Natural Sleep Techniques
While lifestyle and environmental factors play a major part in the rest that we get, our minds often get the last word on how well we’ll sleep.
“Many of my patients will tell me they just want to shut off the switch in their brain that’s causing them to worry and think too much,” says Lawton, “Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.”
To help patients get some rest (without the use of prescription medications), sleep specialists and naturopaths will often suggest a series of activities or exercises designed to relax the mind and take the focus off the day’s stressful events. Here are some of their most reliable sleep techniques.
Create a pre-sleep routine “You need transitional downtime—you can’t just switch from ‘worry, worry, worry’ straight into soothing sleep,” says Joanne Getsy, medical director at the Drexel Sleep Center in Philadelphia. Make a cup of decaf tea, climb into cozy pajamas, and read an article in your favorite magazine. By creating a short wind down ritual, you’ll signal to your body that its time to enter rest mode.
Turn on the steam heat Taking a hot bath or shower can depress the nervous system and encourage the muscles to relax. “At first this can be stimulating and wake you up, but after about twenty minutes, you’ll feel yourself start to get very drowsy,” say Lawton. The scent of lavender can also be relaxing, so try to find a bath product, which features it as a key ingredient.
Offer yourself hypnotic suggestions Your brain can either work against you—or for you—in bed. Clear away stressful daytime thoughts by replacing them with those more conducive to sleep. “Tell yourself that you’re feeling incredibly tired, that your eyelids and body are getting heavy,” says Lawton. “Once you’ve given your brain the suggestion, the body quickly follows.”
Engage in deep breathing Allow yourself to expel the stress you’ve been holding onto by exhaling it out. To begin, get settled on your back and rest your hands lightly on your belly. “Inhale slowly, feeling your hands lift on your stomach as you draw air in. Hold it for a moment; then slowly let it out. The act of deep breathing can be surprisingly emotional, so take as few or as many breaths as you feel comfortable with,” suggests Fleishmann.
Think of calming visuals “Creating an image in your mind can help lead you away from stressful thoughts and into a dream-like state,” says Getsy. “Some people like to imagine walking along a path near the ocean, while others might think of making snow angels in winter.” She suggests choosing a visual that’s soothing and relaxing, and if you’re inclined, building a simple story around it.
Get Moving Engaging in stretches, poses, and guided relaxation just before bedtime can help release the day’s tension, preparing you for a restorative night’s sleep. If you’re not already a practiced yogi, follow along with movement expert Ann Dyer in zYoga: The Yoga Sleep Ritual for a combination that will take you from type A to Zzz in fifty minutes or less.
Taking sleeping pills isn’t the only way to tackle symptoms of insomnia. These natural remedies can help speed you towards dreamland, without a prescription.
Chamomile If you’re feeling agitated, brew a pot of tea made from the leaves of this fragrant herb. A strong cup can soothe aching muscles and relieve stress, enabling you to fall asleep.
Kava Root This member of the pepper family is a natural relaxant, which can have a therapeutic effect on your body. Take care to consume products made from the root only, as those made with the leaves and stem could have adverse side effects.
Valerian A non-addictive sedative with anti-anxiety benefits, valerian can keep you from feeling wired and worried, reducing the amount of time it takes you to drift off at bedtime.
Melissa Extract Also called Lemon Balm (thanks to its citrus-like scent), this member of the mint family works to relax agitated nerves and encourage proper digestion.
This is an excerpt from Enter Sandman: Find Sleep When You Need It Most, written by Amanda Pressner for HealingLifestyles.com.