Well Being

20 Natural Sleep Tips From the Experts

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photo: Thinkstock

Yesterday I mentioned Dr. Dale Archer (medical doctor and psychiatrist) in a post I wrote called Don't Rely on Your GP for Advice About Ambien, as we've been talking about prescription drug addiction a lot lately on Blisstree. Turns out, Dr. Archer used to run a sleep disorder clinic for ten years. So I asked him for ten suggestions that he'd give his sleep-deprived patients about how to fall asleep (and stay asleep) the natural way without the use of prescription drugs. And I specifically asked him not to say chamomile tea! (But I'm not sold on his radical idea to give up naps. And no booze four hours before bed? Sheesh.)

Then I asked Blisstree's resident nutritionist and Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slayton for her top ten natural sleep remedies to see how they'd compare and contrast to that of a medical doctor. (I like Lauren because she says I can eat carbs at dinner, but she definitely disagrees with Dr. Archer about the idea of reading in bed.) Because, while I kicked my Ambien habit many years ago, sometimes I still have trouble getting to sleep at night — and staying that way. (Being 28 weeks pregnant doesn't help much in that department, either.) If you're the same way, hopefully at least one of these strategies (a couple of them overlap) will help you get some serious shut-eye. Here's round one of Archer vs. Slayton:

Dr. Dale Archer says:

1. Go to sleep only when you feel sleepy.

2. If you can't fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up and do something until you feel sleepy.

3. If you take naps, try giving them up to see if this helps. Understand that a nap reduces the need for sleep at night, so adjust accordingly.

4. No exercise at least two hours before bedtime, unless it’s restorative yoga.

5. Develop sleep rituals. Go to bed and wake up at same time, and have a routine before bed every night.

6. Only use your bed for sleeping and sex. No reading, talking on phone, or doing work. You want bed to be associated in your mind with sleep.

7. No caffeine for eight hours before bed. No alcohol at least four hours before bed. Also, certain prescription drugs can interfere with sleep. (Ask your doctor about those.) And remember that chocolate and tea contain caffeine, not just coffee.

8. Some folks sleep better when full, others when hungry, and some with a light snack. Experiment and see what works for you.

9. Some folks sleep better after a hot bath, others when they feel slightly cold. Experiment.

10. Make sure your room is dark and quiet and that your bed is comfortable.

While nutritionist Lauren Slayton says:

1. Caffeine is for a.m. only — that pick-me-up at 4 p.m. will keep you up at night.

2. Don't work out too close to bedtime.

3. I love a powdered magnesium supplement called Natural Calm.

4. I also like a supplement that contains chamomile/valerian and turmeric called Zyflammend PM by New Chapter; it's much better than Tylenol PM.

5. Eat a carb at dinner. It's the best time of day to eat carbs, because they help relax you. (Black rice, sweet potatoes, and soba noodles are some favorites of mine.)

6. Be careful of dark chocolate as a dessert; the caffeine content can keep some people up during the night.

7. Cherries are a good pre-bedtime snack  — the natural melatonin in them will help relax you.

8. Use lavender in a bath or on pulse points. I use a lavender oil by Origins.

9. Screens are not soporific, books are. Screens mean anything with a backlight: TV/laptops/iPad/iPhone.

10. Instead of counting sheep, make a mental food list/diary of what you ate that day. That puts me to sleep immediately.

Dr. Dale Archer is a medical doctor, board-certified psychiatrist, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who has helped thousands of patients for more than two decades. His focus is to give good common sense psychological advice. Specialties include chemical imbalances of the brain, relationships, and personal responsibility.

Lauren Slayton, M.S. R.D., founder of New York City’s Foodtrainers, has more than a decade of experience as both a dietician and nutritional counselor. Offering one-on-one sessions on weight and nutrition management, Foodtrainers helps clients create, record, achieve, and maintain personal health goals. For those in need of grocery shopping guidance on a budget, Foodtrainers also offers an affordable program, Market Foodtraining. Check out Lauren’s Foodtrainers blog and follow Lauren on Twitter: @foodtrainers.