If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. Nearly 50% of older adults have insomnia, trouble getting to sleep, early awakening, or feeling unrefreshed upon waking.
Finding natural sleep aids can play an important role in giving your body the rest it needs to power through daily activities. Do it for your overall well-being… but also bone health!
Understanding Your Sleep Cycle
Like many people, you might be surprised to learn that there’s more than one phase to sleeping. If any of these several stages are disturbed, it can mean you’re not getting the most out of the time you are asleep.
To get a better understanding of how natural sleep aids work, first I’ll give you a quick run-down of the several stages of sleep and how your body is affected by each.
Although the first stages of sleep are non-REM (rapid eye movement), they are still critical for getting a sound sleep throughout the night. Some stages focus on helping you feel rested while others help you learn information and even form memories.
N1: Light Sleep
Stages 1-4 are called non-REM sleep or shown as N. During stage N1 of your sleep cycle, you’ll drift in and out of awakeness or “half awake”. If you’ve ever had slight muscle contractions or the sensation of falling as you begin to drift off, you’re in the N1 phase.
Your muscle activity slows as well in this important stage of sleep. This stage can last anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
Because you can easily be awakened in this stage, there are lots of natural sleep remedies that focus on relaxing you just enough to allow you to pass into the next stages. We’ll discuss some of these options further into the article.
N2: Deeper Sleep
In this stage, your body begins preparing for deep sleep. Your eyes are closed and you’re less affected by surrounding elements making you less susceptible to being awakened. However, stage 2 poses the most difficulty for those with sleeping disorders such as insomnia.
Most likely you won’t be aware but your body will be making the following changes to gear up towards much-needed REM sleep….
- Drop in Body Temperature
- Slowed Heart Rate
- Eye Movement Stops
- Brain Waves Become Slower
- Muscle Relaxation
This stage can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Surprisingly, you’ll spend more time in repeated stage 2 sleep cycle than any other stage.
N3 and N4: Deepest Sleep
During stages 3 and 4, you’ll get a lasting, deep, restorative sleep. Your muscles will fully relax, your breathing slows, and blood pressure drops.
These are also the stages where tissue growth and repair happens.
When you’re in stages 3 or 4 of your sleep cycle it can be difficult to awaken you. In fact, people who sleepwalk often do so in stages 3 and 4.
You are in a deep sleep that restores energy levels so you can feel rested and prepared for the day ahead.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement): Dreaming, Active Sleep
Aptly named, REM sleep is the rapid side to side movement of your eyes behind closed eyelids.
REM sleep typically occurs about 90-minutes after you fall asleep. Although a whopping 75% of sleep is non-REM, both your body and mind benefit greatly from REM sleep. I know, it’s hard to believe that only a quarter of your sleep is REM, yet, it’s so important.
REM sleep can counteract forgetfulness and promote healthy memory function. This is also the stage where dreaming occurs. While your body is fully relaxed, your brain is completely active.
As your body cycles through the stages of sleep, you should be energized in the morning. If you’re waking up groggy or not refreshed, you’re likely not getting enough good REM sleep.
4 Natural Sleep Aids
Conventional sleep aids can not only be costly but they can also have some harmful side effects both short and long-term. Although you may get to sleep a little faster, you’ll probably wake up feeling groggy the next day. Your concentration, memory, and daily performance can all be affected as well.
Using traditional sleep aids long-term can leave you feeling dependent. You may find yourself increasing the dosages just to get the same results you previously got only a week or two ago.
Overall, conventional sleep aids should be avoided whenever possible. Instead, try some (or all!) of the natural solutions below. You’ll be glad you did.
#1 Essential Oils
Essential oils are a great natural sleep aid for those that have difficulties getting to sleep initially. And – they have been studied as a safe alternative to pharmaceutical interventions for people with mild to moderate sleep disturbances.
While any aromatherapy can get you in the right mood for sleep, there are some that are scientifically proven to reduce stress, increase relaxation, and even increase the percentage of deep sleep you get.
One of the most studied and popular of them all is lavender. When used as aromatherapy, lavender acts as a mild sedative in both men and women, according to a study published in The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research.
Lavender was found to increase deep sleep (also known as slow-wave sleep) in both men and women. Participants also reported ‘higher vigor’ in the mornings after lavender exposure, which is linked to restorative slow-wave sleep. In terms of the sleep stages discussed above – lavender increased stage 2 (light) sleep and decreased REM sleep, including the amount of time to reach wakefulness after first falling asleep in women, with opposite effects in men.
Therefore, lavender may serve as a mild sedative and has practical applications for promoting sleep in men and women.
Additional studies on lavender have shown it’s also effective as:
- A sleep aid in hospitalized patients. Lavender has been shown to be effective in improving sleep in hospitalized patients, where sleep deprivation is common. A lack of sleep can also have serious effects on recovery from illness. A study published in the American Journal of Critical Care showed that lavender aromatherapy was an effective way to improve sleep in an immediate care unit, which included reports of significantly lower blood pressure in patients.
- An effective way to improve sleep quality in college students. Lavender inhalation patches (worn on the chest at night) have been shown to improve sleep quality for student with self-reported sleep issues in one randomized control trial.
- An aromatherapy used for relaxation, depression and anxiety disorders related to stress. One study published in Nursing in Critical Care saw reduced levels of anxiety and increased quality of sleep in patients with coronary artery disease. Concluding that lavender as an aromatherapy may be a non-invasive, inexpensive and easily application nursing intervention for appropriate cardiac patients.
While lavender may be one of the most studied, it isn’t the only essential oil with proven sleep and health benefits.
Frankincense and Bergamot have also been used as an effective essential oil for depression, anxiety and insomnia. One study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice in 2016 used aroma sticks as a natural remedy in cancer patients. Patients with cancer can experience stress and anxiety, which often interferes with sleep.
To combat this, researchers gave out 65 aroma sticks (personal inhalers) over a 13-week period to cancer patients at a cancer centre in the UK. Two blends were chosen by patients: Bergamot, and sandalwood; and frankincense, mandarin and lavender. Results showed that 64% of patients reported an improvement on at least one point on a Likert scale (rating scale used in survey research) measuring their sleep quality. Plus, out of the 94% of the patients who used their aroma stick, 92% said they would continue to do so.
If you’re looking for something to help you relax before bedtime, you might want to give Vetiver oil a go. Vetiver oil, when used as aromatherapy has been shown to alter the rate in which neurons are fired in your brain causing a calm, relaxing feeling.
Other essential oils worth trying for a good night’s sleep include:
- Ylang ylang
- Roman Chamomile
- Blue Chamomile
Whether you choose to diffuse your essential oil, or use it topically, you’ll benefit from the relaxation associated with them and potentially lead to a long, restful sleep.
In fact, quite a few members of the AlgaeCal team own diffusers and use them regularly. The top essential oil picks from our team are: lavender, patchouli, neroli and ylang ylang.
Do you love diffusing essential oils in your home? Tell us your favorite scents by commenting below.
#2 Real Food
Believe it or not, there are many foods you can eat to promote a healthy, sound sleep.
One study on the effects of the consumption of certain foods and restorative sleep for elite athletes has promising things to say. Consuming carbs and even tart cherry juice helps promote a deep, restorative sleep when eaten immediately prior to sleep.
In fact, this isn’t the first time cherry juice has been praised for its benefits on sleep- especially for older adults.
Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food conducted a randomized, double-blind, crossover design study where each participant received both the treatment and the placebo for 2 weeks, with a 2-week ‘washout period’ in between. Fifteen individuals, categorized as otherwise healthy apart from chronic insomnia, with an average age of 71 years old participated. During each 2-week period the participants were instructed to drink two 8-ounce servings of the assigned beverage (either the tart cherry juice or the placebo). One in the morning and one at night before bed.
Sleep continuity was used (sleep onset, total sleep time, efficiency and wake after sleep onset) as an assessment, which was recorded daily using a sleep diary. The results showed that “tart cherry juice was associated with significantly pre to post-treatment improvements on all sleep variables.” Meaning that tart cherry juice may provide a natural sleep remedy in older adults with insomnia.
Tryptophan is another great example. Tryptophan is an amino acid that not only increases your level of sleepiness but it also decreases sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to get to sleep). Numerous tests have been done on the effects of tryptophan and mild to moderate insomnia with astonishing results.
Over the past 20 years – 40 controlled studies have been done describing the effect of tryptophan on sleep. The evidence indicates that in doses of 1 g or more of tryptophan can increase sleepiness and decrease the time it takes for someone to get to sleep (sleep latency). Best results have been found in those with mild insomnia or normal subjects that report a longer than average time getting to sleep.
Here are a few foods loaded with tryptophan:
- 100% whole grain oats
- Brown rice
- And even cherry juice!
Of course, you can easily purchase melatonin or L-tryptophan supplements over-the-counter to combat insomnia and other sleeping disorders, but why not try the whole-food approach first? You can just as easily incorporate them into your diet for a more natural sleep aid that works just as well.
Did you know that the level of REM sleep you get is affected by your calcium intake? Well, it turns out, there’s a direct link between calcium and how your sleep cycle is regulated.
You’ve probably heard of the sleep inducing hormone, melatonin before, but you may not know the melatonin/calcium connection. Your brain uses calcium to convert the amino acid tryptophan into melatonin.
People with low-calcium levels often wake up several hours after falling asleep and can have difficulty getting back to sleep. If your body doesn’t have the chance to make it to full REM sleep, you’re not going to be fully recharged in the morning.
Calcium supplements can be a great natural sleep aid for those who have trouble sleeping due to a calcium deficiency.
A high magnesium diet has been found to stop frequent night awakenings by providing you with a deeper sleep throughout the night. In fact, insomnia is one of the biggest complaints of magnesium deficient patients.
One double-blind placebo-controlled trial shows the benefits of magnesium supplementation on mild to moderate insomnia, especially in the elderly population. Here’s what they found:
- Improved Sleep Efficiency
- Longer Sleep Time
- Better Sleep Onset Latency
- Easier Early Morning Awakening
Better yet, magnesium plays a role in the transport and distribution of calcium across cell membranes. I’d say that’s some pretty good marks for magnesium as a natural sleep remedy.
Both magnesium and calcium are incredible sleep boosters. For the most effective results possible, it’s recommended that these two minerals be taken together.
That’s why AlgaeCal Plus provides a 2:1 calcium to magnesium ratio in a simple, daily dose. The same ratio can be naturally found in your body so you know it’s not only effective but safe too! Say hello to a great night’s sleep and healthy bones.
The Importance of Sleep For Your Bones
Anyone who has trouble sleeping knows the effect it can have on your health and well-being. Your headaches. Your back hurts. But, did you know inadequate sleep can have adverse effects on your bones as well?
In some animal studies, a lack of sleep has been found to stop bone formation, produce abnormal bone marrow and even cause cell damage. Although these studies were done on animals, it’s sparked interest in whether sleep-deficiency has an effect on poor bone repair in humans.
Another study concluded that sleep duration played a factor in the BMD (bone mineral density) in Chinese women, making osteoporosis a major concern. While more studies need to be done, longer sleep duration for middle-aged and elderly women along with natural bone-building supplements could be beneficial.
In one Norwegian study, insomniacs showed a whopping 52% increased risk for osteoporosis. That’s a scary notion for people with sleep disorders! Natural sleep aids have never looked so good.
Takeaways For a Restful Slumber
You don’t have to put harmful chemicals into your body to get a good night’s sleep. There are numerous natural sleep remedies that can help you sleep so you can wake up feeling refreshed and energized.
Choosing natural solutions like the ones above can also be great for your overall well-being. They can support your bone health, boost your mood and contribute to a more restful sleep.
Have a natural sleep aid tip we missed? Or, perhaps a product you can’t live without? Feel free to share your story with our community!