Struggling to get enough sleep? You’re not alone. One in 25 Americans uses prescription sleep aids, reports a 2010 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that doesn’t count the people who use over-the-counter options. You don’t necessarily need sleeping pills to get a good night’s rest, though; relaxation techniques and natural remedies can help stabilize your sleep schedule.
Getting to sleep naturally is all about developing a nighttime routine, and a relaxing yoga practice at the end of the day prepares you for slumber. Yoga therapist Jillian Guinta recommends this easy 5-minute routine:
- Modified camel: Start by kneeling on your mat. Place your hands on your lower back and lengthen your spine, bending back slightly to lift your heart toward the sky. Hold for 60 seconds.
- Reclined twist: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Gently move both legs to the side in a “windshield wiper” motion until your legs rest on the ground. Hold 30 seconds; then repeat on the other side.
- Apanasana: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Use your arms to gently hug your knees into your chest, letting your lower back relax. Hold for 60 seconds.
- Figure 4: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Lift your right leg and place your right ankle over your left thigh, letting your knee open to the side, so your right shin is parallel to your hips. Gently lift your left leg, feeling a stretch your right hip and glute. Hold for 30 seconds; then repeat on the other side.
- Child’s Pose: Kneel on the floor and sit back on your heels. Fold forward, keeping your hips back at your heels, as you walk your hands forward on the ground until you come to a comfortable rest position, feeling the gentle stretch in your lower back. Hold for 60 seconds.
Taking a few minutes each day to keep a gratitude journal naturally relieves stress -- a common cause of sleeplessness -- so you can relax and get to sleep. “Write down five things you’re grateful for at the end of each day” says Leo Willcocks, a relaxation expert and founder of DeStress to Success. “This helps you feel more fulfilled.”
As writing in your gratitude journal becomes a nightly habit, it will also cue your brain to prepare for sleep, which should help with insomnia.
Aromatherapy is a safe and effective natural sleep aid, according to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2015. Lavender is your best option. Add five to 10 drops of lavender essential oil to your laundry detergent when you wash your bedding so your pillows and sheets have a relaxing scent, recommends Jay Bradley, lifestyle coach and author of “Live Look Feel.” Placing a lavender reed diffuser or burning a lavender candle in your room also sets the mood for sleep -- just remember to blow out the candle.
If you’re not a fan of lavender, try ylang ylang for its soothing properties.
Capping your night with a cup of herbal tea diffuses anxiety and helps with sleep. Reach for chamomile, a calming bedtime staple, or jasmine tea. “Jasmine tea has similar properties to chamomile and it helps to calm the mind,” says Folk, who also recommends valerian tea for its soothing properties. No matter which brew you choose, take some time to savor each sip; drinking tea slowly gives you time to reflect on the day, appreciate the tea’s soothing aroma and ease tension before bedtime.
Spend a few minutes each night practicing acupressure, a proven stress-reliever that helps with sleep. Just a few minutes using pressure points when you first get into bed can help you relax and get to sleep, says Elizabeth Folk, an herbalist and board-certified licensed acupuncturist.
Folk recommends these four pressure points:
- Spleen 6: Located just above your inner ankle bone. Place four fingers on the inside of your leg above your ankle bone. Position your thumb just above your fourth finger and apply pressure
- Kidney 6: Located approximately 1/2 inch below the bone in your inner ankle
- Heart 7: Located on the “pinky” side of your inner wrist, where your wrist meets your palm
- CV17: Located on your sternum, level with your heart
Use your thumb to apply pressure to each point for 5 to 10 seconds, massaging the point with small circles if it feels comfortable. Folk recommends a firm pressure -- just enough to feel slightly tender, but not painful.
Keep the powerful breath of fire for energizing morning yoga; sleep-inducing breathing techniques are all about deep belly breaths. Juliana Mitchell, a yoga instructor and director of Living Now Yoga in New York, tells you how:
- Get cozy: put on socks, warm clothing or cover yourself with a blanket to avoid feeling chilly.
- Lie on your back in bed, with one pillow behind your head and one behind your knees.
- Close your eyes and breathe through your nose. Become mindful of your breath.
- Slowly deepen your breaths. Feel your belly expand each time you inhale, as you completely fill your lungs, and fall as you let all the air out of your lungs.
Continue deep breathing for as long as it feels right -- you might fall asleep during this exercise, or need to shift positions before sleep. If you wake up during the night, try this practice again to get back to sleep.
If you’re suffering from chronic insomnia, alternative or natural medicine may help. But you’ll need to see a professional. “When it comes to Chinese herbs, everyone has their own reaction,” says Folk. That means that what works for someone else might not work for you, so you need a professional to recommend personalized treatment based on your personal sleep pattern and the cause of your sleep issues. If you’ve tried relaxation techniques and they’re not working, consult a physician or sleep specialist for help.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prescription Sleep Aid Use Among Adults: United States, 2005–2010
- Jillian Guinta
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: The Effects of Aromatherapy on Sleep Improvement: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis
- Jay Bradley
- Leo Willcocks
- Elizabeth Folk, MSOM, L.Ac, LMT
- Juliana Mitchell