On average, adults need between 7-9 hours sleep to function throughout the day, whereas children need 9-13 hours sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep there may be a number of different factors and conditions that might be causing it and one of those is insomnia. Insomnia is a condition whereby you regularly have problems sleeping and in the UK, it's thought that one in every three people suffer from it. The usual symptoms of insomnia include lying awake at night, feeling tired and irritable during the day, waking up early and struggling to get back to sleep and many more. The most common causes of insomnia include mental health conditions such as stress and anxiety, lifestyle choices such as your diet and environmental factors such as the temperature of your room.
People who regularly struggle to sleep will know the pain the next morning. Sleep is so important as it plays a key role in both your physical health and your mental health. Sleep is especially important for children and teenagers as sleep helps to support development and growth and for adults a lack of sleep over a long period of time can increase your chances of suffering from chronic health problems. Sometimes when we say we have slept for 8 hours, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have had good quality sleep that leaves us feeling refreshed and ready for the day when we wake up. So what counts as poor-quality sleep? If you think back to last night, did it take you more than 30-minutes to fall asleep? Did you wake up more than once? Are you feeling more stressed and emotional than you usually do? Are you feeling more hungry than you usually do? If you have answered yes to more than one of these questions, the likelihood is, you didn’t get a good-night's sleep.
If you are finding it hard to sleep on a regular basis because of your insomnia, it will affect a number of aspects of your life, leaving it difficult to function properly. To help try and get your sleeping routine back on track, here are some natural solutions to insomnia that you can incorporate into your day to day life.
Natural remedies to Insomnia
If you’re having difficulties drifting off to sleep at night or you find yourself waking up several times a night, there may be a number of lifestyle and environmental changes that you can make in your life to help beat insomnia. Here are our top natural solutions to insomnia:
There are a number of lifestyle choices you can change up that could be the root of your insomnia, here are just a few:
- Habits: If you find yourself worrying a lot and it’s keeping you up at night, a good habit to get into is journaling. Journaling a few hours before you go to sleep can help you rationalise your feelings, writing them down can sometimes help you to understand them so they don’t feel as big anymore. It can also help to plan out the day ahead of you with all the different tasks you might need to complete in order to feel more organised.
- Sleep schedule: If you don’t already have a sleep schedule in place it could be a good place to start. There are a few golden rules we recommend you add to your sleep routine and one of those is turning off all electronics at least one hour before you sleep. The blue light that is emitted from screens can disrupt your natural sleep cycle, which can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Instead you could read a book, or take part in a calming activity such as meditation to help you unwind or having a relaxing warm bath. Studies have proven that warm baths can encourage a good night's sleep as your body temperature will naturally drop when you get out, which sends a signal to your brain letting you know it is time for bed.
- Diet: If you didn’t already know, your diet and the quality of your sleep is interlinked! Too much food can increase the insulin levels in your body, which makes them go into overdrive and will leave you feeling unwell and uncomfortable before you go to sleep. There are also a few foods that we recommend you avoid before you sleep such as spicy foods that may irritate your stomach, dried fruit that can lead to an overactive digestive system too close to bed and cheese which contains acids that make us feel alert.
- Hydration: Hydration is important for a number of different functions within your body including sleep, but what is the right balance? If you don’t drink enough water you can get headaches, a dry mouth and cramps that can cause discomfort when trying to sleep. Excess hydration however can also increase your sleeping difficulties, especially if you need to get up during the night to go to the toilet several times. Make sure you drink enough water to prevent headaches and a dry mouth, but make sure you don’t drink litres of water before you sleep either!
- Exercise: Exercise is great for clearing your mind as it gives your brain something else to focus on and exercises release endorphins which will lift your mood. Exercise has also been proven to help you fall asleep faster and decrease the amount of times you wake up during the night. It is recommended that high intensity exercise should not be performed at least 3 hours before you’re planning on sleeping as it will increase your heart rate and body temperature which could lead to difficulties falling asleep.
There are a number of different environmental changes you can do to help promote a good night’s sleep. Here are just a few changes you can make today:
- Light: Have you ever heard of your circadian rhythm? In short, it helps guide your wake-sleep cycle based on light. During the day when you see the sunlight, your brain produces the hormone cortisol which keeps you awake and alert. At night when it starts to get dark outside, your brain releases the hormone melatonin which induces relaxation and sleep. To help your rhythm stay in tact, it is smart to turn off all lights when you sleep, draw your curtains to block any artificial light from outside and try to stay off your phone a few hours before you go to bed.
- Temperature: During the colder months it can be really tempting to crank up the heating because there’s nothing worse than being cold when you’re trying to sleep! There is however an optimum temperature for your bedroom to be at 18.3° C. If your room gets too hot you will often find yourself tossing and turning or you might wake up because you’re too hot.
- Noise: This might not come as a shock but keeping your bedroom as quiet as possible will help you improve your sleep. To help block out any background noises, a white noise machine, Morphée nature sounds or a fan can help mask and block out any noises that you cannot control e.g. sounds from outside of your house.
- Mattress and bedding: The mattress and pillows you choose will completely depend on what level of firmness you like and everyone will be completely different. The ideal mattress for you will depend on individual factors like your go-to sleeping position, your weight and whether you like to sleep on a firm or soft mattress. If you’re struggling to sleep, think whether your mattress is the right one for you! F.Y.I you are supposed to change your pillows every 1-2 years and your mattress every 7-8 years.
- Room: When you were younger your parents might have told you once or twice that a tidy room helps keep a tidy mind. After you wake up in the morning, try to get into a routine where you always make your bed, put any dirty clothes in the laundry basket and take any rubbish or used mugs from your room elsewhere so your room can become a place of relaxation.
Activities that help to switch on your body's natural relaxation responses have been proven to help improve your sleep. Calming activities can help slow your heart rate and breathing down to help calm your mind and body, here are just a few of our recommended activities:
- Meditation: If you’re struggling to sleep at night, why not try a guided meditation session before you go to sleep? Morphée has over 200 meditation sessions that you can incorporate into your night-time routine. During your meditation sessions, you will shift your focus onto your breath and help to relax your body and brain from the busy world around you. Meditation also increases the levels of melatonin in your body which helps with a tranquil sleep.
- Yoga: Yoga is another activity that experts recommend to try if you do suffer from insomnia as studies have shown that it helps people fall asleep quicker and for a longer duration. A reason for this sleep promotion is the relaxation benefits of yoga, yoga focus on your mind and body, and the different breathing exercises used in yoga can help shift your focus from outside stresses to promote relaxation and calmness before bed.
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- Progressive muscle relaxation: This relaxation technique has been used for decades to help promote sleep and it is simply about slowly tensing different muscles within your body and then relaxing them. During this exercise you will move through the different muscle groups in your body and focus your mind on the sensations, which is supposed to be deeply relaxing and can help you fall back to sleep if you wake up during the night.
- Music therapy: Based on the psychophysiological theory, (that took us a while to pronounce too), listening to sedative music can help to improve people’s sleep by controlling the sympathetic nervous system activity which releases different hormones like cortisol which decrease levels of anxiety as well as stress responses. Sedative music can include white noise machines, nature sounds like you can find on our Morphée calming classical music pieces.
- Acupuncture: Not everyone will be excited to try this option as it does involve getting needles stuck in you, but this option does have to be carried out by professionals so please don’t try this in yourself! Acupuncture is a technique that helps to stimulate different areas of the body by inserting needles into the skin. When the skin is pricked by the needle, your body produces natural pain-reliever endorphins which help to relax the body. Acupuncture has grown in popularity and is used as a treatment for a number of different health conditions.
Herbal remedies are those that have been made with active ingredients made from plants and they have been used for hundreds of years to help relieve a number of problems. Let’s dive into some herbal remedies that can help with insomnia:
- Tea: The most common herbal remedies include tea and there are a number of different teas that are recommended you try before you sleep. Chamomile is one of those that has a mild sedative effect that can help induce sleep. This tea is caffeine-free and contains antioxidants that bind to the receptors in your brain that have been through to promote sleepiness, making it a great natural solution to insomnia. Other teas that can be drunk before bed include passionflower, lavender and magnolia bark tea.
- Essential oils: If tea really isn’t your cup of tea, then don’t worry as it’s not the only herbal remedy that works! To add a little bit more relaxation to your nighttime routine, you could add a few drops of essential oils in your bath, add them to your diffuser or massage them into your skin. Certain oils like chamomile, peppermint and Ylang Ylang oil are said to put you into a dream-like state, thus helping promote relaxation which can help those who are struggling to get to bed or go back to sleep if they wake during the night.
When to seek medical advice
If you feel like you have tried every natural sleep solution under the sun, it might be time to seek medical advice. If you feel your poor sleep quality is affecting your everyday life and causing you distress, then please call NHS 111 or speak to your GP directly to help get to the route of your sleep issues.
The role of specialists
When you see your sleep specialist such as your GP, they will talk you through your symptoms and how the problem, such as insomnia, is affecting your everyday life in order to get the right treatment for you. After your GP appointment you may be referred to a therapist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where they help to alter your behaviours and thoughts that keep you up at night. During your appointment, you may also be referred to a sleep clinic if you suffer from sleep conditions like apnoea that keep you awake.
The aim of the specialists will be to get to the root cause of your insomnia or sleep disorders to then order you treatment to help improve both your sleep and your mental health that may have suffered as a result of the poor quality of sleep. GPs very rarely prescribe sleeping pills to treat insomnia as people can become dependent on them, so they are only prescribed if other solutions have failed.
Overall there are a number of different natural solutions to help you if you are currently wrestling insomnia or you think a loved one is. A few simple changes to your everyday routine could help to increase the duration of your sleep and the quality of your sleep. From different lifestyle changes such as setting up a structured bedtime routine, to changing different environmental factors like reducing the amount of noise you hear at night to trying something different like herbal teas - all of these different choices can be incorporated into your everyday life to help improve your sleep. Remember that everyone is different and therefore everyone will need to find the different solutions that work best for them, work through the natural solutions and find which ones work for you and try to stick to them.