Having trouble dozing off but don't want to reach for sleeping pills? Try these more natural methods instead.
It's one of the more frustrating things in life: The night before an important event or big day, where you desperately need to feel rested, you simply can't switch off and fall asleep. So instead of waking up refreshed, you're frustrated, stressed and groggier than ever - before the day's even begun.
If this sounds like a familiar scenario, you can at least take comfort in the fact you're not alone. The Sleep Health Foundation estimates one in three of us have at least mild insomnia at some point in our lives, and at any given time, approximately 10% of the population's suffering with it.
According to the NHS, occasional episodes of insomnia may come and go without causing any serious problems, but for some people, it can last for months or even years at a time. And sleep deprivation isn't just a recipe for a painful and unproductive Monday morning - it can be also be really detrimental to your health.
Studies have shown that regularly missing out on a solid eight hours' slumber can put you at risk of serious conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and chronic poor sleep is also associated with a shortened life expectancy.
When you're tossing and turning all night, it can be tempting to reach for over-the-counter or prescription drugs to help you to drift off. However, if these aren't a suitable option, or you're simply keen to avoid popping sleeping pills, don't despair.
A new school of thinking is turning away from the medicine cabinet, looking instead at more organic and holistic sleep aids. Two powerful weapons in the fight against insomnia are a quiet, comfortable sleep environment and a relaxing bedtime routine, but here are five other natural approaches that can help you on your way...
1. Invest in a sunrise lamp
Getting a good night's sleep could be as simple as changing the lighting in your room. The blue light from electronic devices can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, so make your bedroom a phone-free zone and invest in a sunrise lamp like Lumie's Bodyclock Luxe 700, £170 (lumie.com). It has a bedtime option that mimics a real sunset, gradually dimming the light in your room over a 30-minute period, stimulating melatonin production and its all-important sleepy effect.
2. Bathe in magnesium
Magnesium has long been touted as a homeopathic way to help relieve insomnia. Studies have found it helps decrease cortisol, the 'stress hormone' that can keep you up at night. It also helps muscles relax, to bring on that yawn-inducing feeling at the end of a long day. If you don't fancy swilling it down in capsule form, you could try taking a hot bath with BetterYou Magnesium Flakes, from £3.49 (betteryou.com).
3. Slather on a sleep lotion
Parenting forums and beauty blogs have all been buzzing with the sleep-giving benefits of Lush's Sleepy Body Lotion, £13.95 (uk.lush.com) - some reviewers have even gone as far to claim that it has managed to cure their insomnia completely. The pale purple lotion utilises a potent mix of oatmeal, cocoa butter and lavender water - a natural relaxant with mood-altering properties. Slather on a layer before bedtime, paying particular attention to the neck and temples for a deeper, more fulfilling sleep.
4. Sip on some chamomile tea
A good cup of tea is just what the doctor ordered when sleep won't come - just don't touch the English Breakfast. Chamomile has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, in particular its ability to help you relax. Just one cuppa of the stuff can have a mild sedative effect, as well as the added benefit of being helpful in alleviating menstrual cramps.
5. Tune into pink noise
You've probably heard of white noise - which is basically a consistent, fuzzy, static sound that has a masking effect, blocking out the sudden changes in noise that can disturb light sleepers. Pink noise goes one step further, slowing down your brainwaves and helping regulate them, giving you a steady, long sleep. Next time you're having trouble drifting off, try filling your room with the sounds of waves lapping on the beach or leaves rustling in the trees - these are nature's pink noise creators (there are lots of apps where you can find them).