This post on how to get a good night’s sleep, can hopefully help anyone who is suffering from a lack of shut-eye. Also see alternatives to sleeping pills.
Although sleeping pills are not always necessary, this is not a medical site. So if you need more help than these suggestions, talk to your doctor.
Why Do We Sleep?
All of us sometimes have a bad night, but real insomnia is when you literally can’t go to or stay asleep for weeks or months. Adults should be getting 7 to 9 hours sleep, with children getting more (9 to 13 hours or 12 to 17 hours for babies).
Sleep is simply an altered consciousness, when our muscles shut down and we are not aware of our surroundings. This is done so that the mind and body can recover from the day, in order to function well. Our organs also heal and repair as we sleep.
Naturally, a human would spend around a third of life sleeping, but modern life often stops this happening. We sleep less than cats (who spend two thirds of their lives asleep) and and far less than brown bats (who spend almost 20 hours asleep). Yet giraffes only need a couple of hours sleep a day.
The Dangers of No Sleep
This organic sleep mask is made from organic cotton or bamboo silk (not real silk, which kills silkworms). Sold with its own cotton storage bag.
Not sleeping is very dangerous indeed. Rolling Stone Keith Richards once stayed awake for 9 days straight and almost died. Tiredness is the number one cause of car accidents, and it can also affect our ability to think straight, and make good decisions.
Many of the world’s worst disasters have been caused by lack of sleep (more poor workers being forced to work more hours than was good for them). Three major incidents caused by exhausted workers (not their fault) were the Exxon Valdez disaster (which spilled billions of gallons of oil into the ocean, killing countless marine creatures and seabirds), the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (there were warnings that the spaceship was not safe, but tiredness all round meant it launched anyway, killing everyone on board). And Chernobyl, the worst ever nuclear disaster, caused by an explosion on a reactor after staff had been working very long shifts.
Politicians often boast that they need little sleep. That’s likely why they make such dumb decisions. When ecological writer Satish Kumar was asked how MPs could help more, he replied that they should sleep more. In other words, the more they sleep – the less damage they can do! Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would say she only needed a few hours sleep each night. But writer Matthew Parris (once a Tory MP) says up-close, he saw ‘the eyes of an exhausted woman’.
What Causes Insomnia?
- Stress or depression. Obviously solving the cause of this is key. Cognitive behavioural therapy is more for phobias. Ask your doctor for some proper counselling, or take up something to help you relax – long walks, swimming, meditation, yoga etc.
- Noise (say neighbours). This is a tricky one, as you don’t want to cause arguments. If you can’t move, consider anything from earplugs, moving your bedroom to soundproofing. You may have to contact someone, if it gets bad. If it’s barking dogs, tell the guardians about positive dog training (usually barking is caused by boredom).
- Uncomfortable heat/cold or bed (homeless people can suffer from insomnia, from sleeping on the pavement in bad weather). If you can afford it, invest in a vegan nontoxic mattress and some nice bedding (organic cotton, linen, hemp or bamboo all wick moisture away better, so tend to keep you at a more comfortable temperature). Use an eye pillow to block light, and use good curtains.
- Addiction (smoking, caffeine or alcohol all cause insomnia). The latter makes you go to sleep at first, but often causes you to wake up in the early hours. Same with drugs (cocaine etc is renowned for keeping people awake for hours at parties).
- Jet lag can affect sleep patterns. To prevent this, get lots of rest before your trip and try to gradually go over to the new time, before you fly. Drink plenty of water, and if it’s night where you are arriving, try to sleep on the plane.
- Shift work. It’s not natural for humans to work nights. So if you don’t like night shifts, try to find something else. But some people do prefer the quiet of working at night. It’s up to you.
- Illness and some medications may cause insomnia
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Before we go into ‘add-on helpers’, here are a few common sense tips.
- The Art of Rest is based on the largest global survey of rest ever taken, completed by 18,000 people in 135 countries. The book counts down the top 10 activities that most people find most restful, including doing nothing in particular, a nice hot bath, a good walk, listening to music, spending time alone, spending time in nature, and reading.
- Keep to a routine. As mentioned above, we are not night owls by nature. So try getting up early at the same time, and going to bed the same time. You may have a bit of sleeplessness to start. But once you get into a routine, you’ll feel better.
- Turn off gadgets. Don’t scroll the news as soon as you wake up, nor check your likes or Twitter feeds just before bed. If you work from home or use a computer or watch TV, turn it all off at least half an hour before bed, ideally after dinner. Do something relaxing: cook a meal, go for a walk, play with your dog, take a warm bath etc. Ayurvedic doctors don’t think reading in bed is a good idea, but many people like to read a chapter of something relaxing before turning out the lights. But not horror novels!
- Exercise earlier in the day. Morning is good, but ideally not later than the afternoon. This includes yoga. Although it’s good to relax, at ashrams yogis do their yoga at dawn and/or dusk, never last thing at night. Some poses can actually keep you awake.
- Have your bigger meals early on. You’ve heard the phrase ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’. This is good advice, as it lets your food digest before bed. If you eat a big bowl of pasta at 9pm, you’re probably in for a sleepless night, as your body’s energy is mostly used to digest food. A quick snack yes, but a big meal no. Likewise, keep coffee and alcohol to late afternoon or early evening, so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
- The jury on siestas is out. Some experts say to not nap during the day. But it hasn’t done Spaniards any harm. In Spain, the first thing builders do when on a job, is to find a place for their hammock!
- Don’t just lie there all night. Get up and have a glass of water, read a book and maybe do a little meditation or say a prayer. Walk around a bit, then go back to bed. The more you fret, the worse it will be.
Warming Bedtime Drinks, Naturally
These warming bedtime drinks offer more natural alternatives to the main brands (if you prefer malted drinks, there are some suggestions below). So what do our friends across the water drink at bedtime?
- In Scotland, obviously a wee dram is an option!
- In India, many people drink a milky drink made with turmeric. Try this 5-Minute Golden Milk (Minimalist Baker – or make a mix or paste so it’s always on hand). Keep nutmeg away from pets.
- In Germany, many people enjoy a glass of mulled wine before bed. Gluhwein is often also enjoyed, when wandering around Christmas markets at night.
- Or just do what the Aussies do, and warm up plant milk, add a couple of drops of real vanilla, a little cinnamon and a tablespoon of golden syrup.
Malted Evening Drinks
Ovaltine and Horlicks are both made from malted milk (just like malted milk biscuits, this is a mix of malted barley with evaporated milk). The former contains fat-reduced cocoa powder and milk serum concentrate (the protein removed from cheese, presumably not from free-range farms) and Horlicks contains dairy milk and palm oil. Horlicks has recently brought out an ‘all malt, no moo’ version for vegans, but forgot to ask them, as vegans don’t drink items made with palm oil.
Milo (only on sale in Australia at present) is owned by Nestle, but has created a plant-based malty drink that’s made with sunflower instead. This is the closest you’re going to get for now. Some people boycott Nestle, others say if you support their more ethical products, it might make them change course for other items.
- Heat up some organic barley malt with plant milk, to make your own comforting malted drink.
- 3 Ingredient Vegan Chocolate Malt (above, Minimalist Baker) is not hot, but it tastes malty, due to the maca powder (has an earthy flavour that goes well with chocolate and caramel (avoid if you have a hormone-sensitive condition, including hormonal cancers).
- Map Chocolate makes a vegan-friendly ‘malted milk’ powder. But you’ll have to order it from the US. You can use it for warm milk, milkshakes, iced milk, cookie dough or to make malted milk biscuits.
Take a Sleepy Time Bath
Can’t sleep? One of the easiest ways to help you sleep, is to take a bath. The warm water can relax muscles, and give you a bit of ‘me time’. Avoid slippery bath oils if you don’t feel safe, natural baths salts are sometimes better. Magnesium is a mineral that helps relax our brain and muscles, and can lower blood pressure and help sleep.
Many beauty companies offer Dead Sea Salts, the famed sea in Israel that is so thick with salt, you float on top. However, many companies now don’t sell it, as it is removing non-renewable minerals from a sea that is getting shallower each year. If this continues, the sea will literally die.
Moksa Lavender bath salts are made with sea salt and powerful Epsom salt to help you relax body and mind in the tub. Packed with beneficial nutrients, minerals and aromas, these salts can help to calm aching muscles and cleanse the skin, while easing the mind. Lavender can help to increase alpha waves in the part of the brain that is good to relax and sleep. These are made with coarse Sel de Guerande, a sea salt rich min minerals.
Avoid Epsom or magnesium salts for open wounds, burns or skin infections, nor for kidney/heart disease, pregnancy, children).
Avoid essential oils for pregnancy/nursing (don’t use lavender oil on your bed if pets sleep on it). Avoid Epsom salts for open wounds, burns, skin infections, kidney/heart disease, pregnancy and children.
Aromatherapy Bath Salts Gift Set
This Aromatherapy Bath Salts Gift Set (Northern Ireland) is the perfect gift for anyone who loves their long hot baths. This set contains 20 miniature pots, so is good for 3 or 6 months, depending on how many baths your loved one takes. All the baths salts are housed in sweet little glass pots, with wooden lids. Made locally by a qualified beauty therapist, the range is made with Epsom bath salts, in a beautiful Kraft gift box.
The range includes:
- Calendula & lemongrass to revive and energise
- Lavender to relax
- Peppermint to refresh
- Rose to unwind
- Seaweed & lime to uplift
- Unscented to ease aching muscles.
On a lower budget? Try this Bath Salts Letterbox Gift Set which includes four types of salts including rose lavender for relaxation and peppermint for motivation. They also work as a nice foot soak. A lovely affordable way to treat someone through isolation, and the postman can just pop them through the letterbox.
Sea salt can stimulate circulation and ease muscles, and Epsom Salts (named after a saline spring in Surrey) are recommended by doctors at Cleveland Clinic to ease migraine (the magnesium can help people intolerant to cold or chronic fatigue, and even correct minor deficiencies by soaking in a bath for 15 minutes (300g).
How to Choose a Sleepy Time Tea
Sleepy time teas are everywhere. But be careful which ones you choose. For a start, most of the big brands have just got on the bandwagon and don’t have enough medicinal values in the herbs to touch the sides. But those that do are very strong, so cannot be taken by some people.
If you can, choose loose tea leaves in tins. If not, then choose bags made from biodegradable cotton with no plastic or nylon string (then you can compost after use).
Valerian should be avoided for heart/blood pressure issues, and chamomile should be avoided for anyone with a daisy/aster allergy. Speak to your doctor if pregnant or nursing, before drinking these teas (it’s best not to drink any caffeine at all).
Never leave out tea bag with string for birds’ nests, it can choke or strangle. Birds have been making nests for thousands of years, they don’t need our help.
NHS advises no more than 2 cups of tea for pregnancy/nursing, and avoid strong teas (lemongrass, hibiscus, liquorice). Liquorice tea should also be avoided for heart, blood pressure or liver issues. Do not drive or operate machinery for at least several hours after drinking teas to help you sleep.
- Born Wild Tea’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ Tea is a mix of chamomile, rosehip, lavender, tulsi herb and valerian.
- Clipper Organic Sleep Easy Tea is a mix of valerian, chamomile and cinnamon, and orange flavouring in plastic-free teabags (made from banana fibres).
Alternatives to Sleeping Pills
So if you’ve tried all the above and nothing is working, is there any added help? Here are a few, although they are not miracle workers. But remember that sleep is a natural process. So if you follow the above advice, things should even out. Also see how to get a good night’s sleep.
What’s Wrong with Sleeping Pills?
As mentioned above, if you really need help for serious sleep issues, then talk to your doctor. All medicines are tested on animals by law, and more forward-thinking doctors may recommend counselling, before drugs. We are more talking in this post about an industry and culture that turns perfectly healthy people into zombies, simply because some doctors don’t have the vision to consider anything else. Many people can’t sleep due to worries, so ‘jamming down the cause’ is not helpful, in most cases.
There is so much medicine wasted in the UK alone, that it’s estimated around £300 million of unused prescriptions are laying around, never taken by people who are a bit iffy about medicines they have been prescribed (recycle them at your local pharmacy, never flush them down the loo). If this waste was stopped, it would pay for almost 12,000 community nurses, 80,000 hip replacements or over 300,000 cataract operations.
The side effects of many sleeping pills are well-known: addiction, paranoia, not being able to stay awake during the day, right through to seizures, breathing difficulties and even chest pain.
- LSW Mind Cards were created by a Cognitive Hypnotherapist who offers wonderful downloads to help you sleep. You buy them for a few pounds each, or the whole collection is just £10. Deep Sleep for Stress Relief is a 25-minute recording.
- There is no truth that eating turkey or drinking milk before bed helps you sleep, due to an amino acid. Nearly all foods have various amino acids to help us sleep, it’s digestion that makes us sleepy.
- Depending on your spiritual beliefs, try some kind of relaxing exercise a few hours before bed. This could be anything from a relaxing swim to yoga.
- Go for a gentle walk before bed (not a great big hike). This can get blood flowing in your legs and also rest your mind. In Italy, everyone goes for a ‘passeggiata’ after dinner. The saying goes: After dinner, rest a while. After supper, walk a mile.
- Try to get ‘sleep supplements’ from nature, when possible. Melatonin is the ‘sleep hormone’ produced by the pineal gland, but can easily be got from foods (cherries, asparagus, pomegranates) and meditation, than from pills (which have side effects for many including people with dementia). Likewise, be careful with other supplements (passionflower should be avoided for liver/kidney/pancreas issues).