How to Naturally Combat Insomnia

No more counting sheep! Learn how to upgrade your bedtime routine for better sleep.

Natural Factors
Man sleeping with dog.

How many of us haven’t had trouble falling or staying asleep? According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, insomnia affects up to 50% of people. 1 in 2 Canadians have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and 1 in 3 adults have trouble staying awake due to lack of sleep. [1]

Insomnia is a common public health issue, [2] and the prevalence of sleeplessness in adult Canadians continues to increase. [3] There are many factors that can affect our sleep, including caffeine consumption, alcohol consumption, stress levels, and other aspects of sleep hygiene. Fortunately, there are steps we can take for natural relief from insomnia and sleep problems.

We can make changes for more attainable and sound sleep. Healthy habits to support healthy sleep are known as sleep hygiene.

Coffee can help to start our day but can interfere with sleep when consumed past noon. We should also avoid consuming alcohol near bedtime. While alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, these benefits are overshadowed by its negative effects on staying asleep. Try a warm cup of chamomile tea in it's place.

Exercising earlier in the day helps promote healthy sleep, though may disrupt sleep if done too close to bedtime. Keeping regular hours and minimizing daytime napping are also helpful. [4] Stress management and stress reduction are also vital to healthy sleep.

Woman reading in bed with nightside lamp

Bedtime routines are not just for children, they can help people of all ages! Softer bedroom lighting and doing a relaxing activity before bed can be helpful. Laptops or phones should not be used at bedtime, as the blue light has been shown to suppress natural melatonin secretion, leading to sleeplessness. [5] Stretching and breathing exercises such as deep breathing can induce the relaxation response, which helps to alleviate stress and improve sleep quality. [6]

Dietary supplements are a non-habit-forming way to support sleep quality. Ashwagandha root, from the Withania somnifera plant, has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that may help increase resistance to stress, and is also used as a sleep aid. It has been shown to decrease the time to fall asleep as well as improve overall sleep quality. [7]

Melatonin helps to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep in those who fall asleep slowly, [8] a more common issue in stressful times. It is normally produced by the pineal gland, though natural secretion is decreased by the blue light from electronic screens. [5] It can also be used to regulate sleep that is disrupted, such as occurs in jet lag.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and L-theanine help to promote temporary relaxation, [9,10] and may also help to support healthy sleep. These two supplements are often used together. [11]In addition, 5-HTP can help to promote healthy mood balance as well as supporting healthy sleep. [12,13]

We don’t need to suffer from insomnia or sleeplessness. By supporting sleep hygiene, avoiding stimulatory substances or activities near bedtime, and using dietary supplements as needed, we can support healthy and sound sleep.

Natural Factors
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  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Are Canadian adults getting enough sleep? Infographic – Published 2020. Accessed December 13, 2020.
  2. Garland SN, Rowe H, Repa LM, et al. A decade’s difference: 10-year change in insomnia symptom prevalence in Canada depends on sociodemographics and health status. Sleep Health. 2018;4(2):160-165.
  3. Statistics Canada. Prevalence of insomnia for Canadians aged 6 to 79. Published 2020. Accessed December 13, 2020.
  4. Irish LA, Kline CE, Gunn HE, et al. The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence. Sleep Med Rev. 2015;22:23-36.
  5. West KE, Jablonski MR, Warfield B, et al. Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011;110(3):619-626.
  6. Pouraboli B, Poodineh Z, Jahani Y. The Effect of Relaxation Techniques on Anxiety, Fatigue and Sleep Quality of Parents of Children with Leukemia under Chemotherapy in South East Iran. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2019;20(10):2903-2908. Published 2019 Oct 1.
  7. Langade D, Kanchi S, Salve J, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study. Cureus. 2019;11(9):e5797. Published 2019 Sep 28.
  8. van Geijlswijk IM, Korzilius HP, Smits MG. The use of exogenous melatonin in delayed sleep phase disorder: a meta-analysis. Sleep 2010;33(12):1605-1614.
  9. Abdou AM, Higashiguchi S, Horie K, et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. Biofactors 2006; 26(3):201-8.
  10. Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362. Published 2019 Oct 3.
  11. Kim S, Jo K, Hong KB, et al. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharm Biol. 2019;57(1):65-73.
  12. Birdsall TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998;3(4):271-280.
  13. Soulairac A, Lambinet H. [Clinical studies of the effect of the serotonin precursor, L-5hydroxytryptophan, on sleep disorders]. Schweizerische Rundschau für Medizin Praxis 1988;77(34a):19-23 (in French).