Tips: How to Go to Sleep Using Natural Methods

We're metabolic machines, using chemicals to regulate cellular activity. So when you're having difficulty falling asleep, it's tempting to address the issue directly with medication in order to apply a chemical solution to that specific problem.

The problem with taking medicine to sleep is that you have to keep doing it, because sleeping pills disrupt whatever natural cycle your body has established for sleeping and waking. Using medicine, you'll always be able to induce some form of unconsciousness, but you'll never be able to achieve a genuinely restful sleep rather than a drugged daze, and you will feel the difference in the morning.

How can you regulate your sleep cycle without depending on drugs? Here are some tips for falling asleep naturally:

Melatonin, Your Body's Own Sleep Aid

Make an effort to eat foods containing tryptophan, which is an amino acid your body needs to make serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and melatonin is a hormone, and together they regulate numerous physical functions, including mood and sleep. When your body metabolizes foods containing tryptophan, it first makes serotonin from the tryptophan, then uses the serotonin to produce melatonin.

The following foods can help your body fall asleep naturally: bananas, dairy products, nuts, flax seed, soybeans and soy products, oatmeal, pork, turkey, and chicken. If you want to tune up your diet to foster sleep, obtain a list of the exact amounts of tryptophan found in each food so you can maximize your intake.

If your body follows its circadian rhythm, which is a natural pattern of waking and sleeping, your pineal gland starts producing melatonin when it receives a physical cue signaling the approach of darkness. Melatonin makes you drowsy and lowers your body temperature, helping you prepare physically for a good night's sleep.

Remember: bright light causes your melatonin level to drop.

Darken Your House

The cue that stimulates melatonin production is a lessening in the light reaching your retinas, meaning your eyes have to notice it's getting darker. When your body perceives that change, it gets ready for a period of sleep. The advent of electrical power made it possible to continue to work after dark, but if your body isn't permitted to register the onset of darkness, it has no reason to prepare for sleep.

You'll be able to stay up indefinitely reading or watching television, but unless you tell your body, "It's now dark, officially time to sleep," you could be up all night. So drop some physical hints: an hour before you want to go to bed, start turning off lights, until only one light remains lit, and it's the one on your bedside table. Snap that off, and say goodnight.

Try an eye mask if you can't block outside light sources.

Create a New Bedtime Habit

Bedtime Ritual

You should develop one, beginning with the gradual darkening of the house we described above. You need the dark in a physical way to help you sleep, but since human beings are creatures of habit, you'll be able to train yourself to turn your thoughts away from daytime activities more easily with a fixed set of tasks, performed nightly, that say time for sleep has arrived.

What you select depends entirely on you: the point is to repeat the sequence each night and conclude it punctually by sliding under the covers.

Here's an example, simple chores that line up naturally right before bed: Walk your dog or clean your litterbox, take a soothing bath, putter in your garden for half an hour (which will expose you to naturally diminishing light), arrange the items you'll need to grab on your way out the door tomorrow where you can reach them easily, wipe your kitchen counter and set up your coffeemaker with your favorite mug, ready to go.

If a glass of warm milk or a cup of peppermint tea says "sleepytime" to you, drink that last of all. But always remember to avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol or any other product you find physically stimulating. You're winding down rather than gearing up, and you'll fall asleep faster if your body hasn't received any encouragement to keep going.

And if you start taking prescribed medication, then experience insomnia, ask your doctor whether that's a side effect. You may be able to switch to a different product and solve your problem that way.

Keep Regular Sleeping Hours

This means no naps, and the corollary of that advice, which is: sleep regular hours. If your body knows which hours are invariably required for sleep, it will be able to accommodate your needs. Many people have a circadian rhythm that does not fit their work hours, and that's where sleep problems often begin. Establishing an inflexible sleeping time will help you overcome any mismatch in your body's natural sleep schedule.

It's very important to reserve your bed for sleeping. That is the same type of habituation as the bedtime ritual: if you also use your bed as a reading place, or you use your phone or laptop in bed, you won't subconsciously recognize bed as a dedicated sleep spot, which commands sleep once entered... and the latter is the effect you're trying to achieve.

Pay Attention to Comfort

People who know they'll never rest if they camp outdoors in a sleeping bag can overlook the insomniac effects of hard, uneven mattresses, scratchy bed linens, and lumpy pillows at home because they've become accustomed to those nighttime annoyances. But sleep experts recommend easy-fitting garments and cushiony comfort in your bedtime accoutrements.

When you're preparing for bed, discard any binding clothing to pull on pajama pants and an oversized T. Make sure your mattress is firm but not hard, your pillows are plump, and your blankets are soft. If it's chilly, an electric blanket plus an open window can lull you into sleep in no time. Or if the temperature is perfect and it's a quiet evening, throw open your window and enjoy the night air. Room temperature is important: it shouldn't be distractingly cold, but shouldn't be overheated. The less adjustments you have to make in your covers through the night, the more soundly you'll sleep.

If you don't enjoy a quiet living situation, you can look into muffling the sounds that must reach your bedroom. You can use some form of physical soundproofing, perhaps heavy drapes, to help swallow external sounds. Or try covering the sounds with white noise or even music, which can also have a calming effect. The goal is to stop thinking about daytime activities. It's very important to...

Clear Your Mind

Erase any thoughts on subjects that may distract you from your sleep. That is much easier said than done, but it's essential. You should stop working several hours before you plan to sleep, to let your mind resolve any puzzles remaining from the day. If you find a recreational pastime like doing crosswords or knitting relaxes you, then you may indulge, but of course you'll sit somewhere other than your sleep-dedicated bed.

To help you achieve mental tranquility, try meditation or relaxation exercises. No one is altogether able to avoid stress, but stress can prevent you from enjoying a good night's sleep unless you actively combat it. There are scores of recommended methods, so find what works for you and make it part of your bedtime ritual.

As an example, picture this: combine a warm, delicately scented bath with a candle or two plus music, and sail a flower in the tub so you can focus your attention on it. Immerse yourself, then try your relaxation techniques. If you go straight from the tub to a darkened bedroom, that should do the trick.

Regular Exercise

Recent studies by two American universities suggest that if you exercise moderately on a daily basis (no strenuous exercise in the evenings), you'll fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

Some lucky people are naturally good sleepers, falling asleep with ease, staying asleep, and dreaming vividly. They look forward to sleep, treating it as something more than a blank period at the end of the day. If you learn to pursue sleep as an enjoyable activity, that will help you join that fortunate group.