Updated: Jun 30
There is probably nothing more beneficial to our wellbeing, health and a balanced mind and body than deep, restful sleep. There’s no doubt that most of us need less sleep as we get older. However, the truth is most of us don’t get enough, and because of busy lifestyles, it’s not as restful as we would like either.
Sleep has many functions, including overcoming the effects of stress, giving our bodies time to restore and rejuvenate, and helping the brain to commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.
Poor sleep or sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, an inability to concentrate and moodiness. It can also leave you too tired to do the things you enjoy, can make daily life feel more stressful or reduce productivity.
So, let’s take a look at how to improve the quality of sleep with natural remedies.
Remedies to encourage sleep
The herbs passiflora (also known as passion flower) and skullcap are excellent for dealing with anxiety and tension that may disrupt sleep and are a popular herbal remedy for insomnia. You can find dried passionflower or pre-packaged tea at many health food stores. You can also find both herbs in liquid extracts, capsules, and tablet form.
Valerian is an effective sedative herb that helps to enhance sleep patterns. Valerian is a herb native to Asia and Europe. Its root is commonly used as a natural treatment for symptoms of anxiety, depression and menopause. This remedy can help people to get to sleep faster, enhance the quality of their sleep, and leave them less cloudy headed compared to prescriptions drugs. Just a note of caution that this should be a short-term solution and more studies are needed in the effect of long-term use.
Essential oils of basil, chamomile, lavender, marjoram or neroli can be very effective in aiding sleep. Lavender’s soothing fragrance is believed to enhance sleep. In fact, several studies show that simply smelling lavender oil for 30 minutes before sleep may be enough to improve the quality of sleep. Use your preferred oil in a gentle pre-sleep massage, by massaging into your chest with a carrier oil, add a few drops to a relaxing bath, or invest in a diffuser and let the aroma fill your room.
Try the time-honoured remedy of a glass of milk before bedtime. Milk contains tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin, the hormone that controls sleep. One study reports that doses as low as 1 gram per day of this essential amino acid may help improve sleep quality.
Other foods containing tryptophan are honey, fish, turkey, egg whites and avocado. Some people find that a banana an hour before bed helps them to sleep longer as bananas are a good source of tryptophan, which is essentially calming.
Foods that promote sleep include leafy green vegetables, rich on chlorophyll, wholegrain breads, cereals and mushrooms. Fruits, especially berries, help with sleep problems, as do the herbs dill, sage and basil.
Tart cherry juice is also known to promote sleepiness, and it has even been studied for its role in relieving insomnia. For these reasons, drinking tart cherry juice before bed may improve your sleep quality. The sleep-promoting effects of tart cherry juice are due to its high content of melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates your internal clock and signals your body to prepare for sleep.
Some foods may help, thanks to their content of sleep-regulating hormones and brain chemicals, including melatonin and serotonin. Additionally, some foods contain high amounts of specific antioxidants and nutrients, such as magnesium, that are known to enhance sleep by helping you fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer. It is best to consume sleep-enhancing foods 2–3 hours before bed. This time is better because eating immediately before going to sleep may cause digestive issues, such as acid reflux.
Calcium and Magnesium are nature’s tranquilisers, and required minerals needed for restful sleep. Magnesium and calcium are both sleep boosters, and when taken together, they become even more effective. Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of processes in the human body and is important for brain function and heart health.
Also, magnesium may help quiet the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep. Studies show that magnesium’s relaxing effect may be partly due to its ability to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that guides your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
Plus, by taking magnesium, you cancel out any potential heart problems that might arise from taking calcium alone. Consider a supplement if you can’t get enough in your daily diet.
The B-Vitamins, in particular, B6 and B12, are beneficial and often used in the treatment of insomnia. Look for a good vitamin B complex to take every morning to support your nerves and keep you calmer, and increase your consumption of wheat germ, bananas, sunflower seeds and tuna.
Keep in mind that high-quality sleep is just as important for overall health as eating well and exercising regularly. Nevertheless, many people have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently or fail to wake up feeling rested. This makes it challenging to maintain optimal health and well-being.
The supplements above are just one way to increase the likelihood of achieving restful sleep. They’re probably most effective when used in combination with good sleep practices and habits.
'Sleep is the best meditation' - Dalai Lama
Enough sleep is just as crucial for good health as nutrition and exercise.
An inability to sleep is not a disease, but rather a symptom, indicating our difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep. You may find it hard to drift off, keep waking up in the night, wake up early, or not be able to sleep. Many people have insomnia and might not even be aware of it, but it can lead to headaches, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
Sleep is vital for the body to rest and recuperate. It's natural to feel sleepless once in a while, but if it becomes a habit, then you have a bigger problem, and that's where my Sleep Well, Feel Well series can help you. Learn more.