Most of us can relate to those frustrating nights of tossing and turning, re-arranging sheets and blankets, switching lights on and off, listening to that relaxation music that never seems to work, in the hope of alluring that haven of sleep that does not seem to want to present itself willingly or easily. In the below post, I provide a few trusted strategies for getting some shut eye, without having to resort to sheep counting.
Pure Passion: ..tea that is. Passionflower is a beautiful herb for relaxing and calming and is particularly effective where there may be many circulating thoughts preventing sleep. Interestingly, the Latin name for the herb is Passiflora incarnata which literally translates to “passion made real.” As such, it can also work as a wonderful herbal reminder for people who have not found their calling in life and are anxious as a result. The herb is available in tea form or as a tincture. Drink the tea half an hour before bedtime or ask me about how to use the drops which are a little more potent.
Essential Oil Bliss: A few drops of Roman Chamomile, French Lavender and Geranium Rose oils make for a luxurious bath soaking experience along with some Epsom salts which will help you release the stress of the day and soothe your tense muscles. If bathing is not your preferred relaxation option, take a few minutes when you climb into bed to massage a few drops of these essential oils into the soles of your feet, your skin, and your hands. Or better still, place a handkerchief or tissue under your bed with a drop of each oil and place it under your pillow. Do not place the oils directly on your sheets or pillow cases as they will stain!
Magic Maca: Maca powder is one of my favourite ingredients for a warm relaxing drink at night. Maca has been used medicinally for centuries in South America and is known as an adaptogen. Combine a tablespoon of maca with a tablespoon of carob powder and some warm almond milk as an alternative to hot chocolate. Maca has the added benefit of being a fertility tonic so it may kill two birds with one stone!
Ditch the Turkey: Despite the popular belief that eating a slice of turkey will assist with sleep as it is high in tryptophan, foods rich in protein actually send very little tryptophan to the brain as they compete with other amino acids, like phenylalanine, which is in fact more stimulating rather than calming. Eating more complex carbohydrates which promote tryptophan uptake along with foods relative rich in tryptophan (versus other amino acids) is a better strategy to get your sleep hormones going. These foods include pumpkin seeds, bananas, lentils and sunflower seeds. Meat, poultry, seafood and tofu actually have low concentrations of tryptophan relative to other amino acids so will not really help.
Sleep App Heaven: Listening to relaxing music or a guided meditation often works well to assist calm the body and mind. Experiment with different apps to see which one works for you. Two of my favourites include Deep Sleep With Andrew Johnson which aims to gently ease you into a more relaxed state, eventually falling into a deep sleep. With soothing instructions for breathing and relaxation techniques, this app works like a charm. Another app that may be of interest is Esleep which carefully chosen music with lots of “Greek tones(!)” including alpha, delta and theta to provide a relaxing atmosphere to help you fall asleep naturally. You can also mix and match the tones based on your preferences.
Not to Be Dismissed: It does go without saying that avoiding afternoon caffeine hits, large meals and exercise before sleep and keeping away electronic objects are crucial strategies to ensure a restful sleep.
Should All Else Fail, Count Waterfalls….Not Sheep: According to an experiment conducted by researchers at Oxford University, counting sheep is actually an inferior means of inducing sleep. Subjects who instead imagined a beach or waterfall were forced to expend more mental energy, and fell asleep faster than those asked to simply count sheep.
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CNN.com. (2002). Counting sheep keeps you up. Retrieved from: http://archives.cnn.com/2002/HEALTH/01/24/sleep.sheep/
Holden, J. (2012). Nutrient Data Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. United States Department of Agriculture
Sajeev, K. (2004). Passiflora: a review update. Journal of Ethnopharmacoly, 94(1),1-23