You already know what the experts say: Adults should get between six and eight hours of sleep every night. You also probably know that for women in midlife, good rest can be as elusive as a unicorn.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30-40 percent of adults say they have occasional insomnia, while 10-15 percent of Americans say they have trouble sleeping all the time. What’s more, research shows that women have more trouble sleeping than men and are more affected by sleep deprivation.
For those of us who want to get more sleep but don’t want to take drugs to do it, there are natural remedies that don’t require a prescription. Here are five worth trying tonight.
Strenuous exercise before bed is ill-advised for those who want better sleep, but yoga can help prep your body for rest by calming the mind. Spend five minutes in child’s pose or reclining butterfly. Try 10 minutes in legs up the wall or corpse pose. Focus on taking deep breaths, which gives both muscles and mind a chance to find calm.
Eat the Right Foods
Although research suggests that people with the healthiest sleep patterns have the healthiest and most diverse diets, naturally occurring substances in some foods can aid sleep.
Brown rice, cherries, walnuts
Brown rice contains gama-amino butyric acid, which calms the nervous system, making you feel sleepy. Plus, rice is digested slowly, progressively releasing glucose into the blood, which can increase production of tryptophan. An essential amino acid, tryptophan coverts to serotonin, which then coverts to melatonin, which helps maintain our sleep-and-wake cycle by causing drowsiness and lowering body temperature. Cherries and walnuts also contain naturally occurring tryptophan.
These nuts help you relax with high levels of potassium and B vitamins. Combine almond butter with bananas, another sleep aid, for a soothing bedtime snack.
The legumes have vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin. Snacking on chickpeas throughout the day can help you relax come bedtime. Oats also aid the body in releasing melatonin, which makes breakfast for dinner A-OK.
Leafy green kale
A good source of magnesium, which has been linked to good sleep, leafy kale can easily be added to smoothies, salads, stir-drys, and sandwiches. Bonus: Magnesium helps keep nerves, muscles, and bones healthy.
Essential oils like lavender have been shown to react the same way biochemically that anti-anxiety medications do. Whether diluted and rubbed onto acupressure points or diffused into the air, the right essential oils can help relieve stress, relax the body, and promote better sleep. Sleep-aiding oils include lavender, lemon or yuzu, bergamot, ylang ylang, clary sage, and jasmine.
Make a soothing cup of tea featuring herbs such as tulsi, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, chamomile, or valerian. All contain natural ingredients to help calm a restless mind. What’s more, sipping tea before bedtime can be part of a larger routine that signals your body to relax. If you are taking medication, talk to your physician before trying herbal remedies, as some can interact with certain drugs.
Shut Down the Screens
Reading can be a healthy part of your nightly bedtime routine. Reading a screen like an iPhone, Kindle, or Nook, however, can have negative effects on sleep. Scientists have found that specific wavelengths of light suppress melatonin in the brain. Too much light from screens at bedtime (including televisions) signal the body that you aren’t ready for sleep. What’s more, screens emit light that convinces the brain it is still daytime, and therefore time to be alert. The best solution is to avoid screens an hour or two before bedtime. If that’s not possible, switch devices to nighttime mode (most allow you to set a timer so it will go on and off automatically) and turn down the brightness.
One of the best ways to get better sleep is by following a routine that provides several signals to both your body and brain. Combine a few of the above suggestions, such as drinking herbal tea and munching a handful of walnuts while reading a book (not a book on a screen!) before bed. Establishing a calming ritual makes it easier to transition from busy days into restful nights.