Sleep is one of the most important things you do every day. The amount and quality of your sleep can have a drastic effect on your mood, productivity, and health.
In today’s world, however, it’s very difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Easy access to cell phones, televisions, computer screens, and even just home lighting causes our sleep processes to function improperly.
Almost 9 million people in the US take prescription sleep aids, and the problem appears to be getting worse. According to a 2009 study, prescription sleep aid use tripled among young adults from 1998 to 2006.
Here are some sobering statistics released in a recent study by the CDC:
- About 4% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over used prescription sleep aids in the past month.
- The percentage of adults using a prescription sleep aid increased with age and education. More adult women (5.0%) used prescription sleep aids than adult men (3.1%).
- Non-Hispanic white adults were more likely to use sleep aids (4.7%) than non-Hispanic black (2.5%) and Mexican-American (2.0%) adults.
- Prescription sleep aid use varied by sleep duration and was highest among adults who sleep less than 5 hours (6.0%) or sleep 9 or more hours (5.3%).
- One in six adults with a diagnosed sleep disorder and one in eight adults with trouble sleeping reported using sleep aids.
As you can see, the older people get, the more likely they are to take sleep medicine. They have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep. This may be because their body doesn’t produce as much melatonin as it used to.
According to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Forty-eight percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22 percent experience insomnia every or almost every night.*
- Women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia than men.
- People over age 65 are 1.5 times more likely to complain of insomnia than younger people.
- Divorced, widowed and separated people report more insomnia.
Older adults who have poor nighttime sleep are more likely to feel depressed, have attention and memory problems, and experience nighttime falls. Many sleep medications will actually make these problems worse.
Also, prescription sleep aid medicines may help you fall asleep, but they have a number of negative side effects:
- Burning or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty keeping balance
- Dry mouth or throat
- Impairment the next day
- Stomach pain or tenderness
- Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
- Unusual dreams
Some prescription sleep medication can even cause parasomnia. Parasomnia is a sleep disorder that can cause you to experience nightmares, night terrors, or even sleepwalking, among other problems.
I’m not a big believer in taking medication unless it’s a very serious issue and there aren’t any natural alternatives. Fortunately, as far as sleep is concerned, there are.
So how do you get more sleep without resorting to medication?
Obviously, the first thing you should do is reduce the amount of things in your life that cause you to not sleep well. This is called good Sleep Hygiene. Your daily routine can wreak havoc on your sleep quality.
Here’s a list of some things that can adversely affect your sleep:
- Not having a set sleep time.
- Drinking alcohol several hours before bedtime.
- Watching TV or being on your computer or cell phone before bedtime.
- Napping too long or too late during the day.
- Doing things in your bedroom such as reading that are not associated with sleep.
- Exercising right before bedtime.
- Drinking caffeine several hours before bed.
Here’s a list of what you SHOULD do:
- Go to sleep around the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
- Set up a pre-sleep routine before bedtime to get your mind and body conditioned to sleep, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
- Exercise frequently during the week. A 2010 study on sleep concluded that “Aerobic physical activity with sleep hygiene education is an effective treatment approach to improve sleep quality, mood and quality of life in older adults with chronic insomnia.”
- Turn off the TV and your computer well before it’s time to go to bed.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation or listening to sleep-inducing relaxation audio right before bedtime.
- Don’t check your cell phone when it gets closer to bedtime. A recent study showed that women who checked their phone after 9pm reported less sleep than those who didn’t.
- If you don’t fall back asleep within 20 minutes of waking in the middle of the night, do a quiet activity such as reading or taking a warm bath and then try again.
In addition to proper sleep hygiene, several studies have found that certain fruits – can help you sleep. If you’re taking any kind of sleep medication (or any medication, actually), you’ll want to consult your doctor to see if your medication may be affected. Here are some great suggestions to help you sleep naturally:
Tart cherry has been shown to increase sleep by almost 90 minutes per night in a study done by Louisiana State University. According to Frank L. Greenway, director of the outpatient research clinic at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at LSU:
Cherry is a natural source of the sleep-wake cycle hormone melatonin and amino acid tryptophan. Proanthocyanidins, or the ruby red pigments in tart cherry juice, contain an enzyme that reduces inflammation and decreases the breakdown of tryptophan, letting it go to work longer in your body.”
Tart cherry helps you by:
- Improving the duration and quality of your sleep
- Helping keep you asleep at night
- Helping you to have more regulated sleep patterns
Goji berries contain magnesium and thiamin, which can help your quality of sleep. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of goji juice found that taking goji had the following measurable, improvements on test subjects:
- ratings for energy level
- athletic performance
- quality of sleep
- ease of awakening
- ability to focus on activities
- mental acuity, calmness
- feelings of health, contentment, and happiness.
Goji helps you by:
- Helping you fall asleep faster
- Helps you fall into a deeper sleep
- Increases your energy the next day
Passion fruit contains serotonin and a naturally-occurring mild sedative that can help you sleep. The British Herbal Compendium indicates passion fruit flower for use for sleep disorders, restlessness, nervous stress and anxiety. Passion fruit helps you by:
- Helping you feel calm
- Relaxes your mind and your body
- Helps you stay asleep
A combination of fruit extracts, like Berry Sleepy
As healthy as it is, most people don’t eat fruit on a daily basis. Some fruits aren’t available in all areas or at all times of the year, most people don’t have a habit of eating several servings of fruit with every meal. Extracts of the above fruits could give you the same effects but in a much more manageable way.
Also, sometimes taking a combination of vitamins or foods can have a synergistic effect if taken in the correct quantities. One such combination is a natural sleep aid called Berry Sleepy, which is getting some really good reviews.
This combination of fruit extracts was developed by a health conscious couple working with pharmacists and nutrition experts. Their studies confirm the benefits of the fruits listed above. According to Adrienne Doring, co-founder of Berry Sleepy:
“We found over 50 studies outlining the health and sleep benefits of the three fruits in Berry Sleepy: passion fruit, tart cherry and goji berries. Passion fruit helps you calm down and relax, tart cherries regulate sleep patterns, and goji berries help you to wake up feeling refreshed and not groggy.”
As you can see, there are many ways to help you fall asleep and stay asleep that don’t require putting pharmaceutical chemicals into your body. Learn about sleep hygiene, eat right, exercise, and supplement your diet with the right fruits or fruit extracts, and you’ll be sleeping much better.