Sleep is just as important to our health as nutritious food and water. Unfortunately, most of us don’t seem to get enough. Sleep has a direct effect on both physical and mental health and is essential for proper functioning of all systems in the body. 

It's during sleep that our body rests and revitalizes, and our immune system is replenished and strengthened. This is when cells produce and release proteins essential for growth and tissue repair. If you are having trouble getting off to sleep or staying asleep, here are some simple, natural ways to give you a helping hand.

1. Drink calming herbal teas

Drinking calming herbal teas such as chamomile, passionflower, valarian, zizyphus or skullcap before bed is a lovely way to relax the nervous system and aid the transition into a restful sleep. These herbs are beneficial for people who have trouble sleeping. 

As a tea, either using single herbs or a combination, pour a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoon of dried herb, and leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes, and then sit back, relax and enjoy.

2. Reduce caffeine

Having too much caffeine can affect our ability to fall asleep easily, reducing the depth and quality of sleep. Caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones, and inhibits the absorption of the hormone adenosine, needed to give us a sense of calmness, which can contribute to sleep problems. 

If you have problems sleeping, avoid coffee or caffeine-containing drinks such as black tea, soft drinks or energy drinks after 2 pm.

3. Increase magnesium

Magnesium is considered the anti-stress nutrient as it helps to calm and support the nervous system making it beneficial for people who find it difficult getting off to sleep. 

Magnesium occurs abundantly in wholesome natural foods, such as tofu, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains (oats, barley, millet, quinoa), wheat bran, and green leafy vegetables. Taking a magnesium supplement is also recommended (around 500 mg of elemental magnesium a day).

4. Reduce alcohol intake

Drinking alcohol regularly can cause sleep problems. Alcohol may help get you off to sleep initially, however it will interrupt your most restful, deepest REM sleep cycle. It is also thought that people who consume alcohol regularly have lower levels of natural melatonin in their body, which can contribute to sleeping difficulties.

5. Naturally boost melatonin

Melatonin is an important hormone that is produced at night to promote a deep and restful sleep. There are several natural ways you can increase your melatonin production including increase your sunlight exposure (especially in the morning), meditate, reduce alcohol intake and stress levels. 

Include foods that contain melatonin such as oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, almonds and seeds. Drinking cherry juice can also increase the natural levels of melatonin in the body, and may be an effective way to help you fall asleep.

6. Consume tryptophan-rich foods

Milk is a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin and melatonin, two of the brain’s calming and sleep inducing neurotransmitters. Other foods that contain tryptophan include almonds, bananas, turkey, chicken, beef, brown rice, and eggs. Warm almond milk with a teaspoon of cinnamon can make a great nightcap to help you sleep. 

7. Calming ritual with lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil has a lovely calming effect on the nervous system, making it ideal for people with nervous tension and sleep problems. Lavender can assist relaxation and help get you off to sleep. You could try placing a few drops of lavender in a warm bath before bed, in an oil burner, or place some dried lavender near your bed at night.

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