Tips to promote sleep and prevent insomnia

June 8th, 2023

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health. If it's insufficient or of poor quality, the body can't function properly, and a host of health consequences can follow. Although sleep problems are quite common, they are far from simple to understand. That's because they can take on all sorts of forms: problems falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, difficulty sleeping in the morning, a feeling of non-recovery even after a good night's sleep, restless sleep and so on. What's more, the causes can be multifactorial. So it's hard to make up one's mind about how to address the problem. The aim of this text is not to list the causes of sleep disorders, but rather to suggest a lifestyle, rituals and tips to promote more recuperative sleep and prevent insomnia.


Supporting melatonin production and circadian rhythms

Melatonin, our sleep hormone, is naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain in the absence of light. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in food, is transported to the brain and transformed into serotonin. This process requires the presence of plenty of natural light. It is therefore important to go outdoors every day to carry out this transformation. Later, this serotonin will be transformed into melatonin when it comes into contact with darkness at dusk.

To promote melatonin secretion, we need to eat foods containing tryptophan (walnuts, hazelnuts, rice, barley, meat, fish, etc.) and expose ourselves to daylight and night-time darkness. You should also avoid screens 2 to 3 hours before bedtime, as well as all artificial light (blue light, compact fluorescent lamps (LEDs)), preferring light closer to that of nature, i.e. red or orange, like fire. In today's modern world, many of us go to bed, cell phone in hand, thinking we're resting, when in fact we're impacting the quality of our future sleep and wasting precious sleep time online.


Creating a sleep-friendly environment

There are a number of things that you might think of as details, but which can have a major impact on sleep quality. Firstly, the bedroom temperature should not be too high. We've all experienced a restless night during a heatwave to understand this. To fall asleep, the body must first lower its temperature. So it's best to sleep in a slightly cooler room. A temperature of around 19 to 20 degrees is recommended. It also helps to ensure good air circulation and a humidity level of between 30 and 50%. Finally, the darker the room, the more it will support deep sleep. So remember to switch off all electronic devices. If total darkness is difficult to achieve, sleeping with a sleep mask may help.


Sweet rituals to sleep like a baby

To promote sleep, it's best to choose relaxing activities such as taking a candlelit bath, getting a massage, drinking a soothing herbal tea, a warm cinnamon milk, reading a self-help book, etc. Establishing a ritual before bedtime allows the body to associate it with sleep. The ritual aspect is particularly important for optimizing sleep, since the human organism particularly likes regularity, both in terms of eating and bedtime. Going to bed at irregular times, as is the case for those who work rotating shifts, for example, is highly detrimental to the harmony of circadian rhythms. What's more, the sleep you get when you go to bed in the wee hours of the morning is never as recuperative as when you go to bed before 11pm.


Harmful substances to avoid

Stimulating and/or caffeine-containing substances: Coffee, tea, kombucha, rooibos, soft drinks, chocolate: Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine in the brain (necessary for falling asleep) and inhibits melatonin secretion for up to 6 hours after consumption. What's more, it can take up to 8 hours for caffeine to be eliminated from the body. As for tea, it has an attenuated action, however, it too has prolonged effects for around 6-8 hours.

Spicy meals: Spices raise the body's temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.

Alcohol: Alcohol stimulates the brain, contains a lot of sugar and tends to cause unrefreshing nights with frequent awakenings.

Meals that are too heavy or not nourishing enough: Eating too much before bedtime or too close to bedtime can be detrimental to sleep, especially for protein-rich meals, but the opposite is just as problematic. Going to bed on an empty stomach will keep the nervous system on alert. The ideal would be to eat a balanced meal, not too heavy and containing complex carbohydrates within 3 hours before bedtime.


Stress: Cortisol, the stress hormone, lowers melatonin levels, which is why it's important to establish relaxing rituals before bedtime, allowing the body to switch into parasympathetic mode.

If sleep doesn't come? Natural products to the rescue
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera):

This adaptogenic plant acts on the nervous system and has an interesting calming effect.

Dosage: Simmer 3 to 5 g of powder in 200 ml of milk and add a pinch of nutmeg. Nutmeg also has an interesting effect on sleep.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis):

Valerian is a sedative, hypnotic and relaxing plant. It is useful for relieving stress and promoting sleep. It restructures sleep (sleep phases), decreasing the time needed to fall asleep and increasing deep sleep. In studies, it has demonstrated interesting effects, especially when combined with other plants, notably hops.

Dosage: Take 1 to 8 capsules of valerian powder (in capsule form). It is generally recommended to aim for between 3 and 9 g per day.

Blend of California poppy (Eschscholtzia california) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita):

California poppy: helps with insomnia, particularly in the middle of the night, for those who wake up and can't get back to sleep. It also helps with restless sleep and nightmares.

German chamomile: Calming and slightly sedative. It helps with agitation, nervousness, insomnia and nightmares.

Dosage: Take 1 ml of California poppy tincture + 1 ml of German chamomile tincture (before bedtime) and repeat each evening as needed.

Soothing herbal tea with lavender, lemon balm, German chamomile and oats:

Lavender: Relieves stress and anxiety, and helps reduce insomnia, which is mainly related to anxiety.

Lemon balm: Tonic for the nervous system, relaxing and sedative. It helps you let go and reduces feverishness.  Beware, however: it seems to bring on a lot of dreaming!

Oats: Oats are a nutritious plant and a great tonic for the nervous system.  It can help with insomnia.

Dosage: Mix these plants in equal parts. Infuse 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of boiling water for 5-10 min. Drink ½ h before bedtime.



Materia Medica (Flora Médicina School)
Health passport

*Warning: In case of pregnancy, breast-feeding, medication or illness, consult a health professional before taking natural products and medicinal plants.


Texte de: Catherine Drouin                

Naturopathe spécialisée en santé de la femme

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