Sleep matters when you’re trying to stay fit and lean. It also matters for your health. Do you toss and turn at night, struggle to fall asleep, only to awaken the next morning tired and cranky? Few things are more frustrating than not being able to drift off to sleep.
The harder you try to force your body to drift away to dreamland; the less likely sleep is to come. It can become a vicious cycle that destroys your confidence in your ability to sleep and makes it even harder to get a good night’s sleep.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Studies show around 25% of adults experience insomnia, and the number of people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep increases with age. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need less sleep as you age. People sleep less because it becomes harder to fall asleep. Adults still need 7 or more hours of sleep per night.
Some people struggling with insomnia turn to prescription or nonprescription sleep medications. Although there are pharmaceuticals available that have a sedating effect, they have side effects and can be dangerous for older people at risk of falling. Plus, most people develop a tolerance to prescription sleep aids, so they must take more to get the same sleep-inducing effects. If they don’t up the medication, they stop working.
Are there natural sleep aids for insomnia that are safer without unwanted side effects? There are some contenders! Let’s look at some that have some scientific support and are safe.
Chamomile tea comes from a flower and is popular in both supplement forms for sleep, and as dried Chamomile flowers, you can steep to make tea. How might the Chamomile flower help with sleep? Research shows Chamomile contains a compound called apigenin that binds to key receptors in the brain that help the body relax. There’s also evidence that Chamomile helps with anxiety.
Does science support Chamomile’s sleep-inducing benefits? One study of nursing home patients who had difficulty sleeping showed that those who took an extract of Chamomile each night experienced better-quality sleep. It’s an area that needs more research, since not all studies show benefits, but there are few downsides to enjoying a cup of chamomile tea in the evening. Avoid Chamomile if you have a history of ragweed allergy or an allergy to plants in the daisy family.
Ashwagandha is an herb that turns down the body’s stress response and helps lower the stress hormone cortisol. Since stress plays a role in insomnia, Ashwagandha may help your body relax when you’re struggling to fall asleep. However, most studies looking at Ashwagandha’s benefits have been mainly in people with anxiety, but the herb holds promise.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 39 people with anxiety, those who took Ashwagandha for 6 weeks had less anxiety than those who took a placebo. Although there’s no evidence that Ashwagandha is harmful short term, there are few studies looking at its longer-term risks. As with anything that isn’t well studied, approach with caution and if you do take a supplement, even a herbal one, talk to your physician first. Some herbs and supplements can interfere with medications and other supplements.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherries with their touch of sweetness and undertones of sour make your tongue tingle, but juice made from this fruit could help you get a better night’s sleep too. According to researchers at Louisiana State University, sipping this tart juice may improve sleep quality. In the study, older participants who drank tart cherry juice two times each day for two weeks reported sleeping better. In fact, they slept an average of 90 minutes longer and experienced better sleep quality. If you have type 2 diabetes, know that tart cherry juice contains a fair quantity of added sugar and could cause blood sugar spikes.
Is sunlight a natural sleep aid? Yes! Exposing your eyes to light as soon as you wake up sets your body’s natural circadian rhythms that help regulate almost every function, including sleep. Studies show that exposing your eyes to light as early as possible in the morning helps promote quality shut-eye.
Beyond sleep, a study even found that people who exposed their eyes to light in the morning had less deep belly fat. So, there may be other perks to soaking up the light first thing in the morning.
To get the benefits, throw open the curtains after awakening and soak up some light. It’s best to get light by stepping outside rather than through glass. One way to do this is by taking a walk early in the morning. In addition, research shows early morning exercise helps with sleep.
Passionflower is an herb with natural sedative properties. It may aid sleep by its calming effects and by relaxing tight muscles. There is also evidence that it helps with anxiety. One study compared passionflower for anxiety to a benzodiazepine medication commonly used to treat persistent stress and anxiety.
In the study, passionflower was as effective as this prescription medication for reigning in nervousness. You can get the benefits by drinking passionflower tea or using a tincture. However, some people experience lightheadedness, dizziness, or confusion when they take it. Therefore, drinking passionfruit tea is the safest option.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, you’ll never experience problems falling asleep, but if you do, consider other alternatives before taking prescription medication for insomnia. Also, talk to your physician before taking any supplement for sleep.
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