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Five tips to help you sleep better

Having trouble sleeping? Here are a handful of natural ideas that could help you overcome your insomnia and get a better night’s rest.

1. Watch what you eat and drink 

What you eat and drink before bed might be contributing to your tossing and turning. During the evening, avoid consuming anything that might keep you awake later, including caffeine-containing food and drinks (such as coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and guarana), sugary desserts, soft drinks (especially cola and energy drinks, which tend to contain caffeine), highly spiced meals, and alcohol.

The brain chemical serotonin is an important inducer of sleep. It is produced from the amino acid tryptophan, so eating foods containing high proportions of tryptophan during the evening may help you sleep better.

Try the following meals:

  • Chicken and cheese omelette.
  • Tuna salad sprinkled with sesame seeds.
  • Spaghetti marinara and parmesan cheese.
  • Roast turkey and vegetables.
  • Tofu and vegetable stir-fry.

If you’re still hungry after dinner, skip dessert, and instead try a small tryptophan-rich snack such as a nut spread, hummus or tahini (ground sesame seeds) on whole wheat crackers or bread. Whatever you decide to eat for dinner, aim to eat lightly, and to consume nothing at all for the three hours prior to bed. Going to bed with a full stomach can result in frequent waking and poor quality sleep.

2. Develop healthy bedtime habits 

Send the signal to your body and mind that it’s time to relax and unwind. Turn off the TV or computer, take a warm bath containing a few drops of calming lavender essential oil, or sip on a hot cup of chamomile tea. Avoid vigorous exercise in the evenings too, although you may like to take a short gentle stroll after dinner to aid your digestion.

Sleep experts also suggest that you avoid lying awake in bed for long periods of time. If you haven’t fallen asleep after fifteen minutes or so when you first go to bed or after waking during the night, get out of bed and go into another room to relax. Don’t do anything mentally stimulating during this time like watching TV, reading or doing puzzles; instead try listening to some soothing music.

3. Try herbal sedatives for a good night’s sleep 

A number of herbal medicines have traditionally been regarded as having relaxing and sedative properties and may help you get a good night’s sleep. Valerian is probably the most popular sedative herb in Western herbal medicine. It has been the subject of a number of clinical studies, sometimes in conjunction with hops, which has also traditionally been used to relieve insomnia and aid restful sleep. In many instances, these studies indicate that valerian, taken either alone or in combination with hops, may help to improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.

4. Pay attention to your environment 

You’re more likely to sleep soundly if your bedroom is quiet, dark and well ventilated. Your bedding can make a big difference too, so invest in a firm, comfortable mattress and use a supportive pillow.

5. Stop smoking and you might sleep better 

During the time you spend asleep, your body and brain progress through several stages. For a healthy adult with a normal sleeping pattern, a typical overnight sleep consists of approximately 20-25% rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, in which brain activity is relatively heightened and intense dreams occur, and approximately 75-80% non-REM sleep – the deeper, more restorative type of sleep.

A study published in Chest Journal in 2008 suggests that smokers spend more time in the lighter (more easily disturbed) sleep phases and less time in deep sleep than non-smokers. They are also more than four times likely than non-smokers to report feeling unrefreshed by their night’s sleep. It has been reported that the poor sleep quality experienced by smokers might be due to the nicotine in cigarette smoke and the body’s withdrawal from it during sleep.