1) Get moving
Exercise can promote relaxation and raise your core body temperature in ways that are beneficial for encouraging and maintaining sleep.1 One trial showed that aerobic exercise not only improved sleep, but also reduced the anxiety that people with chronic insomnia felt before going to bed.2
Try adding some moderate exercise, like a brisk daily walk for 30 to 40 minutes, into your daily routine—just don't schedule it right before bedtime.
2) Opt for acupuncture
This ancient Chinese technique was found to be better than drug treatment for sleeplessness in one study.3 Electroacupuncture, when a small electrical current is passed between pairs of acupuncture needles, may also help.4
To find an acupuncturist near you, contact the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org; tel: 888-381-1140).
3) Try L-tryptophan
This amino acid, found naturally in chocolate, oats, bananas, turkey and peanuts, seems to improve sleep quality and the time it takes to get to sleep. Unlike many sleeping pills, L-tryptophan doesn't impair mental performance or make it difficult to wake up from sleep, but it may cause stomach upset at high doses (100 mg per kg of body weight per day, or 7 g/150 lb/day).5
Suggested dosage: 250 mg-1 g/day, in the evening
4) Consider valerian
This popular herbal sleep aid improved sleep quality and reduced the time it takes to fall asleep in a review of 18 trials.6 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rates valerian as a GRAS ('generally recognized as safe') herb, but go for formulations free of ingredients called 'valepotriates,' as these are less likely to cause side-effects.7
Suggested dosage: 300-600 mg valerian extract, taken 30 minutes before bedtime
5) Look for lavender
A few drops of lavender essential oil in a bath before bedtime or sprinkled on your pillow may help lull you to sleep. Studies in college students with sleep problems have found that lavender aromatherapy can improve sleep, energy and wellbeing.8
What's the cause?
Insomnia can be a symptom of a variety of diseases, conditions, drugs and habits, so try to figure out and fix what's making your sleep suffer. Here are a few pointers.
Cut caffeine. The stimulant effects of caffeine can last for up to 20 hours, so even a morning cup of coffee could be affecting your sleep. Besides coffee, watch out for caffeine in black and green teas, cocoa, chocolate, soft drinks and many over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
Stop smoking. This habit is associated with difficulties in both falling asleep and staying asleep. If you're trying to quit, opt for natural methods, as drug-based methods can also disrupt sleep.1
Fix food allergies. Unidentified food sensitivities could be stopping you from getting your shut-eye. In a small study of infants, chronic insomnia was traced to cow's milk allergy, and the babies' sleep patterns normalized when milk was cut from their diet.2
Soothe stress. Stress and anxiety can trigger insomnia, so consider relaxation techniques, such as meditation, massage and yoga.
Block bright lights. Avoid exposure to bright light before going to bed and during sleep, as it can disrupt the sleep/wake cycle. Use nightlights in the bathroom to avoid turning on bright lights in the middle of the night, and hang blackout blinds or curtains to keep your bedroom dark.