Having a hard time getting a good night's sleep? You don't have to down over-the-counter medicines night after night that leave you feeling hungover the next morning. There are no guaranteed natural cures for insomnia, but there are plenty of ways you can improve your sleep quality. I reached out to Yoga Journal Conference keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona, about effective, all-natural steps you should take for better sleep tonight.
Set the Stage
Do your best to make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Dr. Weil recommends turning off all electronic devices, "including your computer and television," at least 30 minutes before bedtime. He also suggests "setting the thermostat at a pleasant temperature, having comfortable pillows and blankets around that support your body, and making your bedroom dark and relatively quiet."
If you tend to focus on any sound that pops up in the night, Dr. Weil suggests using a "white-noise device" to block out unwanted sounds. As someone who live on a busy city street, I've taken this tip to heart and have found that a little white noise makes a big difference in my sleep quality.
If you're dealing with regular insomnia, Dr. Weil says that a consistent meditation practice and gentle yoga stretches can help lull you to sleep. He also recommends this "4-7-8 breathing exercise" that works to relax body and mind in preparation for sleep. Follow his instructions, and see if this helps you tonight.
- Lie in a comfortable position, and place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper teeth throughout the exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a gentle "whoosh" sound.
- Close your mouth, and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth ("whoosh") to a count of eight.
- Inhale, and repeat the sequence, completing three more cycles for a total of four, always counting at a comfortable pace while maintaining the 4-7-8 cadence.
Herbs and Hormones
According to Dr. Weil, when all else fails, the two best natural treatments for insomnia are valerian and melatonin. Valerian is a sedative herb, while melatonin is a hormone that regulates your "wake-sleep cycle and other daily biorhythms." Both are readily available at health food stores and pharmacies.
Dr. Weil also suggests taking sublingual tablets, those that are placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve — "2.5 milligrams at bedtime as an occasional dose, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark." He also says that a much lower dose is more effective for regular use. If you're concerned about what's appropriate for your needs, be sure to talk to your pharmacist or doctor before taking.