How to Improve Sleep and Combat Insomnia Naturally

Struggling with insomnia or disturbed sleep? You’re not alone – more than 60 million Americans suffer from poor sleep quality [4]. A good night’s sleep is crucial for optimizing your physical and emotional health, improving memory, concentration, and mood while reducing risks of depression, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure [4] [1]. Fortunately, there are natural remedies and lifestyle changes that can help combat sleep disorders and inspire better sleep without relying on prescriptions [4] [1].

This guide explores various techniques to overcome insomnia and get the restorative sleep your mind and body need. From developing healthy habits and relaxation techniques to alternative therapies and lifestyle modifications, we’ll cover practical tips to help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed [2] [1]. With the right approach, you can overcome anxiety, stress, and other factors disrupting your sleep cycles and get back on track to consistent, high-quality rest.

Understanding Sleep Offset Insomnia

Sleep-onset insomnia, also known as difficulty initiating sleep, is a type of sleep disorder where you have trouble falling asleep at the beginning of the night [7] [8]. It may be temporary and acute, or chronic, manifesting as daytime fatigue, sleepiness, loss of concentration, and irritability [5].

Definition and Causes

Sleep-onset insomnia is characterized by a significant delay in falling asleep [8]. The severity of symptoms depends on the duration of insomnia, with prolonged sleep-onset insomnia potentially causing severe sleep deprivation, psychological or psychiatric issues, and metabolic disorders that can significantly impact your quality of life [5].

While most people with sleep-onset insomnia eventually fall asleep after some time, the increased duration of sleep onset latency (the time taken to fall asleep) can become a major irritant and even lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of insomnia, reducing your total sleep time [5] [8].

Potential triggers for sleep-onset insomnia include sudden lifestyle changes, short-term stressors, poor sleep hygiene (like a noisy environment, consuming caffeine or large meals before bedtime, lack of exercise, or using electronic devices in the bedroom), anxiety, and behavioral disturbances like carrying worries to bed or having rigid expectations about sleep duration [5] [6] [8].

Common Symptoms

Sleep-onset insomnia may cause a variety of symptoms, including [5]:

  1. Mood swings and depressive feelings
  2. Irritability
  3. Poor concentration
  4. Persistent fatigue
  5. Loss of libido
  6. Anxiety and depression
  7. Loss of coordination and mechanical dexterity

Impact on Health and Well-being

The cognitive component of sleep-onset insomnia is equally important as the physical aspect. Subjective feelings of daytime exhaustion, impaired memory, and lack of refreshing sleep are often not reflected in objective testing, meaning patients are more worried about the hypothetical lack of proper sleep duration than their actual physical or mental symptoms [5].

Sleep-onset insomnia can also be caused by or exacerbated by certain medical or psychiatric disorders like restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movements in sleep, obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome, congestive cardiac failure, and other circadian rhythm disorders that disrupt the sleep-wake cycle [5] [8].

Up to 90% of anxious or depressed individuals have some type of sleep disorder, including sleep-onset insomnia, which can further prolong sleep onset latency due to anxiety and fear of remaining awake [5] [6]. This can breed a cycle of anxiety and insomnia, with emotional and mental fixations on sleep deprivation causing persistent hyperarousal and anxiety around bedtime, hindering sleep onset [5].

Developing Healthy Sleep Habits

Establishing a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Make gradual, consistent adjustments to your sleep routine and align your schedule as closely with day and night as you can [11]. Actively cultivating a healthy sleep routine makes it easier to get the sleep you need on a consistent basis. By creating habits and cues that promote sleep, it becomes easier to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night [11].

Start adjusting your sleep routine by making consistency a priority. Habits and routines are powerful, precisely because they are repeated over and over again in order to create a pattern [11]. A key first step is to reset your sleep schedule. Pick a bedtime and wake-up time that you can stick with and that offer ample time for the sleep you need. Follow this schedule every day, even on weekends [12] [11]. Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours [12].

To gradually adopt a new sleep schedule, you can make adjustments in 15 or 30 minute increments over a series of days [11]. You can also focus first on the wake-up time, creating one fixed part of your schedule, and then use good sleep hygiene habits to incrementally get used to falling asleep at your desired bedtime [11]. If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes of going to bed, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Repeat as needed, but continue to maintain your sleep schedule and wake-up time [12].

Creating a Relaxing Sleep Environment

Sleep hygiene plays an essential role in the effectiveness of your sleep routine. One fundamental part of sleep hygiene is ensuring that your daily habits and sleep environment are conducive to sleep [11] [13]. Be mindful of light: Exposure to natural light in the morning can promote better synchronization of your internal clock, while keeping your lights on long into the evening can prevent your body from properly transitioning toward sleep [11]. Cut down on evening screen time: Smartphones and other devices are sources of excess mental stimulation and emit blue light that can affect circadian timing. To avoid the negative effects of screen time on sleep, try not to use your phone, tablet, or laptop for at least an hour before bed [11].

Keep your room cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light in the evenings might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs [12]. Doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep [12].

Whether you only use a top sheet or sleep beneath a thick comforter, many experts agree the ideal bedroom temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). This might sound a bit chilly for some, but a cooler thermostat setting helps you maintain a lower core temperature while you sleep [13]. Loud noise disturbances can cause severe sleep fragmentation and disruption, which in turn can have negative impacts on your physical and mental health. Research even suggests that noise at low levels can cause you to shift to a lighter sleep stage or wake up momentarily [13]. You should strive to keep your bedroom as quiet as possible by blocking outside noises. The whir of a fan or a soothing white noise machine can effectively mask other sounds and help you fall asleep [13].

Exposure to artificial light in the evening can delay circadian rhythms and prolong sleep onset, or the time it takes you to fall asleep. Light intensity is measured in units known as lux. Studies have found that exposure to light sources with a lux of 10 or higher later in the day can lead to more nocturnal awakenings and less slow-wave sleep, a portion of your sleep cycle that is vital to cell repair and bodily restoration [13]. Keep your bedroom light levels as low as possible if you like to read in bed before sleep. Dimmer lights will help you fall asleep more easily. Another good rule-of-thumb is to avoid using screen devices – including televisions – in your bedroom [13].

Certain scents can help you feel more relaxed. For example, some studies have found lavender essential oil can improve sleep quality and allow you to wake up feeling more refreshed. Other fragrances, such as peppermint and heliotropin, may also be effective. If you share your bed with a partner, their unique scent may also help you sleep better [13].

Adopting Pre-Bedtime Routines

Have a bedtime routine: Try to follow the same steps each night before going to bed, such as dimming the lights, quietly reading or stretching, putting on pajamas, and brushing your teeth. Over time, those actions become cues that tell your body that it is time for sleep. To promote mental tranquility, incorporate relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga, listening to soothing music, or reading [11].

A bedtime routine is a series of activities you do in the half hour to an hour before bedtime [15]. A bedtime routine can help create habits that tell your brain it is time to get ready for bed [15]. Your nighttime routine could include turning off screens, meditating, reading a book, or adjusting your bedroom environment [15].

For those who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis, implementing a bedtime routine can provide a foundation for sufficient rest [15]. Your bedtime routine can be tailored to fit your specific needs and sleep environment. By incorporating sleep hygiene tips into your daily regimen, you can prime your body and mind for restful sleep [15].

Decide on a bedtime and wake-up time that are most conducive to your schedule and stick to them every day, including on weekends. Following a consistent sleep schedule helps train your brain to naturally feel tired at bedtime [15]. Next, schedule a time to begin your bedtime routine every night, anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours before bed. Set a reminder alarm if needed [15].

Put away electronics at the beginning of your bedtime routine. If you can, avoid using electronics in the evening as much as possible. Be sure to turn on your phone’s red-light filter well before your bedtime routine even begins, so if you accidentally look at it, it will not be as disruptive [15]. Find a healthy middle ground by calming your stomach with a light snack, like a piece of fruit or yogurt. Cherries, grapes, kiwi, rice, and nuts all have all been shown to help people sleep. Non-caffeinated herbal teas, especially ones with chamomile or lavender, are another nice way to calm the mind and induce sleep [15].

Consider taking a warm bath at least an hour before you go to sleep. Your body will heat up from the water, and cool down quickly as the water evaporates, creating a sensation that makes you feel tired and relaxed [15]. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help release physical and mental tension, by turning focus toward your body and mindfully relaxing. A daily yoga routine has been shown to improve sleep quality, and a few simple stretches or a massage before bed can prevent cramping [15].

Like yoga, a regular meditation practice can improve your sleep quality. Mindfulness meditation teaches people to accept their thoughts and manage emotions, enabling sleep onset, rather than stressing about not falling asleep [15]. Reading is a common bedtime routine that often begins in childhood, and can promote healthy sleep into adulthood. When incorporating reading into your bedtime routine as an adult, stay away from exciting genres like suspense and action. A book with a plot that is simple or uneventful can be best. It is also best to read outside of the bedroom with soft lamp light [15].

Many people find journaling restorative, and doing so in the evening helps sort out thoughts and feelings before bed [15]. If the idea of journaling overwhelms you, consider starting with a simple to-do list. One study found that taking five minutes before bed to jot down a quick to-do list of tasks that needed to be done in the following days significantly sped up sleep onset [15] [16].

Your bedtime routine can include transforming your bedroom into a sleep oasis, making things as cool, dark, and quiet as possible [15]. Set the thermostat to somewhere between 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off any noisy electronics. Dim the lights and pull down your blackout curtains. Put things away and remove clutter. Enjoy your favorite scent with an aromatherapy diffuser [15]. The final step of your bedtime routine should be getting into bed. Make this the very last thing you do, and once your head hits the pillow, do not do anything else other than try to fall asleep. Your bed should be a soothing place that is used specifically for rest [15].

Lifestyle Modifications for Better Sleep

Exercise and Physical Activity

Regular physical activity can lead to improved sleep quality, reduced sleep latency, and better overall sleep quality. Moreover, physical activity has shown promise in managing sleep disorders like insomnia [17]. Regular moderate-intensity physical activities are the most effective, while high-intensity physical activities, especially in the evening or close to bedtime, may lead to difficulty sleeping [18]. Other factors influencing the effectiveness of physical activities in improving sleep quality include gender, age, activity type, timing, duration, and consistency [17]. Promoting regular physical activity can be an effective approach to improving sleep health and overall well-being [17].

Working out is great for your body and mind – and it can also help you get a good night’s sleep. But, for some people, exercising too late in the day can interfere with how well they rest at night [18]. Based on available studies, “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital. “But there’s still some debate as to what time of day you should exercise. I encourage people to listen to their bodies to see how well they sleep in response to when they work out,” she adds [18].

Researchers don’t completely understand how physical activity improves sleep. “We may never be able to pinpoint the mechanism that explains how the two are related,” she says [18]. However, we do know that moderate aerobic exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. Exercise can also help to stabilize your mood and decompress the mind, “a cognitive process that is important for naturally transitioning to sleep,” says Gamaldo [18].

Aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins. These chemicals can create a level of activity in the brain that keeps some people awake. These individuals should exercise at least 1 to 2 hours before going to bed, giving endorphin levels time to wash out and “the brain time to wind down,” she says [18]. Exercise also raises your core body temperature. “The effect of exercise in some people is like taking a hot shower that wakes you up in the morning,” says Gamaldo. Elevation in core body temperature signals the body clock that it’s time to be awake. After about 30 to 90 minutes, the core body temperature starts to fall. The decline helps to facilitate sleepiness [18].

Despite these biological responses to exercise, other people find that the time of day they exercise doesn’t make a difference. “Whether it’s in the early morning or close to bedtime, they’ll see a benefit to their sleep,” says Gamaldo [18]. The good news: People who engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality that same night. “It’s generally not going to take months or years to see a benefit,” says Gamaldo. “And patients don’t need to feel like they have to train for the Boston Marathon to become a better sleeper” [18].

Moreover, while many studies focus on aerobic activity and sleep, Gamaldo says picking an exercise you like will help you stick with it. For example, power lifting or an active yoga class can elevate your heart rate, helping to create the biological processes in the brain and body that contribute to better quality sleep, she says [18]. Recent research indicates that exercise decreases sleep complaints and insomnia in patients. The effects of aerobic exercise on sleep appear to be similar to those of sleeping pills. However, more research is needed to compare physical exercise to medical treatments for insomnia [18].

Nutrition and Dietary Adjustments

In this review, we surveyed the literature to describe the role of food consumption on sleep [19]. Research has focused on the effects of mixed meal patterns, such as high-carbohydrate plus low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets, over the short term on sleep [19]. Such studies highlight a potential effect of macronutrient intakes on sleep variables, particularly alterations in slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep with changes in carbohydrate and fat intakes [19].

Other studies instead examined the intake of specific foods, consumed at a fixed time relative to sleep, on sleep architecture and quality [19]. Those foods, specifically milk, fatty fish, tart cherry juice, and kiwifruit, are reviewed here [19]. Studies provide some evidence for a role of certain dietary patterns and foods in the promotion of high-quality sleep, but more studies are necessary to confirm those preliminary findings [19].

Associations between sleep quality and dietary patterns were recently reported in a cross-sectional study in female Japanese workers who responded to lifestyle questionnaires [19]. A high intake of confectionary and noodles was associated with poor sleep quality, as evidenced by a high global Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index score, whereas a high intake of fish and vegetables was associated with good sleep quality [19]. A significant trend toward worse sleep quality with increasing carbohydrate intake was found [19]. The quality of carbohydrate seemed to be more important than its quantity in mediating this association [19]. Poor sleepers with the highest carbohydrate intake consumed more confectionary and noodles than rice than did good sleepers with a similarly high carbohydrate intake [19]. Moreover, frequent consumption (≥1 time/mo) of energy drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with poor sleep quality [19]. Other eating patterns indicative of poor dietary habits were also related to sleep quality [19]. For example, skipping breakfast and eating irregularly were strongly associated with poor sleep quality [19].

The glycemic index (GI) of carbohydrates has also been studied as a dietary factor related to sleep architecture [19]. Sleep onset latency (SOL) was significantly lower after the high-GI meal consumed 4 h before bedtime than after both the low-GI meal and the high-GI meal consumed 1 h before bedtime [19]. Consistent with these findings, subjective ratings of sleepiness were significantly higher after the high-GI meal ingested 4 h before bedtime [19].

Higher fiber intakes were associated with more slow wave sleep (SWS) and less time spent in stage 1 sleep [19]. A higher percentage of energy consumed from saturated fat was associated with less time spent in SWS [19]. In addition, greater sugar and nonsugar, nonfiber carbohydrate intakes were associated with more wake bouts during the sleep episode [19]. These associations indicate that higher saturated fat and lower fiber intakes may produce less SWS, more nighttime arousals, and a reduction in overall sleep quality [19].

Nocturnal food intake (30–60 min before bedtime), but not total daily intake, was correlated with several sleep variables and differed by sex [19]. In men, stage 2 sleep, REM sleep latency, SOL, and wake after sleep onset (WASO) were positively correlated with fat intake at night. In addition, fat intake at night was negatively correlated with sleep efficiency and REM in men [19]. In women, positive associations for evening intake included SOL and energy, protein, carbohydrate, and fat intakes; REM sleep latency and energy, carbohydrate, and fat intakes; stage 2 sleep and energy, carbohydrate, and fat intakes; and WASO and energy and fat intakes. Negative associations for evening intake included REM sleep and fat intake and sleep efficiency and energy, carbohydrate, and fat intakes in women [19]. Overall, the results of this study confirmed that diet quality, particularly closer to bedtime, influences sleep architecture. Nocturnal eating was shown to negatively influence sleep quality, with a greater effect in women than in men [19].

The studies to date point to an effect of carbohydrate intake on sleep, albeit with mixed results [19]. Some found reduced SOL with the consumption of a higher carbohydrate diet but others reported a trend for greater sleep efficiency after an acute intake of a very low-carbohydrate meal [19]. The findings support the idea that dietary carbohydrate intake or pre-bedtime meal also influence sleep architecture, particularly REM and SWS [19]. The consumption of a low-carbohydrate diet appears to reduce REM sleep while increasing SWS, with the consumption of a high-carbohydrate diet having the opposite effect [19].

In many studies, how and what a person eats have been found to impact how long and how well they sleep [20]. For example, diets low in fiber, high in saturated fat, or high in sugar have been linked to sleep that isn’t as restorative. Not eating enough fat, carbohydrates, or protein has been linked to less or worse quality sleep [20].

Research suggests that these are foods that may help you sleep: tart cherry juice, cherries (especially the Jerte Valley and Montmorency tart cherry varieties), kiwi fruit, oily and fatty fish (like herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, and krill), oysters, poultry, milk and cheese, eggs, breads, beans, pumpkin seeds, a diet high in vegetables, grain mixes containing tryptophan [20].

Eating simple carbohydrates that quickly turn to sugar in the bloodstream four hours before sleep has also been found to help people fall asleep faster [20]. That said, simple carbs before bed might not be a good long-term strategy for sleeping better. Studies have also found that high-sugar and high-carbohydrate diets are associated with worse sleep. A well-balanced diet with adequate amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fat appears to be best for good sleep [20].

Research studies have found that certain foods, drinks, and ways of eating may lead to less sleep or lower quality sleep [20]. These are foods and diets that may contribute to worse or less sleep: foods and drinks containing caffeine, foods and drinks containing alcohol, high-fat foods (especially saturated fat), high-sugar foods, foods low in tryptophan, diets low in fiber, diets high in carbohydrates and low in fat [20].

Eating late at night or within two hours of sleep may lead to less restful sleep [20]. Irregular meal times may also impact sleep and are associated with higher rates of obesity [20]. Acid reflux can disrupt a person’s sleep. Eating certain foods in the evening may make acid reflux more likely. These foods include spicy foods, fried foods, high-fat foods, and junk foods. Avoiding these foods and avoiding eating in the two hours before bed may help a person avoid acid reflux at night and the poor sleep associated with it [20].

Stress Management Techniques

Stress invokes the “fight or flight” feeling. This elevates the heart rate, quickens breathing, and increases stress hormones in the body – even after the stressor is gone. During these times, relaxation techniques can help lead to a slower heart rate and breathing pattern, a lower blood pressure, and an overall feeling of calm [21].

Meditation is a mind and body practice with a specific focus of attention and attitude that lets thoughts come and go without judgment. Meditation is a known strategy for treating insomnia [21].

Mindfulness meditation is the process of observing feelings, thoughts, and emotions as they pass without judgment. A big part of this is being able to be completely present in the moment, not allowing your focus to wander to other thoughts. If you are just beginning with meditation, this may seem difficult but it will get easier with practice. It has been shown to reduce sleep disturbances in adults [21].

Guided meditation is when one is verbally guided through a meditative experience and encouraged to visualize a calming location. These guided meditations can include music and nature sounds to assist with relaxing. You can find guided meditations on Youtube and many popular apps, including Calm [21].

Guided imagery, another form of guided meditation, involves verbal guidance to imagine a calming or peaceful place that helps a person relax. Guided meditation and imagery can be done any time before bed or during the night if you find yourself unable to sleep [21].

Meditative movement incorporates the attentiveness of meditation with gentle physical movement and focused breathing. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong are all types of meditative movement. They require no specialized equipment and therefore can be done in any location, making them accessible to the average person [21].

Research has demonstrated many physical and mental health benefits of yoga. In addition to promoting healthy activity habits, yoga can be beneficial in managing sleep problems. Yoga can help improve stress management and emotional well-being [21].

Deep breathing can be another component of meditation as well as a relaxation technique you can use any time. The goal is to take slow, even, and deep breaths [21]. Though there are many structured practices for deep breathing, including the 4-7-8 method and lion’s breath, you can begin very simply. Start by placing your hand on your stomach and inhaling slowly. When you feel your stomach rise, hold your breath for a moment, then exhale slowly. Different practices may incorporate counting breaths and adjusting the time breath is held before exhaling [21].

Progressive relaxation is similar to body scan meditation because it requires concentration on certain parts of the body. You contract and release your muscles up and down your body in sequence, beginning with your toes, feet, calves, and so on. This allows you to relieve the physical tensions and stresses you may be experiencing [21].

Biofeedback is the use of an electronic device to help patients learn to control functions of the body. These devices provide information about functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle activity. Users need the assistance of a therapist or biofeedback training to understand how to interpret the readings. They will also learn what affects changes in the body’s functions [21]. For people with stress, anxiety, or even insomnia, biofeedback can be a useful tool for identifying functions of concern and regulating them. It is important to remember that relaxation techniques are not a replacement for healthcare if there is a medical concern [21].

In addition to other health benefits, daytime exercise has been linked to better sleep in patients with generalized anxiety disorders. Exercise can also assist with issues such as insomnia [21]. Another strategy for sleep hygiene is to wake up at a regular time. Even on the weekends, research shows that consistent wake times are an important component of sleep hygiene [21].

In a recent national survey, 44 percent of adults said stress had caused sleepless nights at least once in the previous month. All that tossing, turning and staring at the ceiling can leave you feeling tired and more stressed the next day [22].

If you’re frequently triggering your stress response, your body never gets back to its baseline,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M [22].

“Stress and sleepless nights are closely linked,” Buenaver says. “If you’re in pain, tend to worry, or are coping with a difficult situation in your life, you may have more stress hormones than usual circulating in your body. A poor night’s sleep adds even more. And those hormones may never be fully broken down. It’s like running an engine in fifth gear all the time” [22].

“We recommend planned relaxation activities to reduce stress. Watching a ballgame or movie on TV just isn’t the same as taking the time to fully relax,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Luis F. Buenaver, Ph.D., C.B.S.M [22].

“Practice gentle breathing and progressive muscle relaxation every day (20 to 25 minutes) for two weeks. On a scale of 0 (“totally relaxed”) to 10 (“completely tense”), rate your level of emotional and physical stress before and after” [22].

“After two weeks, choose the exercise that works best for your anxiety and insomnia and keep it up every day. “With practice, your body and mind will learn to relax more quickly and deeply for fewer sleepless nights,” Buenaver says” [22].

“Activities that switch on the body’s natural relaxation response feel great,” Buenaver says. “And they have been proven by research to improve sleep. They help by reducing the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and by slowing your heart rate and breathing. Your body and mind calm down” [22].

Yoga, tai chi and meditation are helpful stress relief techniques. So are these two simple exercises that Buenaver recommends to patients who are struggling with sleepless nights [22].

Alternative Therapies and Professional Help

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is considered the most effective non-pharmacological treatment for chronic insomnia [23] [24]. CBT-I produces results equivalent to sleep medication, with no side effects, fewer episodes of relapse, and a tendency for sleep to continue improving long after the end of treatment [23]. The long-term improvements seem to result from the patient learning how to support and promote the body’s natural sleep mechanism [23].

The key components of CBT-I are sleep consolidation, stimulus control, cognitive restructuring, sleep hygiene, and relaxation techniques [23]. Techniques that quiet the mind and relax the body help the insomniac let go and ease into sleep. Slow, deep breathing and progressive relaxation help quiet the nervous system and create conditions conducive to sleep [23]. Mindfulness practices, including mindfulness meditation, help patients learn to observe their thoughts dispassionately, quieting the mind, calming emotional reactivity, and setting the stage for sleep [23].

CBT-I targets factors that may maintain insomnia over time, such as dysregulation of sleep drive, sleep-related anxiety, and sleep-interfering behaviors [24]. This is accomplished by establishing a learned association between the bed and sleeping through stimulus control, restoring homeostatic regulation of sleep through sleep restriction, and altering anxious sleep-related thoughts through cognitive restructuring [24]. By changing sleep-related behaviors and thoughts, CBT-I aims to treat the factors that cause insomnia to persist over time [24].

Treating insomnia with CBT-I, as opposed to medication, has advantages like fewer known side effects and an explicit focus on treating the factors responsible for perpetuating chronic insomnia in an effort to produce more durable effects [24]. Evidence suggests CBT-I is effective when compared with placebos, and a meta-analysis found that CBT-I had a medium to large effect in reducing insomnia, with effects maintained even after treatment conclusion [24].

Low to moderate grade evidence suggests CBT-I has superior effectiveness to benzodiazepine and non-benzodiazepine drugs in the long term, while very low grade evidence suggests benzodiazepines are more effective in the short term [24]. Very low grade evidence supports the use of CBT-I to improve psychological outcomes [24]. CBT-I is effective for treating insomnia when compared with medications, and its effects may be more durable than medications, so primary care providers should consider CBT-I as a first-line treatment option for insomnia [24].

Relaxation Techniques and Mindfulness

Mindfulness can quiet the brain and allow for deeper sleep [25]. One of the biggest problems for many is dreading the night as it comes and growing anxious about trying to make themselves get sleepy, worrying unnecessarily about the next day’s effects, worsening sleep [25]. Mindfulness meditation prepares the mind for drifting off to sleep and can improve sleep quality, being at least as effective as other recommended insomnia treatments [25] [26].

Body scans are effective mindfulness meditations for sleep, starting by noticing sensations in your body and breathing [25]. When attention wanders, gently center your thoughts, allowing yourself to be present, as the body naturally goes to rest [25]. Consistency is key, as mindfulness for sleep is more effective when practiced regularly, becoming a master at directing attention toward the present instead of worrying about the future [25].

Meditation may help promote better sleep as a relaxation technique that quiets the mind and body while enhancing inner peace [26]. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present by increasing awareness of consciousness, breathing, and the body [26]. Guided meditation is when another person leads you through each step, instructing you to breathe, relax your body, or visualize images and sounds, also known as guided imagery [26]. In body scan meditation, you focus on each part of your body to increase awareness of physical sensations like tension and pain, promoting relaxation to help sleep [26].

Intentional movement and meditation can help prepare the body and mind for restful sleep [25]. The right practices and meditations for sleep are handy before bed or if tossing and turning in the middle of the night [25].

When to Consult a Sleep Specialist

One way to evaluate the quality of your sleep and identify potential sleep disorders is by keeping a sleep diary to track your sleep habits [28]. If your symptoms last longer than 4 weeks or interfere with your ability to function, you should call your doctor [28].

Many common sleep problems can be resolved with behavioral treatments and proper sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a quiet pre-bedtime routine, a cool, dark, quiet sleeping space, avoiding loud activities or heavy foods late at night, and getting morning sunlight to keep your sleep cycle on track [28]. If sleep problems persist despite good sleep hygiene, it’s time to talk to your doctor about a possible sleep disorder [28].

Your doctor will give you a full physical examination, ask about your symptoms, lifestyle, medical history, and any other illnesses [28]. If there’s no obvious cause or if sleeplessness and daytime tiredness continue, your doctor might suggest a sleep study [28].

Sleep specialists diagnose and treat sleep disorders, with specialized training in areas like neurology or respiratory health [27]. Most sleep specialists train in internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, or neurology during residency, then complete a fellowship program in sleep medicine, receiving board certification from the American Board of Sleep Medicine [27].

Sleep psychologists focus on the mental and behavioral issues contributing to sleep problems [27]. Otolaryngologists (ENT doctors) may perform procedures addressing structural problems with the nose, mouth, or throat that cause snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) [27].

Before visiting a sleep specialist, talk to your primary care provider if you snore or gasp for air while sleeping, have trouble falling or staying asleep, feel tired during the day despite sleeping, or can’t perform daily activities due to tiredness [27]. Your primary care doctor may then refer you to a sleep specialist for an evaluation to diagnose and treat sleep disorders like OSA, restless legs syndrome (RLS), or insomnia [27].

Sleep specialists work in private practices, hospitals, or sleep centers [27]. To find one, ask your primary care provider for a referral, search for an accredited sleep center through organizations like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine or Narcolepsy Network, and check with your health insurance provider for covered in-network specialists [27].

Some sleep specialists have expertise in areas like psychiatry/psychology (thoughts and behaviors related to sleep), neurology (brain and nervous system disorders), pediatrics (sleep disorders in children), otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat problems contributing to sleep disorders), dentistry/oral surgery (fitting oral appliances), or respiratory therapy (managing breathing disorders) [27].

Sleep specialists treat conditions like insomnia, narcolepsy, snoring and OSA, and RLS [27]. When you first meet with one, they’ll cover topics like whether you have a sleep disorder, its cause, the need for a sleep study or other tests, potential risks or complications, treatment options, what to do if the first treatment doesn’t work, and lifestyle changes that might help [27].


In summary, improving sleep quality and overcoming insomnia often requires a multifaceted approach combining lifestyle modifications, relaxation techniques, and healthy habits. Establishing a consistent sleep routine, optimizing your sleep environment, and incorporating stress management practices can significantly enhance your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. If natural remedies and behavioral changes are not sufficient, seeking professional help from a sleep specialist or exploring alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial.

While the journey to better sleep may seem challenging, the long-term benefits of restorative rest on physical and mental well-being make the effort worthwhile. By prioritizing sleep hygiene and adopting a proactive approach, you can regain control over your sleep patterns and wake up feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to tackle the day ahead.


1. What are some natural methods to cure insomnia?
There are several natural therapies that can help alleviate insomnia. These include melatonin supplements, which are available over the counter and can aid in sleep. Valerian root, a dietary supplement, has a mild sedative effect that might also help. Other approaches include acupuncture, and relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

2. How can insomniacs improve their sleep naturally?
To enhance sleep naturally, establishing a calming bedtime routine is beneficial. Activities such as reading, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm bath can help relax the body and mind. Additionally, massage therapy, meditation, and yoga are recommended to further promote relaxation. Acupuncture has also been found to be particularly effective in older adults.

3. What natural remedies can help solve sleep problems?
Natural remedies such as warm milk, chamomile tea, and tart cherry juice are often suggested to those experiencing sleep difficulties. While scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness is limited, trying these remedies is harmless and may help improve sleep.

4. Which natural sleep aids are considered most effective?
Among the most effective natural sleep aids are melatonin, lavender, and valerian root. Other supplements include GABA, CBD oil, kava, and California poppy. These alternatives to medication can be beneficial for those seeking natural methods to enhance their sleep quality.