Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep Quality

Getting enough sleep is more vital than you think. Not only does it help you stay fresh the next day, but it also influences everything from your mood to productivity. Sleep helps us heal and rejuvenate, and without enough sleep, your health suffers. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control[1] and Prevention, a whopping 49.2 million people have trouble with focus due to poor sleep hygiene. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that millions suffer from drowsy driving and nod off behind wheels[2].
Given the significant impact on your health and well-being, finding ways to get enough sleep is crucial. But, before that, let's look at what "healthy sleep" means.

What is defined as healthy sleep?
The National Sleep Foundation describes good quality sleep[3] as falling asleep within 30 minutes, staying sound asleep all through the night. Per these standards, a maximum of one mid-sleep wakeup with the ability to drift back to sleep within 20 minutes of that one awakening is considered "good quality sleep."
If the above doesn't describe your sleep habit, then it needs work. Luckily, there are ways to turn an erratic sleep pattern into a healthy sleep routine. Here are the recommended tips from experts, backed by scientific evidence.

Get enough sunlight during the day: If you work indoors under artificial lighting, it is highly recommended to get out for at least a few minutes a day. Research shows that bright light exposure during the day improves mood and focus[4] and enhances sleep quality during the night[5]. 

Maintain a sleep routine: Studies show that establishing a regular sleep time and routine significantly improves your sleep quality. In a study on university students, it was found that erratic sleep times negatively affected sleep quality[6]. It is also found that poor sleep hygiene also impacts metabolism and thereby weight gain. Hence it recommends maintaining your sleep routine even on the weekends[7]. 

Cut back on caffeine: Cutting back on caffeine close to bedtime is strongly suggested to improving sleep quality. It is recommended to stop caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime[8]. For instance, avoid taking caffeine after 4pm if you try to go to bed at 10 pm.

Avoid late-night alcoholic drinks: Contrary to popular belief that alcohol induces sleep, it disrupts sleep by interfering with your sleep architecture. A double-blind, randomized study found that alcohol suppressed melatonin production [9], a sleep hormone made by the pineal gland in your brain. The study also found that alcohol can worsen symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring.

Reduce screen time: Wavelengths of blue light that hits your eye from cell phones and laptops can disrupt your sleep rhythm. Avoid watching television, scrolling through social media on your phone at least an hour before bedtime. Research shows that blue light exposure from screens suppresses melatonin secretion, increases attention instead of sleepiness, and confuses the brain into staying awake. In a study[10] that compared the effects of blue light exposure to green light of comparable brightness, it was found that blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice if the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much[11].
People who work long hours likely produce less melatonin and considering supplements could prove beneficial to promote sleep.

Lower stress: Stress is another culprit that gets in the way of a healthy sleep cycle. According to a report from the American Psychological Association, adults with lower stress levels report sleeping more hours than do adults with higher reported stress levels[12]. Chronic stress also leads to sleep apnea and health issues like heart disease and depression. Experts recommend exercise, yoga, breathing techniques, and natural supplements as helpful ways to lower stress. Herbs like Ashwagandha and specific nutrients like L-theanine, a type of amino acid, are well known for their stress-lowering effects.
Besides the research and expert-recommended strategies to improve sleep quality, specific supplements could also bolster your sleep. Let's check out some of the recommended nutrients and herbs that may promote better sleep.

Sleep support via natural supplements

Melatonin: Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland, the organ which regulates the body's sleep/wake cycle. It is a natural sleep regulator produced by your body. The elderly and others who do not secrete enough melatonin in their body may have trouble falling asleep. Melatonin tells your body when it's time to get to a restful state and restores sleep. Research shows that a 2mg dose of melatonin before bed can significantly improve sleep quality[13].

L-theanine: It is an amino acid known to promote relaxation and stress reduction by inducing muscle relaxation and reducing occasional anxiety. This amino acid increases the activity of alpha brain waves – which has been associated with a relaxed yet alert mental state.

Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a popular herb in Ayurvedic medicine, well-known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. For this reason, it is also used in natural sleep formulations. In a randomized controlled trial, which is considered the gold standard for studies, it was found that Ashwagandha extracts improved sleep quality and sleep onset in patients with insomnia[14]. 

Passionflower: Passionflower is a natural remedy for reducing stress and anxiety. Clinical trials reveal that passionflower is as effective as prescription drug benzodiazepine oxazepam. The added benefit is that passionflower did not result in drowsiness and issues with job performance in the day unlike oxazepam[15]. 

Valerian root: This plant is known for its relaxation and sedative effects. Valerian root helps improve GABA levels ( gamma-aminobutyric acid), which helps calm the nerve cells in the brain. GABA blocks brain signals that cause anxiety and eliminates ongoing restlessness by having a calming effect.
The above are just a few examples of natural remedies to improve your sleep quality.

Here are some recommendations for good-quality supplements that promote healthy sleep quality:

5-HTP Supreme by Designs for Health: Designs for Health 5-HTP Supreme is a synergistic formula offering 5-hydroxytryptophan (100 mg) and vitamin B6 (20 mg) in a vegetarian capsule. It supports overall neurotransmitter metabolism by providing precursors of serotonin. 5-HTP readily enters the blood-brain barrier, where it is converted into serotonin that requires the cofactor vitamin B6, which is included in this formula. 5-HTP Supreme may be used during the day to support a healthy mood or appetite or at bedtime to support sleep. The suggested dosage is one capsule per day or recommended by your health practitioner. 

Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics: Integrative Therapeutics Cortisol Manager uses a proprietary formula of stress-reducing herbs and botanicals to help promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, alleviate fatigue, and support balanced cortisol levels. The supplement includes two propriety blends, a stress-reducing blend and a cortisol-reducing blend. Cortisol Manager is a stress hormone stabilizer that helps your body balance cortisol levels throughout the day to stay relaxed but alert. The supplement helps you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep and thereby improves your sleep quality. The supplement is available as 30 and 90 count tablets to suit the needs of consumers. The product is free of animal products and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The suggested dosage is one tablet before bedtime or recommended by your healthcare professional. The product is safe to use every night, and the manufacturer recommends taking two tablets during times of high stress.

Melatonin 3mg by Pure Encapsulations: Pure Encapsulations Melatonin 3mg offers 3 mg of melatonin in a single serving. The formulation is gluten-free, hypoallergenic, and non-GMO. It is perfect for those looking for gluten-free, vegan supplements. The recommended dosage is one capsule daily, half to one hour before bedtime, or suggested by your physician.

Best Rest Formula by Pure Encapsulations: A non-GMO, vegan, hypoallergenic sleep formulation that combines natural herbs and nutrients to promote sleep. The formulation includes melatonin, vitamin B6, L-theanine, and herbs like lemon balm, chamomile, passionflower, valerian root, and hops extract. The suggested dosage is to take two capsules 30-60 minutes before bedtime. Pure Encapsulations Best-Rest Formula supports healthy sleep cycles by encouraging an easy transition to sleep and a restful night's sleep. This blend provides support for occasional sleeplessness. Enjoy the time-tested support of valerian, passionflower, chamomile, lemon balm, and hops, which act to calm and relax the central nervous system. GABA and l-theanine are included in the formulation for their ability to promote alpha wave production in the brain, indicating relaxation.

Since blue light is a ubiquitous part of our modern life, considering our use of computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices, it is tough to avoid it. Considering supplements and being mindful of sleep habits are effective ways to improve your sleep quality. Keep in mind, sleep is directly associated with the proper function of the central nervous system, blood pressure maintenance, metabolism, catabolism, temperature regulation, memory consolidation, and several other essential physiological functions. Just like healthy eating and regular physical activity, sleep is a vital part of your overall well-being.