Home remedies for Insomnia
insomnia can become a real nightmare as the clock ticks on into the night and
you’re awake to notice. What to do? Try counting sheep. Seriously. If that doesn’t
work, you could follow Mark Twain’s advice: “Lie near the edge of the bed and
you’ll drop off.” Better yet, try the other approaches listed below. A relaxing cup
of tea, a whiff of lavender oil, smarter scheduling of sleep, and other tactics can
summon the sandman and help you awaken less tired and cranky come morning.
Insomnia can take three forms:
(1) You toss and turn instead of falling asleep;
(2) You fall asleep okay, but then wake up repeatedly during the night; or (3)
You wake up too early and can’t fall asleep again. Whatever the form of sleep
thievery, you’ve been set up for grogginess and irritability the next day. The
most common causes of insomnia are emotional stress and depression. Other
reasons for poor sleep include pain or illness, medications (such as
decongestants), eating a heavy meal late at night, drinking caffeine or alcohol
too near bedtime, or simply trying to sleep in an unfamiliar bed.
• Have a slice of turkey or chicken, or a banana before heading to bed. These
foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that’s used to make serotonin. And
serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you sleep. Keep the portion small,
though, or your full belly may keep you awake.
• Carbohydrates help trytophan enter the brain. Try a glass of warm milk
(milk contains tryptophan) and a cookie, or warm milk with a spoonful of
honey. A sprinkling of cinnamon couldn’t hurt, and might add mild sedative
properties of its own.
• Avoid big meals late in the evening. You need three to four hours to digest
a big meal, so if you eat a lot within four hours of your bedtime, don’t be
surprised if intestinal grumblings and groanings keep you awake.
• Spicy or sugary food, even at suppertime, is usually a bad idea. Spices can
irritate your stomach, and when it tosses and turns, so will you. Having a lot of
sugary food—especially chocolate, which contains caffeine—can make you feel
Call on Herbs for Help
• Valerian helps people fall asleep faster without the “hangover” affect of some
sleeping pills. It binds to the same receptors in the brain that tranquilizers such as
Valium bind to. The herb itself stinks (think sweaty old socks), so we don’t
recommend trying to make a tea. Instead, take one-half to one teaspoon of
valerian tincture or two capsules of valerian root an hour before bed.
• Take 4,000 to 8,000 milligrams of dried passionflower capsules.
Passionflower is widely used as a mild herbal sedative.
• Or you can combine forces, taking a supplement that includes both
passionflower and valerian. “Natural” sleep remedies often include other herbal
ingredients as well, such as hops and skullcap. Whatever the formulation, follow
the package directions.
Should I call the doctor?
If you’ve tried the following self-care strategies and still can’t get a good night’s
sleep, talk to your doctor. And waste no time getting to your doctor if sleep
deprivation is harming your work performance or endangering your life—as in,
causing you to fall asleep at the wheel. You may need to be evaluated overnight
at a sleep clinic.
Smell Your Way to Sleep
• Lavender has a reputation as a mild tranquilizer. Simply dab a bit of the oil
onto your temples and forehead before you hit the pillow. The aroma should
help send you off to sleep. You can also add lavender oil to a diffuser or vaporizer
to scent your bedroom. Or place a lavender sachet near your pillow.
• Put a drop of jasmine essential oil on each wrist just before you go to bed. In
studies conducted at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, researchers
discovered that people who spent the night in jasmine-scented rooms slept more
peacefully than people who stayed in unscented—or even lavender-scented—
• Try a soothing aromatic bath before bedtime. Add 5 drops lavender oil and
3 drops ylang-ylang oil to warm bathwater and enjoy a nice soak.
Be a Slave to Schedule
• Wake up at the same time each day, no matter how little sleep you got
the night before. On weekends, follow the same schedule, so your body adheres
to the same pattern all week long. You’ll asleep faster.
• Every morning, go for a walk. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, but it
should definitely be outdoors. The presence of natural light (even if the day is
overcast) tells your groggy body it’s time to wake up for the day. With your body
clock set by the great outdoors, you’ll sleep better at night.
• Try not to nap during the day, no matter how tired you feel. People who
don’t have insomnia often benefit from a short afternoon nap. However, if you’re
napping in daytime only to turn into a wide-eyed zombie at night, there’s a good
chance that that afternoon snooze is disrupting your body clock. If you absolutely
must nap, catch a half-hour of zzz’s at the most.
Tried . . .
A hops pillow can help relieve insomnia.
. . . and true
Hops—flowers of a plant used in beer-making—release a mild sedative into the
air. To make your own pillow, sew two 8-inch squares of fabric together along
three sides to form a pocket. Stuff it full of dried hops and sew the fourth side
shut. Put the pillow near your head so you can smell it at night. You may need
to periodically dampen it with grain alcohol to reactivate the herb.
• Once you get into bed, imagine your feet becoming heavy and numb. Feel
them sinking into the mattress. Then do the same with your calves, and slowly
work your way up your body, letting it all grow heavy and relaxed. The idea is to
let yourself go, in gradual phases, all the way from head to toe.
• If you’re still awake after this progressive relaxation exercise, count sheep.
Sound like an old saw? The whole point is to occupy your mind with boring
repetition, and, not to cast aspersions on sheep, there’s nothing more boring or
repetitive than counting a herd of them. Any repetitive counting activity will lull
• If you prefer lullabies, listen to calming, relaxing tapes as you drift off.
• If you just can’t sleep, don’t lie in bed worrying about it. That will only
make sleep harder to attain. Get up, leave the bedroom, and grab a book or
watch TV. Recommended reading, at this time of night, is some mind-numbing
tome about the history of Swiss watch-making or macroeconomic theory. And if
you decide to watch TV, look for a channel showing coverage of a recent
zoning-board hearing or something equally soporific. The goal is to bore yourself
into oblivion—so sleep becomes a sweet release.
Prep Your Bedroom
• If you find yourself tossing and turning as you try to get comfortable,
consider purchasing a special neck-supporting pillow. They are specially
designed for people who have neck pain or tension that prevents sleep.
• Turn your alarm clock so that you can’t see it from bed. If you’re glancing
at the clock when you wake up—and it’s almost impossible not to—you’ll soon
start wondering how you can function tomorrow on so little sleep tonight. For
truly accomplished insomniacs, just one glance at a glowing digital dial is enough
to set a whole anxiety-train in motion.
• Turn your thermostat down a few degrees before heading to bed. Most
people sleep better when their surroundings are cool.
• If you share your bed, consider buying a queen- or king-size mattress so
you don’t keep one another up. Some new models are designed so that when
your partner moves—or if a bowling bowl drops on his or her side of the bed—
you feel nothing. Or consider sleeping in separate beds. (If you value the
relationship, of course, be sure to emphasize that your wish for separate beds is
based on pragmatism rather than preference.)
Avoid sleep inducers containing kava. Though derivatives of this plant root
reduce anxiety and relax your muscles, kava supplements have been linked to
liver toxicity in recent years. They have been pulled off the market in many
Check the Label
• Be cautious about taking an over-the-counter painkiller before bed. Some of
them, like Excedrin, contain caffeine. Read the label first.
• Check labels of decongestants and cold remedies too. In addition to caffeine,
they may contain ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine, that rev up your nervous
system and leave you unable to fall asleep. Look for a nighttime formula.
Don’ts and More Don’ts for Better Dozing
• Avoid exercising within four hours of bedtime—it’s too stimulating.
Instead, exercise in the morning or after work. An exception is yoga. A number
of yoga postures are designed to calm your body and prepare you for sleep.
• Avoid caffeinated beverages, particularly within four hours of bedtime.
Though people have varying ranges of sensitivity to caffeine, the stimulating
effects can be long-lasting.
• Also avoid alcohol in the evenings. While a glass of sherry might help you
fall asleep a bit faster than usual, the effects soon wear off, and you’re more likely
to wake up during the night.
• If you smoke within four hours of your bedtime, look no further for the
cause of your insomnia. Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system,
interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay that way