Did you know one in three people suffer from poor sleep? Not getting enough sleep can be bad for many parts of your well-being, including your mood and immune system. It can contribute to weight gain. Regular sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of diabetes and certain cancers. Most doctors suggest that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. With the stress of things like work or too much time spent scrolling through social media it can be difficult to let go of the day and just relax. I have had my fair share of experiences with insomnia, and over the years I have found many ways to help combat my restlessness. Because sleep is something that we all need I really wanted to gather as many helpful tips as possible, so I enlisted the help of fellow Tulhoma writers Taryn and Alexys to find out how they deal with their own insomnia.
- OTC supplements
- Magnesium glycinate – Due to the presence of glycine, magnesium glycinate has a calming effect on your brain and can also help relieve anxiety and promote better sleep*. I started using magnesium glycinate for sleep around four years ago under the recommendation of my pharmacist. I only take it on the nights that I am restless or overly stressed where I find myself tossing and turning. Rather than completely knocking me out and leaving me feeling groggy the next morning, this supplement helps me relax so I can fall asleep.
- Melatonin – If you find yourself trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule due to work or jet lag, melatonin may be something to consider*. Taryn: The typical melatonin you find in the supplement section at stores has pills that are 10 mg, and with children’s versions as low as 1 mg. I think it works best for people who struggle falling asleep, but once they do fall asleep they stay asleep. Melatonin seems less harsh on my body (versus something like Tylenol PM) and I don’t usually wake up feeling groggy when I take it. I take melatonin when I need to go to sleep a bit earlier. If I have an early morning and need to wind down a couple hours early, I’ll take melatonin about an hour before I want to fall asleep. However, if I’m on a long flight and trying to get good sleep, melatonin seems too mild and I’ll usually take a Tylenol PM instead. Although melatonin is not habit-forming (you shouldn’t get addicted), it’s not something I take more than needed. For me, that’s a couple times a month.
- CBD – Although there is still more research to be done on whether CBD really does help promote better sleep, it is believed that it works by decreasing anxiety which may cause poor sleep*. Alexys: I have taken CBD on and off since early 2017. It does seem to help me stay calmer throughout the day, but I haven’t always taken it for sleep until a year or so ago. In terms of sleep, I don’t notice a drastic difference when taking it closer to bed, but I think the fact that it helps me manage general stress leads me to be more relaxed and able to sleep better. I do think the lack of effect on my sleep is due to the dosage I take, which is pretty low. I’ve always stuck to the Charlotte’s Web brand because of its popularity, but I’ve recently been researching a few other brands to see if I notice a difference in effect. When I first started using CBD I was going through a late growth spurt and got leg cramps. I remember using a CBD topical cream that helped a lot. I have also really enjoyed drinking CBD infused tea and did find that more helpful for bedtime considering drinking a de-caffeinated hot beverage helps me sleep better anyway. Overall, I still believe CBD can be useful for sleep, but I think its important to find the right brand and the proper dosage to get the maximum benefits.
It is worth noting that I did not include OTC products like Tylenol PM, which is just Tylenol and Benadryl, or prescription drugs such as Ambien. I have taken Benadryl for sleep many times but I always have a hard time waking up after. A nice long, hard sleep is nice when I don’t need to get up early or be productive the next day but not so much when I have work or something else going on. I have never had such a difficult time sleeping to the point where I felt that I needed prescription drugs, but even if I did, I would try many other things before Ambien because it can be addicting and I have heard many stories about people doing things they don’t remember when taking it. Just do your research first.
- Calming drinks
- Herbal tea – Drinking herbal tea such as chamomile or lemon balm to help aid better sleep have been used for centuries. Most herbal teas that claim to be a sleeping aid work by modifying specific neurotransmitters that help initiate sleep*. Alexys: I really love drinking herbal tea before bed, but sometimes it does make me have to pee before falling asleep (lol). Peppermint tea is my favorite; it just calms me down and it’s nice to breathe in the steam. I also like to put peppermint essential oil on a cotton round before sleeping since I don’t have a diffuser. Taryn: Drinking tea at night is a habit I’ve picked up over the last few months. My favorite is peppermint as well. It tastes and smells good and just feels really calming. But I also enjoy a tangy herbal tea, like berry or peach, or lemon balm. There are also several pre-mixed brands that taste great, like a chamomile, mint, lavender blend. I think the tea does help calm my mind, but also the ritual of tea drinking puts my body at ease. I give myself some quiet time during the process. I’m not watching loud TV and chugging my tea. Steeping the tea, holding the hot mug in my hands, breathing in the aroma; all of that is part of telling my mind and body it’s time to relax and get ready for sleep.
- Natural Vitality Calm – This is basically just a drinkable version of the magnesium glycinate capsules mentioned above. Alexys: I have this and don’t notice anything major in terms of sleepiness. I do really like how easy it is to use; you can easily mix it into any drink, hot or cold, and don’t notice it’s there. I have the unflavored version and it tastes really sour so definitely go for flavored.
- Meditate – The idea of using meditation to help improve sleep works by helping to calm and relax the mind which can be especially nice after a long stressful day. This is a new practice for me and I will be honest, it’s not something I do too often, but when I do I notice a difference. I like to do a guided meditation before bed for about 10 to 15 minutes. You can find many guided meditations on YouTube or by downloading an app like Calm or Headspace. You should be somewhere quiet when you meditate, but besides that, you can try it anywhere.
- Read – If you choose the correct genre, reading before bed can be very helpful in allowing you to relax your muscles and slow down your breathing. I once read a biography about the Queen of England, and although it was interesting I could usually only get through a couple of pages before I could no longer keep my eyes open. Taryn had the same experience reading before bed saying she prefers to read books that she can detach from. She likes to read historical fiction, biographies, and travel books before bed. Nothing complex, little drama, and not overly related to her own life.
- Audiobooks– A friend of mine enjoys falling asleep while listening to audiobooks. She says some narrators have calming voices and with the Audible app she can set an allotted time for the audio to play, like 30 minutes, and then it will turn off.
- Podcast – I have heard from many people that prefer to listen to podcasts while falling asleep and I too have had luck with this. I typically prefer this method when traveling because it can help drown out other noise. You could try listening to your favorite celebrity or influencer or even a podcast specifically intended to help you sleep, like Sleep With Me or ASMR HQ.
- White noise machine – Alexys: I’ve used a white noise machine for years and almost always had it on one setting. I read something about how your brain associates sound with experiences – if you listen to the same noise every night before bed, but have trouble sleeping, your brain might associate that noise with not sleeping well – so I decided to change the sound on my noise machine and it actually helped. I change the noise setting every couple of months now, and I also changed my alarm sound on my phone so that I wake up more gently instead of feeling like “oh great, there’s that horrible noise again.”
- Journaling – Journaling is a great way to unwind and let out anything that may be taking up too much space in your mind. I have found that when I write down something that is bothering me I am able to let it go much sooner. Stress and anxiety seem to be one of the biggest factors in sleep loss so anything I can do to release those feelings is a win. I have also found it helpful to keep a notepad next to my bed so I can write down any random reminders that may come to mind so I don’t worry about forgetting. For example: if I forgot to schedule a doctors appointment, I can write it down and do it first thing in the morning.
- Sleep Mask – The first time I ever used a sleep mask was when I traveled to London and I was battling a major case of jet lag. Everyone told me that toughing it out, getting into the sun, and staying awake was the best thing to do to get accustomed to the time difference, but I know myself and I needed sleep so I had to at least get in a small nap. My husband’s aunt lent me a sleeping mask to use because the room we were in was very bright and it was mid-morning. That may have been one of the best naps I have ever taken and I have taken a lot of naps in my lifetime. I’m used to sleeping in complete darkness, the smallest bit of light can disturb me, so having the sleep mask was definitely helpful.
- Magnesium Lotion – Yep, another form of magnesium to help with sleep except this one is for external use. This 8 Sheep lotion is great for relieving pain, tension or cramping and it is even safe to use if you are pregnant.
- Lush Sleepy lotion – This lavender scented lotion from Lush is great to rub on your hands and arms before bed. Lavender is popularly used to help with relaxation. It is believed that it can improve insomnia and may increase the time spent in deep sleep. If you love this product you should also try their Twilight shower gel, body spray, and bath bomb.
- Weighted blanket – Weighted blankets have gained a lot of popularity in recent years by providing similar benefits to deep pressure therapy at home. Many people claim that the blankets help them feel calmer and reduce feelings of anxiety which can contribute to poor sleep.
- Blue Light Blocking Glasses – Evidence shows that blue light from computer or phone screens can have an effect when our body creates melatonin thus causing us to stay up later than desired. It is suggested to limit your screen time before bed because the high-energy frequency can keep you up, blue light blocking glasses can help fight against this by reducing your eyes exposure to blue light. Taryn has this brand of glasses that she likes you use at night if she’s working late.
Alcohol and Caffeine: Now that we have gone over the many ways to help get some shut eye, we should also talk about a couple of things that could cause you to toss and turn or disrupt a full, undisturbed slumber: alcohol and caffeine. It is a common misconception that alcohol helps us sleep and while it can leave you feeling drowsy and help you fall asleep more quickly, it actually leads to poor sleep later. REM is when we get our most restorative sleep. Without it we wake up feel more groggy and tend to have less focus. Alcohol blocks our REM sleep cycle. In my experience, when I drink alcohol I always end up waking up at some point in the middle of the night and toss and turn for awhile before I am able to fall back asleep. Because of this I tend to hold off on drinking on nights that I know I need a full night’s sleep.
We are all aware that caffeine gives us energy and helps keep our eyes open during the day. But, Taryn shared more insight into how caffeine actually effects our body. Taryn: I love coffee, from the flavor to the ritual to hanging out in a coffee shop, but I also know that it affects my body more than I think it does. I recently listened to a short Audible book called ‘Caffeine’ by Michael Pollan and learned a ton about coffee but also the effects of caffeine on our bodies. The main point I took away is that caffeine has about a 3-5 hours half-life. Am I taking you back to high school science? That just means it takes 3-5 hours for the impact of caffeine on your body to be reduced by half, and the rest of the caffeine lingers in your body for longer, but you probably don’t notice it. However, your brain still recognizes it. So if you’re the type of person who can drink a cappuccino after dinner and still fall asleep, this is worth noting. You might be able to fall asleep, but it won’t be good quality sleep (same concept when you drink alcohol). As the caffeine wears off in the middle of the night, it sends different signals to your body. You might notice you wake up in the middle of the night or that you wake up and don’t feel rested. If this is something that happens to you, limit those late night cappuccinos and try to reduce caffeine consumption about 5-7 hours earlier than your bedtime. If the herbal teas mentioned above aren’t, well, your cup of tea, I suggest barley tea. It’s easy to find online or at Asian grocery stores. It tastes more robust than herbal teas, it’s fairly dark in color, but it has no caffeine. It’s my go-to when I’m craving a coffee post dinner.
Now it’s time to take a look at what habits may be causing you to lose sleep and what good habits you can replace them with. Finding the right sleep-inducing method for you may take some trial and error, but it’s worth it to finally get the best sleep of your life.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to diagnose, treat or be a replacement for medical advice or treatment. Please consult a licensed medical professional before using any supplements.