Bedtime routines are an important part of the day for kids. But few parents consider their own nighttime routine. And here’s a sad little fact that most non-parents can’t comprehend: you'll probably never sleep the way you did before you had kids. And it’s wreaking havoc on most of us. The New York Times published a piece, which included the staggering information that 3 in 10 women in America use a sleep aid at least a few nights a week (and then goes on to mention that such a stat doesn’t include women who go to sleep without trouble but then awaken at 3 in the morning). Another amazing fact: although the stresses keeping us up may be indirectly caused by the kids (their performance at school, their behavior, etc), it’s the mothers themselves who can’t calm down at night, running to do lists over and over in their exhausted and overworked brains. Call it the Mama Bear Complex, but it appears that mothers are the ones who are suffering the most. Constant worry over my first child’s erratic sleep habits resulted in several terrifying nights: despite only having slept 2-4 hours a night for several months and being so tired that forming sentences seemed like a Herculean task, I found I could not go to sleep. At all. I simply waited wide awake for Elijah to wake up, which he inevitably did. After taking a prescribed medication for a few nights, I began to look for more natural ways to invite a visit from Mr. Sandman. Keep reading to find seven sleep-inducing natural remedies to help get the rest you need. Note: for any of the herbs or pills recommended, consult your doctor before taking, especially if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by a small gland in the brain that helps regulate sleep cycles: that’s why it’s also recommended in supplement form to help people adjust to new time zones while traveling. Taking melatonin supplements at a specific time every evening sets your body up to experience being tired at the same time every night, creating a sort of alarm clock for your body to begin winding down. Going to bed around the same time each night is a great sleep habit to get into because it conditions your body’s circadian rhythms.
More than just a yummy-smelling flowering herb, lavender has been used in sachets, bath salts, and essential oils for hundreds of years to help people drift off more peacefully. I actually like to steep some dried lavender flowers in warm hemp milk. Really want to get ready for snoozeville? Have a special someone give you a massage at bedtime with some lavender massage oil. Close your eyes and chill out-even if the actual scent of lavender doesn’t relax you, maybe imagining you are relaxing in a field of it in Provence will do the trick!
Winding down with a cup of tea at the end of the day is a simple and inexpensive luxury. Stick to herbal teas and consider trying chamomile or a blend that includes dried herbs such as lavender or lemon balm. Herbs like these have been used for insomnia for hundreds of years, but many people find the simple activity of taking time to sit, sip some tea, and clear your mind is the real reason this wind-down works. The only downside to drinking tea – you may wake up to pee in the middle of the night.
A good soak in the tub is relaxing, but there is an even more compelling reason for including it in your bedtime routine. Our body temperatures naturally drop by a degree or two a few hours before bedtime. By heating your body an extra temperature or two, you are helping to set it up for a steeper drop in temperature. The result: a deeper sleep! Make your bath that much more soothing by adding some calming, orchestral music and dimming the lights (which also sends signals to your body that bedtime is drawing near).
Valerian root is one natural way to relieve insomnia and is especially recommended for people who are withdrawing from sleeping pills. Although there hasn’t been much conclusive scientific evidence about its effectiveness, Valerian has been used since ancient Rome and has also been used to reduce stress in general. Fun fact: It was also recommended during World War II to relieve the stress caused by the frequent air raids in England. Valerian can be taken as an extract before bedtime.
While sweating it out may be the last thing on your mind when you are overtired, there’s plenty of evidence that it could be just the thing to help you wind down at the end of the day. While some people rely on runs to help them de-stress and tire themselves out, doing basic yoga will also help prepare you for bed (in addition to helping you digest your food better, breathe better, and simply become more mindful of your body and its needs). Make sure you stop exercising at least two to three hours before your bedtime to give your body a chance to wind down.
Good Sleep Hygiene
Having good sleep hygiene (unplugging from technology an hour before bed, keeping TVs and computers out of the bedroom, dimming the lights for at least an hour before bed, making sure your bedroom isn’t too hot or stuffy) might seem simple, but the modifications are surprisingly effective. Long-term insomnia sufferers are told to keep their bedrooms very plain and uninteresting with good reason: the bedroom should be for sleeping and sex and that’s all! It’s easy to break some of the rules of sleep hygiene (checking your email one last time just before lights out), but you’ll likely find that you will enjoy your new habits and the peace that it brings.
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