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What Are the Best Natural Remedies to Treat Insomnia?

06/23/2015 10:51 am ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

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You’re lying awake night after night, but you don’t want to pop a pill — we get that. Either you’re afraid of side effects, or you just don’t like that next-day foggy feeling that comes with some sleep aids. Here are eight alternative, natural remedies that might help.

Meditation

Various techniques for calming the mind before sleep have been shown to be effective in easing sleep issues. A recent study published in JAMA comparing two groups of adults found that those who learned mindfulness meditation slept better than the group that simply followed good sleep-hygiene tips.

Aromatherapy

If a warm bath an hour or more before bed has a soothing effect, that same bath with a few drops of a calming essential oil may be even more relaxing. Some scents to try: true bergamot, sandalwood, chamomile and lavender. Dab another drop on your wrists or behind your ears after you dry off.

Exercise

Most people know firsthand how working out (just not too close to bedtime) can help them sleep by burning off anxiety and stress. Exercise is also believed to stimulate longer periods of deep-stage rest. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine took a closer look at the connection between exercise and sleep and found that a group of insomnia sufferers who exercised regularly for 16 weeks showed a “significant improvement across several measures of sleep, including duration and quality,” not to mention their better mood and quality of life. But you’ve got to stick with it. The benefits may not be seen immediately.

Herbal Remedies

Many botanicals, such as valerian, lemon balm, chamomile and kava kava, are believed to promote sleep. While they are endorsed by many credentialed alternative medicine practitioners, and may very well work, you’ll want to tread carefully, as herbal supplements are not subject to FDA testing. Side effects and long-term effects are not always known.

Hypnosis

Can you be hypnotized into experiencing deeper, better-quality sleep? One recent Swiss study seems to point that way. In the research, hypnosis increased deep sleep on average by 80 percent and time spent awake was cut by 67 percent. Note: The women in the study who fared best were deemed, by prior testing, to be “suggestible” to hypnosis. In this case, the hypnosis was via tapes listened to before bed.

Light Therapy

One cause of insomnia is a body clock that’s out of whack. Some people have improved their sleep with light therapy, where you sit in front of a special light box that mimics the wavelength and strength of outdoor light for a proscribed amount of time each day. It’s thought that exposure to the light resets and/or realigns your circadian rhythm.

Acupuncture

This traditional Chinese medicine technique has been used for many years to treat sleeplessness. With acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body that lie along meridians, or energy pathways, to re-balance the flow of energy and eliminate the blockages that are allegedly causing problems. A review of studies involving acupuncture and insomnia — published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine — gave the treatment a gold star for overall effectiveness.

Magnesium

This mineral has been found to promote deeper sleep. A 2012 study in the Journal of Medical Research Sciences found that taking a magnesium supplement helped older adults get better-quality sleep, with longer sleep times. It also appears that a deficiency in magnesium and calcium may trigger nighttime wakings. Magnesium is found naturally in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, avocados, bananas and fish; it can also be taken as a nutritional supplement.

-- Denise Schipani

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