From gift shopping to the annual wrangling of the relatives, the holidays feel more go-go-go than ho-ho-ho. No wonder 40 percent of us have trouble sleeping this season. Yet fewer of us are looking to prescriptions to help us hit the hay, per a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. “We’ve seen a 31 percent decrease in the use of prescription sleep aids in recent years,” says study author Christopher Kaufmann, PhD. “This is encouraging and likely due to more awareness of the side effects of sleep aids, like cognitive impairment and balance issues.” Translation: Natural insomnia remedies are on the rise.
To curb the use of these drugs, doctors are recommending safer alternatives. That’s good news for women, who experience more ill effects from sleep meds than men, says Steven Y. Park, MD, author of Sleep, Interrupted. “In fact, the FDA reduced the dose of Ambien for women from 10 mg to 5 mg because they metabolize it differently,” he says. To help you get the sleep you need without prescription drugs, try these three strategies — they just might work better than the remedies you’ve heard about for years.
Best daily shift: Set a ‘wake’ time
Anyone who has ever struggled to sleep has been told to set a strict bedtime and stick to it, but a strict wake time is a better bet. “The brain is a predicting machine and the more consistency you give it, the more likely it is to get into a regular sleep-wake cycle,” says Aric A. Prather, PhD, author of The Sleep Prescription. He says a bedtime is harder to stick to because it can feel like too much pressure and can actually worsen insomnia. The wake-time strategy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), the gold-standard sleep treatment that entails creating an environment conducive to sleep. “Studies show it’s 80 percent effective,” says Molly Atwood, PhD, of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In one study, 86 percent of people enjoyed significantly better sleep after three sessions of CBT-I. Says Atwood: “Such non-pharmaceutical remedies are as effective as prescriptions in the short-term and moreso in the long-term.” Learn about CBT-I with free apps like CBT-i Coach.
Best bedtime Rx: Upgraded tea
We’ve all tried various sleepy-time teas, but when it comes to sleep, “valerian is arguably the best-studied root out there,” says Michael Breus, PhD, co-author of Energize! A study in The American Journal of Medicine showed that patients supplementing with valerian were 80 percent more likely to report better sleep. Consider getting your dose in tea form: The ritual of sipping a hot cuppa is not only relaxing, it also allows you to add more sleep-improving ingredients like lemon balm, which is also shown to help you drift off faster. Breus suggests one cup of valerian tea 75 to 90 minutes before bed. One to try: Buddha’s Herb Sleep and Relaxation Tea (Buy from Amazon, $11.49).
Best supplement: The other CBD
You’re likely familiar with cannabidiol (CBD), an ingredient in cannabis shown to ease pain and lower anxiety. But you may want to consider its lesser-known cousin cannabinol (CBN), says Breus, explaining that it’s an “oxidized” or weaker form of THC with powerful perks. “While you’d have to take 120 mg of CBD, almost a full bottle, to get its sleep-inducing benefits, CBN works at a much lower dose.” He advises starting with 5 mg of CBN and experimenting with the dose that works for you, up to 10 mg. One option: Slumber Sleep Aid Capsules, which you can get at SlumberCBN.com.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.