Regular, restful slumber is missing from so many of our lives that public health officials now point to insufficient sleep as part of a larger health problem. We’re not talking about simple daytime fatigue. Without enough sleep, you’re more at risk for chronic problems like diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Sleep is so essential to health. It’s a cornerstone of getting your health back into balance no matter what age you are. As a culture, we’re underslept,” says Jenny Tufenkian, a licensed naturopathic physician in Portland, Ore. and a clinical instructor at the National College of Natural Medicine.
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Naturopathic doctors approach sleep problems by looking for the underlying cause and starting with natural solutions like home remedies and establishing a healthy sleep routine.
“There are a lot of things you can do before jumping to a sleeping pill,” says Pina LoGiudice, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist in Huntington, NY and a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. “The big problem is that even if you take just two sleeping pills a month, you have an increased risk of death. Looking for other solutions to help with sleep should be a must.”
Fortunately, attaining a good night’s rest is within reach. Start with these steps.
Manage your stress. “With the majority of patients, their circadian rhythm is off and it’s often due to stress,” says Tufenkian. Normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol should be high in the morning, come down throughout the day, and be at their lowest at bedtime. If you have trouble falling asleep, your cortisol levels may be higher at night and lower in the morning, she says.
Try the following home remedies to help manage stress:
• Cut out caffeine or stop all caffeinated drinks after 1 p.m. if you absolutely need it to keep going throughout the day
• Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes daily.
• Put away all electronic devices like your laptop and phones at least one hour before bedtime.
• Try stream-of-consciousness journaling. Write for 10 minutes before bed—“a complete brain dump,” says Tufenkian. This helps eliminate the lists of ideas or things to do that keep you up.
Eat (and drink) your way to sleep. What you put into your body can be a powerful influence on the quality of your sleep. Specifically, home remedies like these can help:
• Scottish oatmeal, turkey and pumpkin seed powder (found in natural food stores or grind your own) have high levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to seratonin, which is calming and helps you stay asleep.
• Tart (mortency) cherries contain high levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps your body establish a normal sleep rhythm, says Giudice. If you can’t find fresh or frozen tart cherries, look for the juice, found in most natural foods stores.
• Warm milk, and teas made of chamomile, passion flower or valerian root are natural sedatives that help create a calming before-bedtime ritual.
Sleep like a baby. “The number-one home treatment is to maintain a regular, daily schedule,” says Tufenkian. Children benefit from bedtime routines like baths, reading and consistent bedtimes—adults reap the same benefits, too.
"Routine helps get your adrenal glands and sleep back to normal,” she says. “You should wake up at the same time every day within an hour, go to sleep at the same time, eat at the same time, and exercise at the same time. That resets the body to become more normalized.”