WELLNESS
04/19/2016 09:15 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2017

A Natural Guide to Overcoming Sleep Issues

By Dr. Janet Zand

There's nothing quite like that ready-to-take-on-the-world feeling after a good night's rest. But if you frequently find yourself wide awake as the evening hours tick away, feeling bright-eyed the next day may seem like a dream. The good news? Restful sleep is within reach--no Ambien necessary. After all, the sleeping pill and some of its snooze-inducing cousins are associated with some unwelcome side effects such as compromised short-term memory as well as walking, eating, and driving in your sleep. No thank you!

If you're struggling with sleep issues and traditional advice hasn't made a difference, you might consider visiting a naturopathic doctor or other complementary health care practitioner for natural sleep remedies. At first, the basic recommendations will likely be similar whether you see a conventional doctor or a complementary medicine practitioner. For example, it's important to make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. It should be dark, not too hot and not too cold, and quiet. It's also important to evaluate your physical activity routine. Intense exercise late in the day can also be overly stimulating, whereas yoga and deep breathing can help you nod off more easily.

If basic advice doesn't help enough, a physician would likely recommend a prescription for a sleep medication, whereas a complementary medicine practitioner will continue to look at your experience holistically to provide more customized natural sleep remedies. He or she will take into account the whole person, not just your sleeping problem as an isolated issue, to better understand the root cause. Here, I've outlined eight of the most tried-and-true natural remedies that can help address common factors that disrupt sleep. You can apply many of these yourself, or you can work with a professional for more comprehensive therapy.

Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid caffeine past 3 p.m. so your body can metabolize it before it's time to go to bed. Avoid alcohol two to three hours before bed. Alcohol helps you fall asleep initially, but many people wake up two to three hours later. Lastly, eating heavy, spicy, or greasy meals before bedtime can interfere with sleep. If possible, have your last meal about three hours before bed. Hunger can interrupt sleep, too, so if you feel pangs before bed it's okay to have a light snack.

Sip herbal tea. About an hour before bedtime, pour yourself a cup of herbal tea containing ingredients known to aid relaxation such as chamomile, skullcap, lemon balm, or passion flower. Brands such as Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime and Yogi Tea Bedtime Tea contain some of these herbs. If you get into the habit of sitting down to a steaming mug of herbal tea about an hour before bedtime, it also creates a routine and signals to your brain that it's time to quiet down and get ready for sleep.

Try trigger points. Certain acupressure points can help relax and quiet the mind. Liver 3 is located on the top of your foot between the big toe and second toe, a few inches down--you'll feel a depression the size of your fingertip. This point helps draw energy from your mind down. Large intestine 4 is located on the topside of the hand on the web between the thumb and index finger. It's used for headaches, and it helps relax the mind and improve circulation. Pericardium 6 is on the inside of the wrist between the two tendons. It's used for nausea, but also alleviates nervous tension. Apply pressure to each spot for five to 10 seconds, release, and repeat a few times as necessary.

Related: 8 Evening Snacks That Foster Better Sleep

Supplement with B vitamins. Sleep problems sometimes stem from a compromised nervous system. B-complex vitamins play a key role in maintaining a healthy nervous system. Supplementing your diet with B vitamins may help sleep come more easily. This isn't a quick fix, but if you take them daily in the mornings you should notice an improvement in your sleep within about a month. For the first month you may want to try a B-complex in liquid form, which is often easier to absorb than a pill.

Get help from homeopathy. Calms and Calms Forte are two homeopathic remedies that can be taken before bed to aid sleep. These are non-sedative treatments comprised of homeopathics and usually come in the form of little white pellets. If you have mild sleep problems, such as difficulty sleeping while traveling, these remedies can help you regain a normal sleep cycle after three or four nights.

Pop melatonin on sleepless nights. This is the ingredient many of my patients with sleep issues find the most success with, though it's particularly effective for people over age 50 since the body's production of melatonin decreases with age. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain that helps maintain your body's circadian rhythm. If you experience maintenance insomnia, in which you can fall asleep, but wake up two to three hours later, taking a dose of melatonin when you wake up during the night may help you fall back asleep. In younger adults, melatonin may not be as helpful if you're still producing the hormone at normal levels. For younger adults consider chamomile tea, homeopathics, and B complex.

Take magnesium before bed. In one study, people with insomnia who took magnesium daily for eight weeks fell asleep faster, slept longer, and woke up fewer times at night than those who popped a placebo, the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences reports. How, exactly, magnesium helps isn't completely understood, though participants who took the supplement showed increased levels of melatonin and other hormones associated with sleep as well as decreased cortisol concentrations. For sleep specifically, many people report doing better with a powder or liquid form of magnesium as opposed to a tablet. Follow the package dosage instructions and take it before bedtime.

Vitamin D. At your next doctor's visit, consider getting your level of vitamin D checked. There is plenty of research and anecdotal evidence supporting the connection between vitamin D supplementation and improved sleep. Vitamin D should be taken in the morning and not at night.

Get hands on. Get a back massage or ask your partner to rub the muscles on either side of your spine, which is relaxing to the mind, body, and entire nervous system. Add your favorite soothing essential oil such as lavender, chamomile, bergamot, lemon, or ylang ylang for an aromatherapy benefit.

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