You close your eyes and keep them closed and count every sheep in your mind’s eye, willing your muscles to relax and your brain to shut off and your body to finally relax. You flip onto one shoulder, then the other. You feel every passing second, every minute, every hour as the night stretches on and on. You stretch your legs and wiggle your toes underneath your blanket, all enrobed in a warm cocoon, then you kick it off because you can’t sleep. And when you do sleep, you don’t stay asleep.
Maybe it’s insomnia. Perhaps it’s stress. It could be that you’ve heard that sleep is essential, and getting enough of it keeps your brain and body healthy — but at this point, it’s all white noise because the rest isn’t happening. You’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 30 percent of people deal with sleep disruption, and about 10 percent deal with daytime impairment from sleeplessness1. So, what are you supposed to do?
We’re going to talk about natural remedies for insomnia, tips to boost your sleep quality, and what actually happens when you sleep. But we’re also going to encourage you to understand why you’re having trouble sleeping. Cover your bases by talking to your doctor about your shut-eye before you make any significant changes.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia Without Melatonin Side Effects
There are a few necessary steps you can take to make sure you’re getting a good night’s rest:
1. Follow a regular sleep schedule
2. Avoid blue light from electronics at night
3. Avoid caffeine and large meals too close to bedtime
4. Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room
But here is one of the most impactful steps you can take to fall asleep and stay asleep: manage stress and anxiety. Plants can help.
Specifically, we’re talking about plant compounds called terpenes, which are found in the essential oils of plants. They’re the compounds that give oranges their bright, citrusy flavor and lavender its soothing aroma. Terpenes are abundant in cannabis, but they won’t get you high. Instead, terpenes support everything you want when you’re trying to wind down — namely, relaxation, sedation, and reduced anxiety. This is why essential oils for sleep are so useful and why CBD can help people unwind.
Related Article: CBD and Terpene Combinations for Stress Relief.
A few specific terpenes are great for sleep support:
Found in: Mango, hops, thyme, basil
Use it for Sedation, relaxation
Myrcene is a sedative and muscle relaxant, which explains why it can produce the “couch-lock” effect in certain strains of cannabis.2 3 4. It has also been associated with reduced anxiety in a rodent study.5
Found in: Lemongrass, lemon verbena, limes, oranges
Use it for sedation, relaxation
In a 2004 rodent study, citral (along with myrcene and limonene) was associated with improved sleeping time 6. Researchers found that the terpenes had sedative and muscle relaxant effects, and sleeping time was more intense in the presence of citral.
Found in: Citrus
Use it for Stress relief
Limonene has been shown to have anti-anxiety effects, and it may even improve mood 7 8 9. These findings are based on rodent studies. They are consistent with other research in essential oils — especially lavender essential oil, which contains limonene and the next terpene on our list, linalool.
Found in: Lavender
Use it for Relaxation
In a 2017 study of 19 subjects, the inhalation of essential oils was associated with better sleep time 10. The researchers used lavender and sweet orange essential oils, which contain the terpene linalool (among other terpenes). And in rodent studies, linalool is associated with reduced anxiety — which can absolutely help you manage stress and get to sleep 11.
Found in: Cloves, hops, basil, oregano
Use it for Stress relief
Caryophyllene has been researched for tons of different benefits, including reduced inflammation and pain management 12. It’s also fantastic for sleep because it has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in rodent studies13 14.
What Happens When You Sleep
Good sleep is divided into four stages: 15
- Stage 1: The period immediately after you fall asleep. This stage is super light, and you can be awakened easily.
- Stage 2: Your muscles relax. Your heart rate slows. Your body temperature drops. This stage lasts about 30 to 60 minutes.
- Stage 3: Welcome to deep sleep. This stage lasts about 20 to 40 minutes, and it’s when your brain has slow-wave (delta) activity — aka the brain waves associated with deep sleep.
- Rapid eye movement (REM): You dream during REM sleep. You hit this stage after about 90 minutes of sleep and then repeat this entire cycle until you wake.
Because you have evolved to have a powerful and beautiful yet needy brain, each stage of sleep is mega-important and serves a biological purpose. Your body uses this time to repair tissue, get rid of damaged cells, release growth hormones, and support brain health16
This also means that understanding why you can’t get quality sleep can help you find a solution that actually works. Remember, there are tons of different factors that can play a role in difficulty sleeping, from your daily routine and diet to medical conditions and medication. What matters is that you’re in a conversation with your doctor. In parallel with that, you’re paying attention to what changes work and don’t work for your body.
Related Articles: How to Enhance Your Meditation With Terpenes
Insomnia Causes: Reasons You’re Having Trouble Sleeping
You Can’t Fall Asleep, or You Keep Waking Up
Contributing factors: Stress, habits and routine, environment, diet, medication
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re not able to hit stage 1 or stage 2. That means you can’t fall asleep in the first place, and when you do, you’re waking up before your body can entirely drift off to dreamland.
Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you always find yourself wide awake at 2 a.m. According to the Mayo Clinic, mid-sleep awakenings are a symptom of insomnia and often occur during periods of stress 17
Here are a few possible reasons you’re having trouble falling asleep (and staying asleep):
- Stress and anxiety: You’re going to have a hard time winding down if you’re dealing with anxiety and racing thoughts. This is because stress raises the hormones associated with your body’s natural fight-or-flight response.18. Not exactly relaxing, right?
- Habits and routine: Watching TV and looking at your phone late into the night, exercising too close to bedtime, and dealing with a variable sleep schedule can interfere with your sleep quality 19.
- Environment: Sleep in a quiet, dark, and cold room. Loud noises, bright lights, and heat can keep you wired and tired.
- Diet: Caffeine and large meals too close to bedtime can keep you awake. As a rule of thumb, stop drinking caffeine within about eight hours of bedtime and don’t eat a giant meal before you hit the sack.
- Medication: With some medications, like certain antidepressants, insomnia is a known side effect. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re suddenly having trouble winding down.
Spoiler: Plant compounds can help you chill out and unwind, especially if you’re dealing with anxiety. Take a look at this article to learn more.
You Wake Up Feeling Groggy
Contributing factors: Stress, waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, not getting enough sleep
You feel like you had a decent night’s sleep, but you always wake up feeling tired — what gives? Waking up groggy can indicate you’re dealing with stress, poor sleep habits (or an early alarm clock), or an underlying medical condition. Here’s what that means:
- Stress: You might be sensing a pattern here. Stress and anxiety impact your body in more ways than one. In some people, it translates into poor-quality sleep that leaves you feeling groggy and fatigued.
- Poor sleep habits: Even if you feel like you’re falling asleep and staying asleep, you might not realize the effects of poor sleep hygiene on your sleep quality. For example, some people can fall asleep after drinking caffeine close to bedtime, but that doesn’t mean your sleep is as restful as it could be.
- Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle: Are you a morning person or a night owl? If you are staying up late and waking up earlier than your body wants you to, your alarm is going to blare in the middle of a deep sleep cycle. You’re going to feel sluggish and tired 20.
- An underlying medical condition: Certain medical conditions can contribute to fatigue and waking up tired, like sleep apnea and shift work sleep disorder 21 22.
You deserve a good night’s sleep. Small changes, like putting away your phone before bed and cutting back on caffeine, can make a big difference. Terpenes can help bridge the gap and get you where you want to be: rested, energized, and more like YOU. Learn more about terpenes and cannabis in this article.