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How can I fix insomnia naturally?

How can I fix insomnia naturally?

Nicole Knight, AHCJ | January 6, 2021 | Women's Health

These days, a good night’s sleep can feel elusive. Fully one-quarter of women experience at least one symptom of insomnia, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep — or both. 

Women also are twice as likely to have insomnia as men. This is largely due to natural hormonal changes brought on by the menstrual cycle and certain biological milestones, such as having children and menopause (1). Other culprits include the disruptive brain chemicals that happen with anxiety and mood disorders, which women are more vulnerable to, and the demands of juggling a job and caregiver duties (2). 

Too many nights spent tossing and turning are more than just a recipe for daytime fatigue. Poor sleep may also contribute to a decline in overall health and well-being. Here we give you the rundown on why women are more prone to insomnia and also outline the top at-home hacks and remedies to help you get a good night’s sleep naturally (1).

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is categorized as either primary or secondary. Primary insomnia is a disorder in and of itself — meaning this form isn’t a side effect of hormonal changes, medication, or health issues. On the other hand, secondary insomnia occurs in connection with other health conditions, life circumstances, or as a side effect of some prescription drugs (1).

The classic symptoms of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep, waking in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back asleep, waking up too early, and feeling unrested in the morning. Most women need 7 hours of sleep a night to feel rested (1).

Insomnia can be physically and emotionally debilitating. It may cause feelings of anxiety or irritability in the short term. Lasting or chronic insomnia may rob you of energy, make day-to-day tasks feel virtually undoable, and harm your quality of life. If insomnia is impacting your daily life, you should speak to your healthcare provider about which treatment options are best for  your situation. Long-term insomnia also may lead to or contribute to the development of other health problems, such as (1):

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
Why do women experience insomnia more than men?

Women’s unique hormonal fluctuations may explain why our gender is more prone to insomnia than men. These ebbs and flows happen during the menstrual cycle, especially in the days leading up to menstruation. This is a time when many women report sleeplessness (1).

Menstrual-related insomnia is especially common in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (1). Read up on PMDD in this deep dive.

Hormonal milestones such as pregnancy, the postpartum period, and menopause also may wreak havoc with regular sleep schedules (1). In addition, women with a high body mass index (BMI) are more prone to breathing problems, often leading to insomnia and fitful sleep (1, 3).

Integrative medicine practitioners suggest various holistic-focused techniques to address the assorted reasons for insomnia, which we’ll get to. But first consider starting with simple changes to your sleepytime routine (3).

What bedtime routines are best for insomnia?

Sleep experts suggest these tips for better Zzzs (4, 5):

  • Go to sleep at the same time nightly 
  • Make your bedroom a screen-free zone at night by putting away or turning off computers, cell phones, and other blue-light emitting devices that can mess with your body’s natural sleep cues
  • Choose a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to it each night
  • Head to bed only after winding down and when you're sleepy
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Around 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal
  • Try sleep aids, such as a sleep mask, light-blocking curtains, earplugs, or a white noise app 
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine or using any nicotine products before turning in
  • Refrain from eating heavy meals before bedtime
  • If you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes of turning out the light, don’t just lie in bed. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy

Bear in mind, it may take several days of following this advice before you notice a difference. 

Daytime habits for better sleep

Consider hacking your daytime routine with the following sleep-promoting habits (4, 5):

  • Rise around the same time every morning, regardless of how well you slept
  • Go outside for several minutes each morning. Basking in the outdoor light helps set your body to a natural wake-sleep circadian rhythm
  • Make time for regular physical activity during the daytime
  • If you must nap, make it no longer than 20 minutes and no later than early afternoon 
At-home tips for insomnia

Try a variety of DIY techniques, such as listening to restful music, meditating, or doing yoga to calm your mind and relax your body in preparation for sleep (1).

According to a study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, people who did meditative yoga daily at home slept better, felt less tired during the day, and had fewer feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, tension, and anger (6). 

Mindfulness meditation also has been shown to “modestly” improve sleep quality, shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and increase sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep in bed), according to a meta-analysis review of six randomized controlled sleep trials. Mindfulness meditation consists of sitting quietly and taking slow, steady breaths (7). 

Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, you may wish to try (in discussion with your provider) one of the following integrative fixes for insomnia (3):

  • Acupuncture - for insomnia in women with high BMI or mood disorders
  • Dietary changes - for insomnia in women with high BMI and anxiety
  • Chiropractic manipulations (muscle release, etc.) - for insomnia in women with anxiety and muscle pain
  • Floral therapy (oral supplements or essences) - for insomnia in women with mood disorders and hot flashes
  • Isoflavone supplements - for insomnia in women with hot flashes 

If you’re curious about sleep apps, consider one of the apps the American Sleep Association (ASA) recommends. Bear in mind, these apps are mostly useful for setting sleep goals and managing sleepytime routines rather than fixing chronic insomnia, according to ASA (8).

Sleep aid supplements for insomnia

Certain supplements may help you sleep better, but shouldn’t be treated as a lasting fix for insomnia. Before trying any new supplements or sleep aids, always err on the safe side by talking to your healthcare provider beforehand.

Melatonin 

Melatonin acts as a natural sleep regulator by helping you fall asleep and by blocking wake-up signals. New research in the journal Sleep Medicine suggests melatonin may help you sleep longer, by preventing wake-ups in the wee hours of the morning. The study participants took melatonin daily for 4 weeks. However, experts caution against relying on this sleep aid for too long because its long-term safety hasn’t been studied enough (1, 9). 

Magnesium

Magnesium, a mineral commonly found in leafy greens and fortified cereals, may promote better sleep. Participants in a small randomized clinical trial experienced fewer symptoms of insomnia and had improved sleep patterns after taking 500 mg of magnesium daily for 8 weeks (10).

Lavender Oil

One tiny case study showed that lavender oil capsules helped improve sleep patterns and also lessened anxiety. However, the research participants were people who’d been diagnosed with depression and were also taking antidepressants. This makes it difficult to tease out whether the medication or lavender oil — or the combination of both — helped participants to sleep better (11).

A string of sleepless nights does more than sap your energy and concentration — it may even harm your overall health. If your symptoms persist after trying natural sleep tips and aids, consult your health care provider to rule out an underlying health concern.

 

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