Updated: Jan 16, 2021
I often have patients wanting to use acupuncture as a remedy for sleep issues. Although there is no doubt that acupuncture can help, it is, in my experience, not as effective as the interventions listed below. In short, try some of the natural remedies for insomnia listed below, and you likely won’t need acupuncture; don’t do the things below, and all the acupuncture in the world is unlikely to help.
Many of these items fall into the category of sleep hygiene—the habits and routines you are doing in the two hours leading up to bed and the environment of the bedroom itself. Let’s take a look at some key components of sleep hygiene.
1. Red Light / Blue Light
One of the most important things to recognize is that light shifted toward the blue end of the visible spectrum triggers the release of neurotransmitters that signal our bodies to wake up. On the other hand, light shifted toward the red end of the spectrum signal us to sleep. Natural daylight is shifted strongly toward the blue end of the spectrum, and things like the setting sun, firelight, candles, and moonlight are all shifted much more toward the red end of the spectrum.
Sadly, much of the technology we use each day (and night) are shifted toward the blue end of the spectrum, and, in turn, send powerful signals to our brains and bodies that it is time to wake up. Televisions, phones, tablets, and computer screens are all strongly blue-shifted. The best bet is to eliminate all screen time for at least 90 minutes before bed. If that is not an option, try using software that red-shifts your monitor. The latest IOS update for iPhones and iPads actually has this option built in. You can also purchase blue blocker glasses that many report being helpful. The best advice, however, is just to power down.
Another source of blue-shifted light is florescent bulbs, which includes the compact florescent lights that have become so ubiquitous. The older incandescent bulbs are red-shifted, so much more sleep-friendly. To send the best signals to your brain that it is time to sleep, I suggest both eliminating blue light and increasing red light. To the extent, you can surround yourself with firelight, candle light, or incandescent bulbs. One of my favorite prescriptions for sleep is to watch the sunset. The sunset is a shift from the blue light of the day to the red light of night. It sends a powerful signal to our primordial sleep systems. Once you have seen the sunset, it is important to not re-expose yourself to blue light until morning.
2. Bedroom Lighting
Make sure your room is as dark and quiet as possible. If there is light filtering in from outside, especially if it is blue-shifted, that can be a real problem. Get black-out blinds if needed. Also, make sure bathroom lights, night lights, and even the light from your alarm clock are red-shifted.
3. TV in Bedroom
This one amazes me. No one should have a TV in their bedroom. And this is especially true if you are having sleep problems. Seriously, if there is a TV in the bedroom, do yourself and your sleep a huge favor, and get it out of there. I will not treat any patient for insomnia until the TV is out of the bedroom; to do so is a waste of my time and their money.
4. Keep Cool and Snug
The best sleep occurs when you and your environment are cool. It is best, therefore, to avoid activities that generate internal heat. Avoid working out, hot baths, or showering before bed. Also keep your bedroom slightly cooler than the rest of your house and use an extra blanket if needed. In fact, research has shown that a heavy blanket helps induce better sleep. Along the same lines, avoid heat-generating foods, such as spicy foods and alcohol, before bed.
5. Eat a Low-Carb Snack
Eating a low-carb or, better yet, no-carb snack about 30–45 minutes before bed can be very beneficial. Fat and protein are both fine, but really limit carbs. This snack not only shifts some of your energy toward digestion and away from mental activities, but it also can keep you from waking too early, which is often the result of hunger or a sudden drop in glucose. Best options are things like hard-boiled eggs (including yolk), chicken breasts, avocados, or nuts. If you are going to eat cheese or dairy, avoid low-fat varieties, which are higher in carbohydrates. Worried about the calories? R