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12 Natural Ways to Enhance Sleep

Being in the midst of a pandemic and a financial crisis in Lebanon takes a heavy toll on our stress levels. This is why it is essential to always get a good night’s sleep and make it a part of our self care routine. Healthy sleep patterns have so many benefits such as keeping our immune system strong (yes, to ward away Covid!), reducing stress levels, repairing damaged cells, and helping our energy and productivity during the day. Sleep is a precious thing, but sometimes putting ourselves to bed can be a challenge. Therefore, let us explore the things we can do to encourage a good night’s rest and make them good habits to keep.

1- Pass on the Stimulants at Night: It’s better to altogether avoid food, alcohol and caffeine within a few hours of bedtime (four hours is a good rule to follow). Besides insomnia, eating too close to bedtime and/or eating greasy or spicy food in the evening can also contribute to heartburn.

2- Foods that Promote Sleep: While I just mentioned avoiding food entirely a few hours before sleep, there are a handful of food and drinks that actually help you feel sleepy because they contain the naturally calming amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in milk, almonds, turkey, cheese, yogurt and ice cream. You can also snack on a banana before bed as it has magnesium (a muscle relaxant) and two sleep promoting hormones: melatonin and serotonin. You can even pair it with honey, which has glucose that sends a message to our brain telling it to shut off orexin, the chemical responsible for regulating arousal, wakefulness and appetite. If you use honey (added to your banana or a glass of warm milk before bed), try to get the pure raw organic ‘baladi’ type, so it has not been pasteurized or had extra sweeteners added. This is the healthiest kind of honey – high in antioxidants with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

3- Optimize Your Bedroom for Sleep: Switch off all electronics (televisions, computers, blinking alarm clocks and so forth) and put portable ones far away in another room if possible. Also, as a general rule, don’t make your bedroom an office for answering phone calls and emails. Instead of watching TV before snoozing, try reading (from a book not a screen) for a while instead. I don’t know about you, but if I choose to read about something particularly boring in bed, it puts me to sleep right away!

4- Lights Out: Try to completely draw any blinds or curtains at bedtime. A dark room allows levels of hormone melatonin to rise and ease sleep. If your room can’t get optimally dark, you might want to consider an eye mask!

5- Exercise Early: Exercise boosts the effect of the natural sleep hormone melatonin. The key is to do it early in the day because too close to bedtime can be stimulating. A regular morning or early afternoon workout is ideal.

6- Take a Soothing Bath: If you can take a bath before bed in body temperature water (37 °C) in complete darkness. This bath will relieve your senses and soothe your frayed nerves. However, if a bath is not practical, try to have a hot shower instead as it will help to relax you before bed.

7- Take Deep Breaths: When we are stressed we tend to have difficulty sleeping. One good trick is to practice deep abdominal breathing exercises just before bed. You can try the popular 4-7-8 breathing pattern (breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7, then exhale slowly for 8). Repeat it as many times as you want. The rhythmic breathing practice can help you focus on the moment and take your mind off anxious thoughts.

8- No Pets Rule: While it’s tempting to have a sleepover with your furry housemate, animals may distract you – moving around and making noise during the night – interrupting your sleep. Your bedroom should be very peaceful and quiet. No offence to your lovely pet but best it is snoozing in a separate area of your home!

9- Sweeten Your Sleep with Lavender: Studies have shown that lavender aids sleep and helps to overcome insomnia. Before going to bed, drink a cup of lavender based herbal tea (chamomile and valerian root teas also help with sleep). Or else, pull back the covers and spritz lavender mist above your head. A good mix is five drops of lavender essential oil with one cup of water.

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10- Create a Consistent Sleeping Pattern: Try not to go to bed at different times every night and stick to a similar time to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm (a selection of behavioral, physical and mental changes that follow a 24-hour cycle). Going to bed at the same time every night (even on weekends, holidays and other days off) helps to establish your body clock predict when to induce sleep – this will help reduce the amount of tossing and turning required to fall asleep. Furthermore, you should avoid napping during the day (especially those longer than 2 hours). After a poor night’s sleep it is tempting to take a long nap during the day, but it is better to hold on and make up for it the following night as it will help regulate a healthful sleep cycle.

11- Get the Right Room Temperature: We all know that if it is too hot or too cold, this can keep us up at night. The ideal temperature for sleep is generally considered between 16-20°C according to studies. With the summer months approaching, hot nights are inevitable in Lebanon. Luckily, many are able to escape to higher altitudes with cooler temperatures. Otherwise, fans and A/C units can usually do the trick. You can also try the cross breeze method with your windows. This is when a breeze enters one window and exits directly from another one placed opposite from the first. Just open a few windows that are across from each other (they don’t have to be in the same room, just make sure the open windows and open doors are located on the opposite side of your home).

12- The Egyptian Method: If the summer heat becomes too unbearable why not do what ancient Egyptians did? Not to worry it’s a pretty simple technique. First, wet a cotton sheet or a large bath towel with cold water and squeeze out the excess so it’s not dripping wet. Alternatively run it through the spin cycle in your washing machine. Lie on top of a dry towel (to protect your mattress from moisture) and use the wet sheet or towel as your blanket. Personally, I haven’t tried it but when all else fails to cool you enough to fall asleep, you may want to give it a go!

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Well, we hope you got some new ideas on ways to achieve optimal sleep! Of course chronic insomnia has serious consequences. So, if you continue to have trouble falling asleep or can’t sleep through the night for at least a month, it is better to discuss the problem with a health expert. Remember, we only outlined some natural ways to promote better sleep. If you also have a constant urge to move your legs during the night, you are told you snore consistently or experience a burning pain in your stomach, chest or throat no matter what you try, they could be either due to restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea or signs of gastro esophageal reflux (GERD). If this is the case, it is best to seek advice from a qualified health practitioner for an evaluation and to seek proper treatment.

No doubt, the difficult situation many of us are facing in Lebanon impacts our mental state which can affect our sleep patterns. Let’s look after ourselves and prioritize good sleep. Wishing you sweet dreams!


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