Quality sleep is vital to optimal health. While at sleep, the brain takes control of the body to choreograph a nightly hormonal ritual, directing nutrients, clean up of waste, healing, growth, and a host of autonomic processes. Sleep issues can prove dangerous; those who are unable to surrender to a natural circadian rhythm are left increasingly vulnerable to disease.1
Thankfully, there are plenty of natural sleep supplements that come into focus when viewed through an evolutionary lens. If you’ve spent a day at the beach, odds are you slept well that night. The combination of sun and warmth, breathing fresh air, grounding, and life-giving, natural, nutrient-rich waters bathed your body with the primal information required for solid sleep. Proving the best supplements for sleep can be found in nature and within. So what are a few natural supplements that help you sleep?
A good night’s sleep begins in the morning. Sleep is part of our natural circadian rhythm, a 24-hour day-night cycle that influences every cell in the body and every living cell on this planet.
Researchers understand the experience of morning sunlight synchronizes our bodies to the circadian rhythm, supporting appropriate cortisol-melatonin cycles creating wakefulness during the day and sleepiness at night.2 3 4 Sunlight also aids in vitamin D sufficiency, which may also aid in sleep.5
A daily morning walk to meet the sun is an all-natural sleep aid.
Darkness at Night
On the other end of the spectrum, when the sun goes down, lights turn on. While our ability to extend ‘daylight’ hours after dark is a boon to productivity and entertainment, it is a drain on our ability to sleep.6 7
There are several ways to use darkness as one of these natural sleeping aids:
- Minimize screens in the evening, turning off screens an hour or two before bedtime is a great way to reconnect with nighttime.
- Mitigate screens in the evening by wearing blue-blocking glasses and using screen filters to help your brain understand that it is no longer experiencing daylight.8
- Remove or block any light sources in your bedroom. This includes digital clocks, lights on humidifiers, power cords, light pollution outside your window, everything. Even when your eyes are closed, your body senses light.9
Cool Room, Warm Bath
Outside, nighttime temperatures are cooler than daytime temps. Logically, a cooler indoor sleep environment helps your body sync up with its natural expectations. This reasoning is supported by research of sleep patterns in modern pre-industrial societies where sleep onset is most strongly correlated with a decrease in environmental temperature.10
In addition to cooler ambient temperatures, mammals experience a circadian shift in core body temperature from warmer in the daylight to cooler at night. A warm bath in advance of bedtime promotes vasodilation and warming of the extremities. This ‘warm bath effect’ enhances natural body heat dissipation experienced during sleep, improving sleep latency and depth.11 12
Magnesium is an essential nutrient used in at least 80% of metabolic processes, including sleep, and could arguably be the best natural sleep supplement.13 14 Sleep duration is positively correlated with serum magnesium levels in infants (5) and Mg supplements for insomnia improved sleep quality in an elderly population.15 A quality magnesium chloride supplement is a beneficial way to help relax the body and induce a restful sleep.
It was recently discovered that Mg oscillates across cell membranes in a circadian rhythm that directly influences cellular metabolism and energy consumption. Despite its vital importance, the study of Mg transport in the body is really in its infancy.16 Magnesium oil is a good option to get magnesium to your cells while bypassing the GI tract.
Where research is lacking, an evolutionary framework shines. Magnesium is abundant in our ecosystem; it’s one of the 8 most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust.17 It’s easily weathered at the surface of the Earth and consequently found in natural soils, surface water, and seawater where it is one of 6 main ions that compose 99% of sea salts.18 From an evolutionary perspective, Mg sufficiency would have been achieved by eating food directly from the ecosystem and by immersion in natural waters.
Balneotherapy, or the practice of soaking in mineral-rich water (called ‘pelotherapy’ with the addition of mud) is shown to improve sleep quality (and reduce pain) in clinical trials.19 20 21 22 This practice is rooted in nature and can be recreated in a warm bath (see above) in your own home for a great supplement to help you sleep.
A large retrospective study of people with insomnia concluded that all who were treated with pharmaceuticals (n=899) failed to improve. Over 90% were found to have some level of obstructive breathing or sleep apnea.23
Some researchers link the prevalence of obstructive breathing in western cultures to the epigenetic influence of poor diets. Generations of inadequate maternal nutrition (and subsequently the child) and the softening of foods lead to the narrowing of facial features.24 25 This leaves less room for the nasal cavity to develop. Smaller nasal cavities set up a negative feedback loop where it becomes harder to breathe through the nose when you don’t use it as the nasal cavity becomes increasingly prone to recurrent infection.26 27
There are centuries of observations and practices around nasal breathing that are still applicable today. Training yourself to breathe through your nose at night can improve symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and overall sleep quality.28
Grounding, or ‘Earthing’, is the practice of directly contacting the ground outside or being in connection to it. It is fundamentally the same as grounding electrical panels, plumbing systems, or people who work on electronics.
Indoor living (and outdoor footwear) insulates a person from the ground; a phenomenon that is entirely incongruent with human evolutionary history. To better understand the consequence of this disconnect on sleep, researchers grounded 12 people with sleep disorders every night for 8 weeks, measuring their diurnal cortisol trends at baseline and week 6. They conclude that grounding at night resynchronizes cortisol hormones with the circadian rhythm, improving sleep quality and reducing pain and stress.29
Touching the Earth is a natural sleeping aid.
The best natural sleep supplements are lifestyle shifts that reconnect you to nature and entrain your body with the circadian rhythms it longs for.
About the Author:
Meredith is a geologist, forager, budding herbalist, writer, and health mentor informed – and healed – by the wisdom of nature. She writes ‘The Monthly‘, a newsletter of observations about life and health, delivered to inboxes every full moon since 2013.
References [ + ]
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