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Natural Aids For Sleep Problems

A woman sleeping in with an alarm clock

Sleep is essential to life, and if you don’t get enough of it research has shown that it can take its toll on your body and your mind. Memory loss, loss of motivation, a reduced ability to make decisions as well as weight gain, reduced immunity, mood swings, headaches and loss of libido are just some of the consequences of broken sleep.

Sammy Margo is a sleep expert and author of The Good Sleep Guide. The main problem, she says, is that “We are sedentary but our minds are over-active and we find it hard to switch off at night.”

Rude Health magazine asked Sammy for some tips on how to solve the most common sleep issues.

Finding it hard to fall asleep at night?

You know you are tired, you’ve had a busy day, but you just lie there with your eyes wide open and can’t seem to drift off no matter what you do. Some of the classic sleep remedies still hold true:

  • Have a bedroom routine where you do regular things you associate with sleep such as reading.
  • Take a warm bath - add several drolis of essential oil such as lavender, lemon or chamomile to the water.
  • A few drops of lavender, rosemary or chamomile essential oils in an oil burner can give off a relaxing scent.
  • An audio book, podcast or sleep app with a relaxing voice can be good to help you drift off.
  • Ask your partner to give you a neck and shoulder massage, or better still make love.

Food and drink also play a role in your ability to drop off:

Try to give yourself two to three hours between eating and going to bed.

Avoid greasy takeaways close to bedtime because your stomach will have to work hard to digest it and the chemicals in spicy food can make you more alert.

Avoid drinking caffeine late at night. Try a herbal tea such as jasmine and chamomile or drink warm milk - it really does aid sleep, and it’s not just for babies. This is because milk contains a protein called tryptophan that helps the body to go to sleep. When the milk is warmed it activates the tryptophan.

Other foods that contain tryptophan include kidney beans, oats, eggs, almonds, tofu and, bananas - “practically a sleeping pill in a skin,” says Sammy Margo.

Feeling anxious about life or stressed about work?

It’s normal to feel stressed by job-related pressures, family or relationship problems, but this can lead to waking up several times a night.

“This is the most tricky sleep problem,” says Sammy. “It often affects women who become light sleepers once they have children.” She suggests the following:

Try writing down what is worrying you even if you cannot do anything about it.

Or try Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) - lie in bed tensing and relaxing your muscles in groups from your toes right up to your forehead. Go up and down your body until you feel yourself dropping off.

“Keep to the 20 minute rule,” says Sammy. “If you wake up, don’t lie in bed for more than 20 minutes. Do something simple - empty the dishwasher, do the ironing, read a magazine article or drink chamomile tea. Then make the bed again and get back in.”

Night sweats due to menopause?

For women, night sweats can be a symptom of hormonal changes during the menopause - these can range from very mild to leaving you soaking even on cold nights. According to Sammy: “The main thing you need to sort is temperature regulation – your room should be 15-18°C and you need a much lower tog duvet than normal. Invest in a woollen duvet as they are heat regulating, and don’t go for a memory foam mattress as they can make you hot and sweaty. Turn pillows frequently at night or invest in a chill pillow - I travel with mine.”

Other tips include:

  • Wear natural fibres such as cotton or sleep naked.
  • Open a window or buy a small bedside fan.
  • Keep a glass of cold water beside the bed for sipping.
  • Avoid spicy goods, caffeine, smoking and alcohol.

“Studies also show that regular exercise and a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, nuts, seeds and wholegrains (including phyto-oestrogens found in soya, legumes, grains and vegetables) can reduce hot flushes significantly,” says Sammy.

Natural in-store remedies for insomnia

  • Valerian tinctures can help some bad sleepers and won’t make you feel groggy in the morning.
  • Avena sativa (oat) drops or hop based tinctures taken as drops 20 minutes before retiring can help you get off to sleep too.
  • Foot patches that contain a calming blend of organic essential oils designed to draw out the toxins in your feet can help sleep too.
  • Herbal teas such as chamomile and lemon balm are relaxing and caffeine free.
  • B vitamins, magnesium and the amino acid l-theanine can all aid sleep.

Vitamins and minerals important for sleep

  • Iron - found in green leafy vegetables and red meat and also available in highly digestible liquid formulations in health stores combined with vitamin C, which is needed to help iron absorption and avoid constipation.
  • Zinc - found in oats and dairy products and chewable vitamin tablets.
  • Vitamin B, in particular B6, B12, B3 and folic acid help you to avoid insomnia and sleep interruption by keeping the adrenal glands healthy. B vitamins are found in dairy products and lean meat, wholegrains and bananas, and oily fish, wheat germ and dried fruit.

The Good Sleep Guide by Sammy Margo is published by Vermilion.

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