We’ve all experienced how difficult it can be to get through a day when we haven’t had a good sleep the night before. Everything becomes more difficult to deal with physically, mentally and emotionally. As a result, we may feel too tired to exercise, crave sugary food for a quick energy fix, eat more junk food as we’re too tired to cook, sleep during the day or drink too much caffeine which can then affect the quality of our sleep that night. If this vicious cycle goes on for a longer period of time it can really start to negatively impact our health and our happiness.

There are many reasons for disturbed sleep and ultimately the underlying cause needs to be addressed. Although they may be a quick fix, pharmaceutical sleeping tablets are not ideal as they can become addictive and can affect clarity of mind the next day amongst other side effects. Below are some natural ideas that can help improve sleep by relaxing the nervous system and encouraging the mind to relax and let go:

1. Empty the Mind: 
Sometimes the mind likes to download all the things we need to think about through the night as it’s a time when we are not busy with other things and it has our undivided attention. Before bed, write in a diary/journal/ pad, to empty the mind of all thoughts. Let the mind know that now is the time to give you everything it wants you to hear and it has your complete attention. Keep writing, even if it doesn’t make sense, just giving the mind free rein and keep going until there’s nothing left and the mind is quiet. Thank the mind and then let it know that now it is sleep time. 

2. Deep Sleep technique:
After emptying the mind, It can help to give the mind a boring job to focus on and also give the body a command. Try breathing in the word ‘Deep’ and breathing out the word ‘Sleep’. These words are not said out loud, they are said in the mind. As you are laying there with your eyes closed, breathe in ‘deep’ and breathe out ‘sleep’. It needs to be as if nothing else exists other than these two words. As soon as you’re aware of thoughts thinking of something else, remind yourself that nothing exists other than (breathe in) ‘deep’  (breathe out) ‘sleep’. 

This technique can be used whether issues are with falling asleep initially or waking through the night and not being able to get back to sleep. The only way this technique won’t work is if you let your mind drift from the breathing of these two words.

3. Maximum 1 coffee per day (before 12 noon): 
Even if you don’t feel the stimulating effects of caffeine, it does impact your physiology and can increase mind alertness. If sleep issues are present, no caffeine should be consumed after midday. This includes tea, hot chocolate, and soft drinks. Herbal teas are a better option in the afternoon or evening.

4. Exercise:
Daily exercise will help the body de-stress and pave the way for better sleep consistently. Aim for 10,000 steps per day. 

5. Meditation:
Daily meditation can help train the mind to rise above thought and to be still. There are some wonderful free Apps such as ‘Insight Timer’ that offer 1000’s of free meditations to help build your personal practice. Some people prefer nature sounds or music and others prefer guided meditation and this App covers it all. There are also 1000’s of meditations specifically tailored to help sleep. 

6. Herbal medicine and supplements: 
Many people think melatonin is the magic supplement for sleep, however it is only going to work for people that have a melatonin deficiency. If the sleeping issues are not due to insufficient melatonin, then taking melatonin won’t help. Magnesium in therapeutic doses can help relax muscles and the nervous system, to encourage a better quality sleep. There are many forms of magnesium available and the most effective one for you is best prescribed by a healthcare practitioner trained in nutritional medicine. Many people who don’t get results with magnesium are taking an incorrect form and dose.

There are some potent medicinal herbs that support the body to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer yet won’t give a lethargic hangover feeling the next day. A herbal medicine practitioner can prescribe the best option and has access to practitioner only ranges which are of superior quality and contain higher doses of active ingredients. 

Some B vitamin formulas can be stimulating so are best taken in the morning rather than at night. 

7. Hydration:
If the body is not hydrated, no matter how relaxed you may feel, sleep won’t come easily. To avoid going to bed with a full bladder, try and consume plenty of water before 4pm. If nothing else is working to help you sleep, try having a drink of water. 

8. Blood sugar levels:
As with hydration, if the body is hungry it’s going to be difficult to induce sleep. It’s also not healthy to go to bed with a huge belly of food. If a big meal is consumed, it’s better to go for a walk or sit upright and digest before laying down to sleep. High sugar containing food and alcohol can negatively impact sleep and lead to a more restless night.

High tryptophan containing foods can help some people sleep as tryptophan is converted to precursors that form serotonin and melatonin which help the body relax. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey/chicken, banana, dairy (yoghurt, cheese, milk) nuts and seeds. 

It’s important to address the underlying issue leading to sleep disturbance as well as finding a longer term solution that doesn’t negatively impact the waking life.