Just like eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated, getting enough high-quality sleep is critical for your overall wellness. However, about one in three American adults regularly doesn’t get enough sleep, resulting in serious health consequences, including high blood pressure, poorer mental health, and even elevated risk of heart disease or stroke. Because there are many reasons for poor sleep, managing problematic sleep can be difficult, but there is an equally diverse number of potential treatment options available.
If you have temporary or short-term sleeping problems, you may be able to take prescription sleeping pills to overcome them and get back on your typical schedule. If you have long-term sleep issues or diagnosable sleep disorder, though, you may need to explore other solutions to maintain your health. Depending on your needs, you may benefit from using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to improve and promote sleep.
CAM refers to “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.” CAM itself has grown immensely in popularity, but many CAM practices are also being integrated into traditional healthcare treatments. Ranging from human mental health conditions to animals’ physical ailments, CAM can be used to treat a wide variety of health problems — including problematic sleep. Before employing any CAM techniques, it’s crucial to learn more about common sleep issues; their signs, symptoms, and health consequences; and available solutions so you can make the best possible decision for your health.
There are many ways that sleep can be problematic. If you tend to sleep too much, constantly sleep too little, or if your sleep is regularly interrupted, it can be indicative of a diagnosable sleep disorder. Some of the most common sleep disorders include:
Insomnia: Insomnia occurs when people have trouble falling or staying asleep, despite the desire to do so. It’s estimated that anywhere between 10% to 60% of the adult population experiences some form of insomnia. It can be either acute or chronic, though chronic insomnia is rarer. Insomnia can cause non-restorative sleep and impair your daily functioning.
Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy refers to a neurological condition that affects your ability to control sleeping or waking. It is characterized by daytime sleepiness and sudden loss of muscle control, which can cause you to fall asleep at inappropriate times during the day — even if you slept well the night before. 0.02% of adults worldwide are affected by narcolepsy.
Parasomnias: Parasomnias refers to a broad range of atypical behaviors that occur before you fall asleep, while you’re asleep, or during the transition between sleeping and waking. This includes behaviors such as sleepwalking, night terrors, and sleep paralysis. The prevalence of parasomnias can vary depending on the behavior, but all can be disruptive to sleep, making it difficult for you to sleep through the night.
Restless Leg Syndrome: RLS refers to a condition in which you feel unpleasant or painful sensations in your legs, or a strong desire to move your legs, especially at night or while trying to fall asleep. RLS can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. This condition affects anywhere from 3.9% to 15% of the population, but more commonly affects women than men.
Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea occurs when you stop breathing during sleep. Not only is this disruptive to your sleep, but it can be highly dangerous and have severe health outcomes if left untreated. Anywhere from 14% to 55% of the adult population is affected by sleep apnea in the U.S.
A growing body of research shows that the prevalence of sleep disorders has increased in recent years. Some researchers even believe that insufficient sleep should be classified as a public health epidemic. Whether you have one of the above-diagnosed disorders or are simply experiencing issues with sleep, these conditions can cause you to experience sleep deprivation, which can have concerning effects on your health in and of itself.
Sleep deprivation is not a disorder in and of itself, but it can be an effect of a sleep disorder or health condition. Sleep deprivation occurs when you don’t get enough sleep to feel rested, regardless of the cause. Because it can have many different causes, most people experience poor sleep from time to time. However, chronic or consistent sleep deprivation is a growing issue affecting an increasing number of people around the world.
Though everyone has unique sleep needs, the CDC generally suggests that adults need at least seven hours of rest each night. Any less than that, and you may run the risk of experiencing sleep deprivation. Poor sleep quality can also contribute to feelings of inadequate rest, even if you meet or exceed the amount of recommended sleep. Like diagnosable sleep disorders, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences for your health. For this reason, you should still try to overcome the cause of your sleep deprivation and work to improve your sleep.
Similarly, there are many different causes of various sleep disorders. Some of the most common factors that can contribute to problematic sleep include:
Allergies & Respiratory Problems: A respiratory problem, such as severe allergies or a cold, can cause breathing issues. If you have difficulties breathing, cannot breathe through your nose, or are generally uncomfortable, you may have trouble sleeping. For a short-term illness, this may go away after a few days or weeks, but if you have chronic respiratory problems, it can have long-term impacts on your sleep.
Chronic Pain: Pain of any kind can make it difficult to relax and fall asleep, but chronic pain can be especially challenging because of its persistence. Depending on your condition, you may even awaken during the night because of intense pain. Chronic pain can be caused by certain health conditions, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia, but it can also be due to recurring health problems like frequent headaches.
Environmental Factors: From your job to your neighborhood, there are many external factors that can negatively affect your sleep. Some factors are in your control, such as the temperature of your bedroom, but others — such as how busy your street is or how noisy your family members or roommates are — are not. These uncontrollable environmental factors can be particularly frustrating as they detract from your sleep.
Frequent Urination: Frequent urination can disturb your sleep by causing you to wake up during the night so you can go to the bathroom. Called nocturia, this is more likely to impact older adults, but it can also be caused by certain medical conditions (like a urinary tract infection) or medications.
Stress: Stress can impact every part of your health, but it can be especially disruptive for your sleep. You may have more trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Further, you could experience nightmares or parasomnias that detract from the quality of your sleep.
It’s worth noting that some sleep disorders have very specific or distinct causes. With other sleep issues, it can be difficult to know the exact cause. If you’re experiencing problematic sleep, it’s crucial to pay attention to your specific symptoms so you’re better able to respond to them.
Whether from a sleep disorder or other cause, there are many ways to tell if you aren’t getting enough sleep. Different sleep disorders may have their own unique or discrete symptoms, but there are many signs that can indicate problematic sleep, including:
Having trouble or being unable to fall or stay asleep;
Feeling tired or unrested upon waking;
Irritability, moodiness, or shifts in your mood;
Atypical movements or behaviors during sleep;
Unintentional or uncontrolled changes in your sleep schedule;
Desire to nap during the day;
Decreased performance at work, school, or daily activities;
Inability to stay awake during the day.
If you have any of these symptoms, you may have a sleep disorder or you may simply be experiencing problematic sleep. Either way, it’s important to be aware of your sleep habits and how they could be affecting you so you’re able to find the right way to support your sleep.
Depending on what type of sleep disorder you have or what symptoms you’re experiencing, you may be able to manage your problematic sleep naturally. While taking a sleeping pill can be an effective way to deal with problematic sleep, it can also be harsh on your body and come with other risky side effects. You should always follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to sleep aids, but there may be an opportunity to use natural and holistic techniques to promote sleep.
As a variety of new trends fuel the wellness industry, a growing number of people are opting to use natural products to promote sleep. Many of these products can be used in conjunction with CAM techniques and practices for a more holistic approach to sleep management. If you want to learn more about natural ways to support your sleep, consider which of the following CAM practices may work for you:
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting small metal needles into specific points on your body. Part of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been used for a variety of purposes, such as reducing pain and decreasing stress. Traditionally, acupuncture has been thought to balance the energy in your body, though modern practitioners believe it can be beneficial because of how it stimulates your nerves and muscles.
Some researchers believe acupuncture could be an effective way to manage sleep disorders. However, acupuncture as a sleep solution needs further study, as western practitioners are still unsure of how acupuncture impacts the body to support sleep. If you’re interested in exploring acupuncture, make sure you find a certified and reputable practitioner who you trust.
Smell may not be the first sense you think of when trying to induce sleep, but just like what you see and hear, what you smell can impact your ability to rest. Aromatherapy is the practice of using natural plant extracts — including essential oils — for therapeutic purposes. Multiple studies suggest that aromatherapy can increase the quality of sleep, as well as reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that can make it more difficult to sleep. It can also increase the amount of time you experience deep sleep, or REM sleep, causing you to feel more rested and restored in the morning.
However, you must be mindful of what scents you inhale before sleep. Many plants and herbs have medicinal properties; if you aren’t careful, you could hinder, rather than help, your efforts to sleep. Some scents that are known to support sleep or relaxation include:
Citrus: Citrus scents, including bergamot and mandarin, are thought to boost the quality of sleep. Additionally, lemon oil may relieve stress and anxiety, which can make it easier to fall asleep. Be careful, as you may also find citrus scents to be energizing rather than soothing.
Jasmine: Researchers believe jasmine has molecular similarities to compounds commonly found in sleeping pills and mood enhancers, making it useful for supporting sleep.
Lavender: Lavender is a scent that is well-known for promoting relaxation and reducing stress. It may also have minor sedative-like effects, which could be part of the reason it’s used as a natural sleep aid.
Sandalwood: Similarly, sandalwood may also have sedative properties that can improve the duration of uninterrupted sleep. However, it could make some people feel mentally alert, despite promoting physical relaxation.
Try lighting a candle, diffusing essential oils, or applying a scented lotion while you’re getting ready to rest. Keep in mind that there may be some trial and error involved while you find a scent and product that is soothing for you. Some may be invigorating or result in an adverse reaction for you. If you have any questions or concerns, it’s always best to talk to your doctor or an aromatherapist for guidance.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that is used to treat a variety of psychological conditions and improve mental wellbeing. It is a structured treatment that involves working with a mental health professional in a limited number of sessions. In these sessions, you’ll learn to identify negative thoughts or behaviors and replace them with ones that more positively impact your life.
CBT can also be used to treat sleep issues, particularly insomnia. CBT is thought to be an effective way to support sleep, as it works to address the root causes of your sleep problems. Some researchers recommend CBT as a “first-line treatment option” for sleep disorders because it is so beneficial. In CBT for sleep improvement, you will work to overcome any thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that negatively impact your sleep. If you’re interested in trying CBT, you will need to work with a trusted, certified mental health professional or CBT specialist, either in person or online.
Your dietary choices can have a profound impact on your sleep. It’s not only what you eat; it’s your other dietary habits that can hinder or help your ability to rest. To improve your sleep, consider:
Avoiding caffeine late in the day;
Eating breakfast each morning;
Avoiding large meals, especially later in the day;
Drinking too much alcohol;
Avoiding foods that cause heartburn, which can keep you up at night;
Avoiding snacking late in the evening or at night;
Drinking a lot of liquids before bed, which can cause you to wake up during the night to urinate.
It’s important to consider your own dietary habits and how they could be affecting your sleep. Further, there is also a clear connection between what you eat and the quality of your sleep. Simply put, while some foods can hinder your sleep, others may improve it:
Cherries: Cherries, and tart cherries, in particular, contain high amounts of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle. Drinking tart cherry juice before going to bed may help boost your sleep quality and duration.
Fatty Fish: Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are rich in vitamin D and may stimulate the production of serotonin (a chemical that helps regulate your sleep cycle). For this reason, eating fatty fish may help you fall asleep more quickly if you eat it later in the day.
Kiwi: Kiwi may help you fall asleep faster and rest through the night without waking. Researchers have attributed these sleep-promoting effects to the prescient of serotonin in kiwi, though it may also be due to their high concentration of antioxidants.
Turkey: Turkey is rich with tryptophan, an amino acid that stimulates the production of melatonin. Eating turkey could help increase your own melatonin production, making it easier for you to sleep.
White Rice: White rice has a high glycemic index (GI), meaning it increases your blood sugar more quickly. Eating foods with a high GI are thought to improve sleep quality, with rice being a more effective option than several others. In one study, participants who ate white rice one hour before bed reported better sleep.
Eating these foods may or may not have the intended effect on your sleep. Depending on your body, there may be some trial and error involved in finding a diet that supports your sleep.
Just like your diet, your exercise habits can affect your sleep. Not only is regular physical activity an important part of living a healthy life, but it also can help you get a better night’s sleep — especially if you have a diagnosed sleep disorder. It’s thought that physical activity can help with regulating your circadian rhythm (or your sleep and wake cycle). Exercise may also increase the duration of your deep sleep phase during your nightly sleep cycle.
When exercising to promote sleep, it’s best to be as consistent as possible. Find a form of activity that you enjoy, so you look forward to moving and are able to maintain the habit. Further, you don’t have to do hours-long, intense workouts, as moderate activity is more effective for boosting your sleep quality than vigorous exercise. Finally, try to avoid working out too late in the evening or day; doing so can be energizing, and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which you experience increased focus, relaxation, and receptiveness to suggestion or influence. Also called hypnotherapy, it’s thought that hypnosis offers greater access to your subconscious, which could be useful in encouraging you to fall asleep.
Some research suggests that hypnosis could be highly beneficial for inducing sleep, and even for promoting deep, restorative sleep. One study found that over half of participants reported improved sleep outcomes after hypnosis. Further, hypnosis is a relatively low-risk technique and if it doesn’t work well for you, you’re unlikely to experience any adverse consequences. If you’re interested in trying hypnosis, you can explore countless online resources and recordings that are available; however, it may be best to get in touch with your doctor or a mental health professional for a referral to a certified hypnotherapist or specialist.
Commonly used to treat mood disorders, light exposure therapy involves exposing yourself to artificial light that imitates the natural light you’d encounter outdoors. It’s not completely clear how light exposure therapy works, but researchers believe it can help your body’s circadian rhythms by affecting brain chemicals that can impact your mood. With the help of full-spectrum light, your mind and body are able to better “wake up” in the mornings — especially during the shorter days of fall and winter.
For this reason, light exposure therapy can also be helpful for treating sleep disorders as well as generally problematic sleep. You can purchase a light therapy box online or from a drugstore, although you should look for a full-spectrum light that also blocks out harmful UV rays. Generally, light exposure therapy is fairly safe, though you can experience minor side effects like eye strain or headache. To minimize these side effects, it’s best to do your therapy sessions for the same period of time and at the same time each day.
Many plants have medicinal properties that can be beneficial for your health, and there’s a variety of herbs and supplements you can take to support your sleep. Some of the most popular include:
Chamomile: Chamomile is an herb that has long been used to address health ailments and boost wellbeing. Chamomile has sedative properties that can make you feel sleepy, though researchers have not yet determined if it can improve the quality or duration of your sleep.
Cannabidiol (CBD): CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant that does not have any psychoactive properties, but does have many purported health benefits, including sleep support. Although initial research is promising, there have been mixed long-term results for sleep and further study is necessary to understand the full extent of its benefits.
Glycine: Glycine is an amino acid that plays an important role in many different bodily functions, including sleep. It’s thought that glycine lowers your body temperature, making it easier for you to fall asleep. One study found that individuals who took glycine had improved sleep quality based on objective, rather than self-reported, measures like heart rate and breathing. Your body produces glycine, but you can increase your intake by eating glycine-rich foods or taking a supplement.
Kratom: Kratom is a natural botanical that, when dosed and taken properly, may offer a variety of health benefits. Researchers have discovered that certain types of kratom can have sedative effects, which suggests that it might be helpful for reducing feelings of anxiety and promoting feelings of sleepiness. Similar to CBD, kratom has not been studied extensively, and more research is needed to learn about all of its possible health benefits.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone produced by your body that signals when it’s time to go to sleep. It does not have sedative properties; rather, it works to regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin has many potential benefits for sleep, including reducing the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, increasing the amount of time you stay asleep, and improving the overall quality of your sleep.
Passionflower: Passionflower is a plant that may have sleep improvement effects, depending on the variety and method of ingestion. Results have been mixed, with some individuals reporting better sleep and others not feeling any effects. Other researchers have noted that further study is necessary to verify the potential uses of passionflower for sleep.
Valerian: Valerian is an herb that has long been used as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments. Some studies indicate that taking valerian root before going to bed may improve your sleep quality and help you fall asleep more quickly.
When used correctly, natural supplements can boost your wellbeing and help you live a healthier, more balanced life. However, these plants can still have serious impacts on your health, such as causing unpleasant side effects or interacting with other medications or supplements. For the best results, you should always discuss your desire or intention to take a supplement with your primary care provider.
From increasing productivity to maintaining mental wellness, there are countless ways that meditation and relaxation can improve your health. Meditation has multiple benefits for sleep, including reduced insomnia symptoms and lessened feelings of daytime fatigue. Some techniques you can use to relax and meditate for sleep support include:
Abdominal Breathing: Also called belly breathing, this technique involves taking slow, long, and deep breaths and focusing on those breaths to disengage from any stressful or troubling thoughts. You can do this exercise while laying down in bed, with your hands on your stomach, to see the rise and fall of your stomach.
Guided Imagery: Guided imagery requires you to imagine a comforting place, experience, or sensation. You may envision a beautiful beach, eating your favorite food, or blowing bubbles — what you imagine doesn’t matter, as long as it soothes you. You can conjure up these images on your own, or use a recording from an app or website.
Mindfulness: To practice mindfulness, all you have to do is focus on your thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment without assigning any value to them. Get into a comfortable position, try to avoid thinking about the past or future, and concentrate on your breath.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This technique involves tensing, then relaxing, different muscles in your body, one at a time. By understanding what your muscles feel like when tense and relaxed, you can work to let go of any areas of tension in your body while trying to sleep. Typically, you should start with your toes and feet, and work your way up the rest of your body.
Relaxation and meditation have minimal side effects and risks, making them a great option for anyone struggling with sleep. You can do these exercises whenever you want to calm down or even in conjunction with other natural sleep aids to get the rest you need.
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits, rituals, and behaviors you follow each night before going to bed. Maintaining good sleep hygiene is essential to consistently getting an adequate amount of high-quality rest. There are several ways you can improve your own sleep hygiene:
Create a Comfortable Environment: Create a sleeping environment that works for you. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Additionally, you should have a comfortable bed or mattress to sleep on.
Follow a Bedtime Routine: Build a routine that you can follow each night that will help you get ready for bed. This can include your physical hygiene habits, as well as any activities that help you wind down, such as reading, meditating, or gently stretching. Follow this routine every night to prepare your mind and body for sleep.
Follow a Morning Routine: Conversely, build a routine that will help you wake up each morning. Again, this can include anything you need to do to prepare for the upcoming day, as well as invigorating or stimulating activities that can help you wake up, such as working out or going for a walk. If you follow this routine each morning, it can help signal to your mind that it’s time to begin your day.
Limit Screens: The light emitted from your smartphone, computer, television, and other screens can be energizing. Called blue light, this light is thought to be disruptive to your circadian rhythm. Using devices that emit blue light can be helpful when trying to wake up in the morning, but if you use them right before bed, you may struggle to fall asleep.
Sleep In Your Bed: Sleeping is the only activity you should do in your bed. Treat your bed, and your bedroom, as a place that is dedicated to sleep and rest. Read, watch TV, and work in another room, and remove anything from your bedroom that reminds you of work or responsibilities.
Get Out of Bed: If you’re having trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, you should get out of bed. After 20 minutes of tossing and turning, get up and do something relaxing in another room instead.
Be Consistent: Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. If you have a regular bedtime and waking time, your body may expect to fall asleep and wake up at those times.
By making these small shifts to your sleep hygiene, you can make sleep a bigger priority in your life — and enjoy more restful nights naturally and more easily.
White noise, such as that from a fan or air conditioner, is a static and consistent sound that remains constant over different frequencies. Because of its regularity, white noise can mask or drown out disruptive sounds in your sleep environment. White noise has benefits for inducing sleep in infants, but it may also improve sleep quality and duration in adults. You may already have a way to create white noise in your home, such as with a fan in your bedroom. If not, you can find a white noise recording online or purchase a white noise machine.
Pink noise is similar to white noise. It is a consistent ambient sound, but it is more intense at lower frequencies. Many examples of pink noise can be found in nature, such as steady rain or rustling leaves. It’s thought that pink noise can promote deep sleep, making you feel more rested in the morning. You can find pink noises on various websites and mobile apps, or use a pink noise machine.
Peruse the following resources for more information on how you can support your sleep or manage your sleep disorder:
American Sleep Association: The American Sleep Association works to educate the public about the importance of sleep and the dangers of sleep disorders. They provide a variety of different informational resources on these topics in an effort to improve Americans’ sleep.
CDC – Sleep Homepage: The Centers for Disease Control provide individuals and medical professionals with information about sleep, sleep disorders, and management or treatment options.
Healthy People 2030: Healthy People identifies crucial public health issues and works to help communities live healthier lives. Improving sleep is one of their initiatives for the current decade.
MedlinePlus – Sleep Disorders: This page provides many additional resources and pieces of information on specific sleep disorders. They point to a variety of medical journals, clinical trials and studies, and research so you can learn more about problematic sleep.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health researches various CAM practices and techniques. They have additional research about CAM and sleep, as well as helpful tips on how to promote sleep.
National Center on Sleep Disorders Research: Part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, this organization conducts research on sleep and circadian rhythms. They take a multidisciplinary approach to their research and education to learn as much as possible about sleep.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content and media is for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.