We are living in the age of sleep deprivation. There are so many stimulants out there that keep us awake. Our cell phones, our tablets, laptops, smart watches and so on. You get the idea, right? Wherever we go or whatever we do, there is something or someone that tries to keep you awake. It might not be your addiction to technology that keeps you awake, but your love for good coffee. Or maybe you have a night cap before bed to “help you sleep”, while all it really does is inhibit your bodies’ ability to enter the dream-sleep phase. With all of these stimulants out there, are there any countermeasures that we can put in place to save our sleep? Is there a natural, healthy way for us to save our sleeping habits? Read on to find out.

Why must it always be “natural”?

Well, simply because natural tends to be better for your body. Out bodies were put together in such a way that it craves certain, naturally occurring elements to thrive. And this goes for sleep as well. Just like we need energizing food to sustain us throughout the day, we need stimulants to help our bodies secrete the necessary hormones to induce sleep. This sounds like a mouth full, I know. But it sounds more complicated than it really is. So allow me to attempt to explain it to you.

Some unnatural sleeping aids may be harmful if used in the wrong way. It can also become addictive and rob you of the ability to fall asleep naturally. Believe me, this is not what you want! So here are a few reasons why you should potentially look at using natural sleeping aids, instead of prescription sleep medicine.

1. Sleeping pills can be addictive

If you struggle to sleep and you take a pill that helps you to fall asleep, why stop? I’m pretty sure that some of you think along these lines, right? And hey, who am I to say that you shouldn’t think like that? But hear me out on this one and see if you still feel like taking sleeping pills on a regular basis…

The main problem with using sleep inducing medication is that your body becomes used to it. Once your body starts getting used to something foreign (like a sleeping pill that was chemically manufactured in a laboratory), it starts building up a tolerance against that “thing”. Which means that you need to start taking in more pills to feel the same effect. And after a while, the pills you are taking at the moment just doesn’t cut it anymore. So you go to your medical practitioner and ask for stronger pills. And so the downward spiral into addiction starts.

How can you tell if you are addicted to sleeping pills?

Like with any addiction, once you break the cycle, you start showing signs of withdrawal. Sleeping pills are no different.

So if you’ve been taking pills to help you sleep and you stopped recently, watch out for these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hand tremors
  • Body spasms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness

If you find that you show some of the above mentioned signs of withdrawal, please stay away from the pharmacy! Please get professional help. Craving sleep medication can lead to craving banned substances, which is not only detrimental to your well being, but is illegal. You don’t want to get caught up with that kind of nonsense just so that you can sleep. Trust me, there are easier and healthier ways of falling asleep!

2. Lingering effects

Some of the stronger prescription sleep meds can stay in your system, even after you wake up. This can cause serious problems, especially if you have to drive to work or cycle to school. Sleeping pills inhibit your motor skills and reaction time, so driving under the influence can be life threatening. Sleep professionals advise patients to sleep for at least seven hours after taking prescription sleeping pills. If you sleep for less than seven hours, at least stay in doors until the chemicals have left your system. You don’t want to go out there and endanger yourself or other motorists.

The lingering effects also cause a loss of balance, and make regular sleeping pill users more likely to fall than the average guy on the street. A study that was published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine showed that patients who took zolpidem sleeping pills was four times more likely to fall over than other patients. This is quite scary, if you ask me! All the more reason to ween yourself off the sleeping medication and to find a more natural approach to induce sleep!

Natural sleep aids

So now that you know what type of harm can befall you if you drink too much prescribed sleeping pills, what are you going to change? Here are some ideas for you.

1. Go to bed

Ruffled gray covers and sheets with two pillows and a large window with blinds above it

I’m not even joking. The first and best way of insuring a healthy sleep cycle is to go to bed you’re you feel sleepy. Don’t force yourself to stay awake. For what? One of the most common reasons for missing out on sleep is fear of missing out, or FOMO. Because people don’t want to miss out on things, they stay up until late at night or even early in the morning.

This isn’t healthy and it is not natural either. Both our bodies and our brains need rest. Sleeping is not just something that we have to do every now and again, just to get over the worst of the fatigue. It is an important part of how our bodies restore energy and heals itself. Sleep is essential to store memories and freshen up your brain. So don’t neglect it for some late night television show or party.

Instead of waiting up for that show, go to bed. It is the wiser choice.

2. Eat right

We spoke about this in last weeks’ blog post as well. Starting off your day by eating the right food is not the only meal that can improve your lifestyle. There are some foods that helps relax the body and prepares it for sleep.

Health and sleep experts say that you should consider eating something that contains tryptophan before going to bed. But wait, there’s more! Not only does tryptophan help you to sleep, it also has a host of other great effects on your body. Taking in tryptophan can help reduce your anxiety levels, and it can also help to burn body fat. It has also been known to help people get over sugar addiction. This is a pretty cool amino acid (building block of proteins), if you ask me.

So where can you get this tryptophan? Seeing as it is a building block for proteins, you can generally find it in protein rich foods. Nuts, seeds, cherry juice and turkey. You can also find it in carbohydrates such as brown rice, quinoa and whole grain oats.

Don’t change your whole diet, just work in a slice of turkey with your dinner, or have some seeds and nuts as a small after dinner snack. Who knows, maybe it can help you to forget about what’s waiting for you at work tomorrow…

3. Take in the right supplemental elements

First thing’s first. Magnesium and calcium are not minerals, they are elements. There is a fundamental difference between the two. But seeing as this blog post is about sleep and not about the periodic table, I will refrain from boring you with the nitty gritty differences between the two. Just know that when dieticians talk about supplemental minerals, they actually mean supplemental elements. :p

Enough with the mineralogy. Taking in enough calcium and magnesium affects your sleep cycle in a positive manner. Here’s why:

Calcium

Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM sleep, is associated with high levels of calcium in our blood streams. If you do not dream a lot while you sleep, you might suffer from calcium deficiency. Isn’t that a cool random fact to know?

Magnesium

Calcium and magnesium work best when they are ingested together. That is why bananas are so healthy, because they contain a lot of both. A study done at the University of Geneva showed that high magnesium levels lead to more consistent sleep in the test subjects. And when taken together with calcium, it produced better sleep cycles and higher levels of alertness during the day.

Go ahead and eat a small banana for dessert, or have a cup of valerian tea an hour before bed time. Or have a glass of milk. It might just do the trick!

4. Sniff yourself to sleep

Smell is a much more powerful sensory tool than people tend to think. For example, a recent study showed that smelling cinnamon increases brain function and alertness. The researchers tested a bunch of students that were writing exam. Half of the students walked down a corridor that was filled with the scent of cinnamon, while the other half just entered the exam venue via a normal air conditioned corridor. The exam results showed that those students that smelled the cinnamon before the exam consistently scored better marks than what they normally scored.

This is all very fascinating, but what does cinnamon have to do with sleep? Not much, really. But you can try sniffing some cinnamon when you wake up tomorrow morning. Better yet, sprinkle some over your breakfast!

But scent can also help you to relax and fall asleep. Before you go to bed, take a walk through the garden and smell the lavender. If you don’t have lavender in your garden, smell the jasmine! Both of these flowers are known for their restorative and relaxing scents. And in the case of lavender, it has been used since the middle ages as a relaxing agent and a remedy for anxiety.

If you don’t have a garden… Get a sleep inducing essential oil blend. Trust me, it works!

5. Passion flower

This flower, like lavender, has been in use to reduce anxiety levels since long before any of us were born.  The easiest way to ingest it is to drink a passion flower tea infusion.

If you are one of those night time worriers that can’t shut your brain off, even though the lights have been off for a long time, this might be the natural sleep aid for you. A study showed that patients who were diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were successfully treated with passion flower! They showed lower levels of anxiety and performed better in their work after taking in passion flower tea over a period of four weeks. It also helped them to fall asleep at night.

Still not convinced?

Well if that is the case, I don’t know if I can help you. But what I do know is that the best way to find out if something works for you is to try it. Like Coldplay sings: “If you never try you’ll never know…”

So tonight, instead of heading out, go to bed! Instead of having coffee, have herbal tea. Or maybe have some nuts an hour or so before bed, instead of having McDonald’s. As for me, I’m going to switch off my computer now and relax in bed with a warm cup of rooibos and a paperback.