Meditating woman sitting in pose of lotus against clear sky outdoorsThere are many over the counter and prescription sleep aid medicines to help you get to sleep and although they may be effective they also have side effects.  These side effects can be very serious and may include addiction, withdrawal, headaches, nausea and many other unwanted symptoms.  While these sleep medicines can be helpful on occasion, the risk for psychological dependence and the side effects outweigh the long term benefits.

Here are a few ideas for you to try that promote a natural, restorative sleep cycle.  Using these methods will help you to establish a calming ritual.  Our bodies work well when something is done ritualistically.  Utilizing these methods every night before you go to bed will help you to find it easier to transition from being awake to being asleep.  The ritual is also a time to relax and let go of stress and thoughts that crowd your head and keep you up.

  • Make a Warm Drink

Drinking a cup of warm tea a half an hour before bed.  Many herbal teas such as Chamomile, Valerian, or Passion Flower are some to try.  Making up a nightly drink has the double benefits of the drink itself lulling you off to dreamland and the ritual of drinking it which tells your brain and body “ok, it’s time to relax.”  Doing something like reading while you drink your night time beverage adds a nice dimension to this habit.

  • Take a Warm Bath

There’s nothing quite like sinking into a warm tub to wash the stress of everyday life away and it also feels great to crawl into bed nice and clean.  Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender is great!) to get the soothing benefits of aromatherapy as well.  Even add a cup of Epsom salts for the calming benefits of magnesium (just be sure to rinse the tub when you are done).

  • Meditate

Take some time before you go to bed to meditate and clear your mind of cluttering thoughts.  Thinking too much, as we all know, can keep you awake for hours as you churn over the same thoughts again and again.  Getting a good night’s rest is not just about your body.  With how complex our thinking process is, our minds need just as much help (if not more) to get ready for bed.

To learn more about mindfulness meditation, try one of the free guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and faculty editor of the Positive Psychology Special Health Report.  The recordings are available at

  • Music

Music has been used as a tool of healing since ancient times, appearing in the writings of Pythagoras, Aristotle and Plato.  Studies have shown that music may significantly improve sleep quality and duration, as well as reduce the time needed to fall asleep, sleep disturbance and daytime dysfunction.

  • Tai chi

Tai chi is another natural option with a Natural Standard evidence grade of B for insomnia. Tai chi is a system of movements and positions believed to have developed in 12th Century China. The gentle techniques aim to address the body and mind as an interconnected system and are traditionally believed to have mental and physical health benefits to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. Some studies have found that engaging in tai chi may improve sleep quality in older adults.  If yoga is more appealing, “yin yoga” is a calming, relaxing style of gentle yoga intended to balance the stress of daily life.  There are plenty of DVDs and videos on the internet.  There are yoga routines for every level of experience, from beginner to advanced.  If not “yin yoga”, consider those that promote themselves as relaxing, bedtime, or stress reduction yoga.