips for Better Sleep
- Turn out the lights. Light exposure at night disrupts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin (see more about melatonin below)—and you don’t even need to see the light in order to be affected by it. A low-watt night-light in an adjacent bathroom is acceptable, but when you are ready to go to sleep, all other lights (and the television) should be off, and the shades should be drawn. Blackout drapes are also a good investment.
- Keep cool, sleep better. Research reveals that keeping your bedroom cool is the ticket to better sleep. Drops in core temperature signal the brain that it’s time to turn in for the night. And several studies found that people with insomnia slept more soundly when they wore “cooling caps,” plastic caps with tubes that circulate water to cool down the head. So set your thermostat to 65 or 66 degrees and aim for a skin temperature of around 90 degrees. A thin pair of pajamas and a light blanket or sheet should do the trick. One caveat: Don’t get too cold. Shivering or being chilled leads to restless sleep.
- Turn down the volume. Everyone sleeps better when it’s quiet. If you are sleep deprived because of noise disturbances you can’t control—such as street noise or a snoring bedmate (get them checked for sleep apnea!)—then you may want to consider using ear plugs. Another good solution is to use a white noise machine that blocks out sound and lulls you into deep, better sleep.
- Don’t read, use your laptop, or watch TV in bed. The truth is you shouldn’t use your bed for anything except sleep (and sex). If you spend significant time watching TV, reading, or just loitering in bed, your body won’t take the cue that “bed” equals “sleep.”
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine late in the day. Both alcohol and caffeine can contribute to sleep deprivation. If you’re especially sensitive to caffeine, you’ll want to avoid caffeinated beverages any time after noon. As for alcohol, one glass might relax you—but any more can interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. The closer to bedtime, the greater the effect.
- Don’t eat right before turning in. If you eat right before bed, your stomach is still working hard to digest that meal when you are trying to nod off, and it can make sleep elusive. For better sleep, try to avoid eating 2–3 hours prior to bedtime.
If these tips for better sleep don’t work for you, I implore you to try natural sleep aids instead of prescription medications. The dangers of sleeping pills far outweigh their meager benefits and make no sense when safe, natural alternatives exist.
The Very Real Dangers of Sleeping Pills
According to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six adults with a diagnosed sleep disorder and one in eight adults who simply have trouble sleeping use prescription sleep aids.
This is just one of the key findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which was conducted to determine how many US adults use sleeping pills. The survey also found that use is highest among adult women, and that usage also increased with age (with the highest percentages in the 50+ age brackets) and level of education (greater than a high school degree).
Folks, these findings are troubling, to say the least. The dangers of sleeping pills are very real. All sleeping medications—both benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Restoril, and Halcion) and the newer non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics (Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta)—have serious side effects. They include daytime drowsiness, cognitive impairment, balance problems, a strong potential for addiction, and according to a recent study, increased risk of death.
If you are currently taking a prescription sleep medication to get better sleep, I strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor about discontinuing it. Instead, give these safe, natural sleep aids a try and see which one works best for you.
Natural Sleep Aids Work Wonders
- Supplemental melatonin. The best-studied natural sleep aid is melatonin, the “hormone of sleep.” Melatonin’s production in the pineal gland is cued by light—levels rise in the evening as darkness falls and ebb toward the morning. Today’s plugged-in, lit-up world blurs the signals for melatonin release, resulting in disturbances in our sleep-wake cycles. By restoring natural levels, supplemental melatonin promotes sound, restful sleep. The suggested dose is 1–6 mg (average 3 mg) 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
- Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis). This calming herb helps curb the anxiety that leaves many people tossing and turning. One recent study involved a group for whom sleeplessness is a common complaint: postmenopausal women. After four weeks of taking either a concentrated valerian extract or a placebo, 30 percent of the women in the valerian group had improvements in quality of sleep compared to just four percent in the placebo group. The recommended dose of this natural sleep aid is 500 mg before bedtime.
- L-theanine (from green tea), GABA, lemon balm, chamomile, and hops also relieve stress, induce relaxation, and facilitate sleep. Look for them as standalones or in combination natural sleep aid products and use as directed.
Sleep Better With Dilantin
If none of these safe, natural sleep aids help, I suggest you talk to your doctor about the prescription medication Dilantin. In these stressful times, ruminating, busy minds underlie many a restless night. Low doses of Dilantin, a drug used primarily for seizure disorders, tone down the static and help banish the worrisome thoughts that keep us awake. If your doctor is unwilling to write you a prescription, find one who will or consider making an appointment at the Whitaker Wellness Institute.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have any tips on how to get better sleep?