You are not alone.
While sleep issues can stem from a variety of issues, the most common ones I see in my clients are:
- Blood sugar issues (read more here)
- Low calcium levels (read more here)
- Dieting (not eating enough calories or extreme diets that cut out macronutrient groups)
- Chronic stress
When working to improve sleep, it's important to address the root cause, and not just cover it up with a sleeping pill. That would just mask the problem and possibly make it even worse in the long run.
If you want to try to support your own sleep naturally without the harmful effects of over the counter pills that leave you groggy, try a combination of my favorite natural sleep aids:
1) A bedtime snack of ice cream
The bedtime snack is by the most overlooked of natural sleep aids. Using ice cream as a bedtime snack works in magical ways by providing your body with calcium, sugar, salt, protein and fat. All of these constituents work to reduce stress hormones (such as adrenaline, cortisol and parathyroid hormone) to help you fall asleep. Ice cream that is made from quality dairy products and is made without additives is loaded with vitamins A, D, calcium, fat and has been said to have a macro-nutrient profile similar to breast milk. No wonder it's an anti-stress comfort food.
Making your own ice cream is super easy, but if you can't there are a few clean brands you can usually find at the store. Always check your ingredient lists, and be suspicious of anything other than cream, milk, sugar, egg yolks, ground vanilla beans and vanilla extract! Be especially weary of harmful gut additives like carrageenan and high fructose corn syrup.
2) Salted bone broth and ripe fruit before bed
Bone broth is high in glycine, an amino acid that has many anti-inflammatory and anti-stress properties. "A generous supply of glycine/gelatin, against a balanced background of amino acids, has a great variety of antistress actions. Glycine is recognized as an “inhibitory” neurotransmitter, and promotes natural sleep." Dr. Ray Peat, PhD. (source)
Glycine coupled with the calcium found in bone broth makes it a perfect stress hormone reducing snack. Along with bone broth, eat some easy to digest carbohydrates such as ripe fruit. “Combining milk and cheese with fruits adds to the antistress effect. The additional sugar and potassium and other minerals allow the milk protein to be used more efficiently, by moderating the secretion of cortisol, and helping to inhibit the secretion of PTH,” Dr. Ray Peat, PhD. (source)
Making a conscious effort to relax before bedtime is a great natural sleep aid. There are many ways to help yourself relax; this includes reading, dimming the lights, taking a bath, and my personal favorite-- applying either Lavender or Cedarwood essential oil before bed. Lavender is an adaptogen, meaning it works to balance imbalances in the body. It's uplifting, calming, and relaxing qualities can help soothe occasional sleeplessness. According to this study, "Inhalation of essential oils may be considered for people with mild sleep disturbances" and "A majority of the study findings suggested a positive effect of essential oils on sleep. Lavender was the most frequently studied essential oil. No adverse events were reported."
Try diffusing or applying 1 drop to the temples, neck, or the soles of the feet at bedtime.
4) Balance blood sugar throughout the day
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep is deeply rooted in poor blood sugar regulation. Support balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day by always eating protein, fat, and carbohydrates together. Eat snacks as needed to keep blood sugar from falling too low, often every 2-3 hours to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day.
5) Take an Epsom salt bath
Epsom salts are an excellent transdermal source of magnesium that can help you wind down and relax prior to bed. Use 1-4 cups (start with 1 cup and build up slowly) of Epsom salts in a full bath, and soak for about 15-20 minutes. I only recommend doing this right before bed, since in some cases it induces drowsiness. If you don't have a bathtub, magnesium oil or magnesium supplements (like orotate, malate, glycinate) are other options prior to bedtime.
Looking for more sleep tips? Don't forget to read these related articles:
- How to sleep like a baby: the anti-insomnia checklist
- 7 Tips to a better night's sleep
- Homemade Sleepytime Spray with Magnesium Oil
What are your favorite natural sleep aids that you use when you can't sleep? Please share them in the comments!
Lillehei AS1, Halcon LL. A systematic review of the effect of inhaled essential oils on sleep. J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Jun;20(6):441-51. doi: 10.1089/acm.2013.0311. Epub 2014 Apr 10.