Why Can't I Sleep? And Ways to Drift Off Naturally
Updated: Feb 24
How can something that is so natural be so hard?! Why is that we struggle with sleep? Let's look into it and how we can finally get the rest we deserve!
Raise your hand if you have ever struggled to fall asleep or to stay asleep?! ✋I think many of us can answer yes to that question, I certainly can!
Long periods of sleeplessness or having consistent trouble with good quality sleep can cause a myriad of health issues in the long term. Our body is reliant on having a blissful nights sleep in order to repair and regenerate itself - but why is something that is so good and natural for us something that so many of us struggle with?
There are many elements that need to be in place in order for us to achieve good quality and good quantity of sleep, and luckily for us, they are completely in our control (yesssss 🙏).
Let's look at some possible reason why we may not be able to fall asleep and/or stay asleep and ways to incorporate some natural wellness routines to have a more holistic bedtime regimen.
Firstly, do NOT sit in bed worrying about not sleeping or how much sleep you will get! We want our sleep environments to conjure up feelings of relaxation and thoughts conducive to sleep. We don't want it to be associated with stress due to an unhealthy connection between your bed and wakefulness.
If you are not able to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of going to bed, get up, go to a different part of your place and do something quiet and relaxing - like reading a book or listening to soothing music (but nothing thrilling, we want to induce sleep REMEMBER).
Additionally, make sure your sleeping space is at a pleasant temperature, dark enough, free of physical distractors and of course, your bed is comfortable. Don't forget to also wear something comfortable, how can you sleep if you are constantly getting a wedgie from that skimpy thong? 🙊🤐
If there is something in your environment that wakes you up during the night, like your partner snoring - maybe consider spending nights in a different room; or the traffic from the street - maybe some ear plugs might help? Personally, I use a sleeping eye mask (blocks out light) and like to have the sound of a fan (keeps me cool and has a humming sound to help me block out some sounds). Figure out the cause of your disruption and then work to combat it.
HOLISTIC SELF-CARE TIP
Aromatherapy to induce sleep:
This may condition the brain to help sleep with specific aromas. It does this by prompting the nervous system to transmit signals to part of the brain that houses memory and emotions - meaning that when a certain kind of scent is present you can associate it with relaxation and sleep.
Get creative or keep it simple with your essential oil blends (we are all about sustainability so use these wonderful oils sparingly and safely).
Depending on what your sleep goal is will determine the best way to apply the oils: -
If staying asleep is your goal then applying topically may work better, so you can smell the blend throughout the night; always dilute with a carrier oil!
If getting to sleep is the goal, try the following olfactory stimulating diffuser blend to help induce sleep:
- 4 drops Bergamot oil: unlike other citrus oils which are stimulating, bergamot has a calming effect. Research shows that it can help to reduce heart rate.
- 4 drops Lavender oil: infamously known for its relaxing effects. It can help to induce deep- or slow-wave sleep.
- 2 drops Clary sage oil: a natural sedative that is known for its antidepressant effects.
Your circadian hormones are out of whack!
Ever heard of the circadian rhythm? Well this is a sort of sleep cycle biological clock, helping your body be awake during the day and asleep at night. It works in coordination with environmental triggers like sunlight, which sets off a chain reaction to produce and suppress certain hormones.
In the morning, when sunlight sets in, our body will start to produce cortisol (a stress hormone) which will cause us to wake up and be more alert. When evening sets in and it starts to get darker, melatonin levels (a sleep hormone) will rise in our body and we will start to feel more drowsy, it should stay elevated throughout the night so we can have a blissful sleep.
If we do not expose ourselves to some sunlight during the day, or we expose ourselves to bright evening light or blue-light emitting electronic devices in the evening/night then this can really throw our circadian hormones out of whack. It explains why jet lag, shift work and/or daylight saving (for those who live in colder climates) can really disrupt our sleep drive. Our body is trying to adjust to the hormonal imbalance, leading to difficulty falling or staying asleep. Try to get some exposure to sunlight and keep electronic screen use to a minimum, especially before bed.
HOLISTIC SELF-CARE TIP
Bright light therapy:
This is a fairly straight forward type of therapy for people who suffer with circadian related sleeplessness and is particularly useful for those who live in colder, darker climates and struggle to get adequate sunlight. It works by mimicking outdoor light with the hopes of resetting the internal body clock, hooray to better sleep! 🙌
A good thing about this type of therapy is its accessibility, all that is needed is a light box, which come in the form of lamps, alarm clocks, visors etc and it can be done at home (win, win!).
Stress! Both Physical and Mental...
This is an obvious cause to sleep deprivation but I think many of us may not even realise what the trigger to our stressors are and how this is affecting our sleep?! I encourage you to really take the time to find out what your triggers are and see if you can address these so you can have a tranquil sleep routine.
Stress is a difficult one to give generic advice on because it is so personal to our environments and situations. When you are still feeling wound up from the day, it can be difficult to shut off. Our bodies need some time before bed to really wind down and relax.
Consider going on an evening walk after dinner, this will help with digestion (winner 🏆) and will also be a great time to re-balance your energy and clear your mind. Take some time EVERY night (yes, every night - we need to make sure we get good sleep and relaxation is a part of that especially if you are high strung) to do something you find relaxing and helps to calm your mind and body - perhaps a warm bath (with some essential oils) or even meditation 🧘.
HOLISTIC SELF-CARE TIP
Bedtime yoga and/or meditation:
Both calming yoga and meditation are a great way to help put your body and mind in what is known as the relaxation response.
By doing this prior to bedtime, it can put you in a calm state and lower tension by helping to reduce blood pressure and in turn lowering the amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol (YAY! 🙌).
Stabilise your blood sugar levels!
So you have a relaxing sleep routine, you have created a sleep sanctuary, you stopped the late night coffees, you get sun exposure and limit your blue-light screen time! But you still can't get some good quality sleep?! I feel the frustration 😤 - something so natural can be so hard for some of us.
Another consideration may be blood sugar levels. If your levels are too high prior to bed it can take you a while to fall asleep, usually until your body re-balances to a normal blood sugar level. If your levels are too low, then it can disrupt your sleep and you may wake up in the middle of the night. The solution to this? Eat the right foods at the right time, that sugary dessert or night cap? Have it a little earlier so your body has enough time to re-balance when bed time arrives. For those who wake up in the middle of the night with no other probable cause, consider eating more regularly and embrace healthy fats so you feel more sated.
HOLISTIC SELF-CARE TIP
Of course I am a big endorser of this section but please hear me out first! When it comes to herbs, they need to be treated as allies in order for one to see them work in the way you would like. They are a helping hand! So please address your diet, address your lifestyle, especially when it comes to blood sugar, and if you suspect you have diabetes or any other medical issue then please seek the appropriate medical attention.
Now that we got that out of the way! 😅Herbal remedies are a great way to support your body and lifestyle naturally. Our blood sugar rising when we eat certain foods is a normal physiological process but we want to make sure that this doesn't remain high for too long and comes back down to a more healthy level especially when it concerns bedtime. A few herbs recommended for this are:
Cinnamon: about 1/2 tsp a day can lead to significant improvement on blood sugar levels. Try it with warm milk an hour or 2 before bed.
Fenugreek: it may help to tackle insulin resistance and is great for blood sugar regulation. This herb runs hot (it is stimulating on the body), so it is best to take this in the morning. Soak about 1 tsp in a cup of water overnight, strain and drink on an empty stomach.
Holy Basil/Tulsi: an adaptogenic herb that can help to reduce cortisol levels (stress) and regulate blood sugar, particularly after a meal! This makes it a great choice for an after dinner tea (wait about an hour).
Sleep-care is important for us all to catch those quality zzz's and leading a well-rounded, holistic lifestyle. The world we live in, currently, means that we are constantly wired; from the electronic devices we use to the demanding work we do. Our bedtime routines should be a part of our self-care routines, so let's start bringing intention to achieve more restful regimens.
Enjoyed this post? Then please share and leave a comment below with what holistic therapy you will incorporate into your sleep routine?
Watanabe E, Kuchta K, Kimura M, Rauwald H, W, Kamei T, Imanishi J: Effects of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia (Risso) Wright & Arn.) Essential Oil Aromatherapy on Mood States, Parasympathetic Nervous System Activity, and Salivary Cortisol Levels in 41 Healthy Females. Forsch Komplementmed 2015;22:43-49.
Goel N, Kim H, Lao RP. An olfactory stimulus modifies nighttime sleep in young men and women. Chronobiol Int. 2005;22(5):889-904.
Seol GH, Shim HS, Kim PJ, Moon HK, Lee KH, Shim I, Suh SH, Min SS. Antidepressant-like effect of Salvia sclarea is explained by modulation of dopamine activities in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Jul 6;130(1):187-90.
Sleep Foundation website. Sleep drive and your body clock. sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm/sleep-drive-and-your-body-clock. Updated 29 January 2021. Accessed 23 September 2021.
National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Circadian rhythms factsheet. nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx. Updated 9 September 2021. Accessed 23 September 2021.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. 5 things to know about relaxation techniques for stress. nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/stress. Updated 23 September 2021. Accessed 23 September 2021.
Amerisleep website. Diabetes & sleep : how high blood sugar steals sleep time. amerisleep.com/blog/diabetes-and-sleep/. Updated 4 January 2021. Accessed 24 September 2021.