Written by Casey Engelbert with contributions from Kevin Morton, Winter 2010
Television and popular media incessantly bombard us with the idea that naturally healthy and sufficient sleep is a near-impossibility. Quick, pharmaceutical solutions such as sleeping pills (which can be highly beneficial if used properly) are advertised all around us. However, more natural sleep remedies provide an effective, non-addicting, and free alternative for all, from the raging insomniac to the light sleeper.
Natural sleep remedies are often simple, quite accessible, and sometimes right in your back yard. And besides actual tangible sleep aids, some of the most effective remedies just involve your own mindset and sleep hygiene.
We'll start by discussing some techniques from the latter, because having knowledge about good sleep hygiene is crucial to living a prouctive, alert life.
While many sleep remedy techniques involve dietary changes or pill supplements, as discussed below, this by no means indicates that these are the only natural means available.
A common reason why many individuals become frustrated with their sleep has to do with the times when they become tired -- or don't become tired. Shifts in our biological clock, a mechanism in the brain that is a key regulator of when we sleep and when we are awake, can tweak our circadian rhythms and cause what's known as delayed sleep phase syndrome, or on the other side of things, advanced sleep phase syndrome.
Delayed sleep phase syndrome occurs when the daily sleep/wake cycle is delayed with respect to clock time. As a result, sleeping occurs well after the conventional bed time. For example, a person who wishes to go be asleep at 11 p.m. may find that he or she is wide awake and unable to fall asleep until 2 or 3 a.m., or even later! This is common in many adolescents, who may feel very alert well into the night, but then have trouble waking up in the morning.
On the other hand, advanced sleep phase syndrome is just the opposite, and is more common in older adults. An individual with advanced sleep phase syndrome will likely have a tendency to wake up earlier than desired in the morning, and not be able to go back to sleep.
Since both of these conditions are caused by shifts in the circadian rhythm (or biological clock), solutions for more normal sleep (at least in regards to conventionalized sleep times) simply involve shifting the circadian rhythm back to normal, and the most effective way to do this is through the use of bright light.
Aromatherapy -- specifically that with lavender -- has been shown to help stimulate a long, restful nights sleep. By breathing in volatile plant materials known as "essential oils," lavender aromatherapy has a steadying influence on the psyche, calming uncontrolled emotions and emanating a mellow peacefulness to help induce sleep.
Of course, the effectiveness of these types of aids is dependent on your frame of mind. Allow them to let you wind down and prepare for a good night's rest.
Finally, there is no need necessarily to rely on anything but you and your actions to sleep well and wake up rested in the morning. Yoga and meditation have an unmatched manner of taking control over the busy mind to allow for sleep to set in. Five to ten minutes of focusing on your breathing can help you let the worries of the waking world drift away as you gently fall asleep with a clear head and mind.
If you're not a fan of veggies, then why not consider a quick, small dosage of L-theanine, the amino acid found in green tea? With the power to induce deeper sleep during the night, L-theanine has been shown to have a strong correlation with longer, less-interrupted REM sleep cycles.
Not a fan of green tea? Or just looking to pop a quick pill before snoozing to help you get asleep and stay asleep? Valerian, one of the most common natural sleep remedies used to treat insomnia, has been shown to improve deep sleep, quicken the speed of falling asleep, and enhance the overall quality of a night's sleep in general.
Another supplement to consider is that of melatonin, the hormone that controls sleep. Melatonin, released at night or in the dark, helps the body know when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up. By adding a very humble amount of melatonin to your system, such as 1 to 5 mg taken one hour before bedtime, you might find a simple and effective way to induce sleep quicker and to stay asleep an appropriate and healthy amount of time.
Do have sleep remedy tips that help you successfully slumber? Share your gems with us and the world!
Welcome! This site is continuously being created by students of Dr. William C. Dement's Sleep And Dreams course at Stanford University.
We made this site as a call to action for people all over the world to live healthier, happier, safer, and more productive lives by learning about their own sleep. We have faith that reading the information provided on this site will motivate you to be smart about your sleep deprivation and strategic about your alertness in order to live life to your fullest, most energetic potential.
In fact, we challenge you to do so! What do you say, are you up for the challenge?
Dr. Dement's pioneering textbook has been the core text for Sleep and Dreams since 1980, but it has just recently been made available to the wider public for the first time.
In it you'll find a more detailed account of the most important things you need to know about sleep, alertness, dreams, and sleep disorders. Studies, statistics, plus plenty of Dr. Dement's classic anecdotes painting the history of sleep medicine.
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Ever woken up paralyzed? A surprising number of us have, believe it or not. But few know the actual causes of this phenomenon, and fewer still how to exert control over it. Dream researcher and sleep paralysis expert Ryan Hurd shares breakthrough insights into how to do just that.
The information found on this page and throughout this site is intended for general information purposes only. While it may prove useful and empowering, it is NOT intended as a substitute for the expertise and judgments of healthcare practitioners.
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