4 Natural Solutions For People Who Have Trouble Sleeping

I am not a good sleeper. I will never be one of those people who can boast the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time. But unlike many other sufferers of occasional insomnia, I refuse to resort to over-the-counter sleep-aids and prescription meds.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried my fair share of both. However, not only did the over-the-counter stuff fail to put me to sleep, it left me feeling drugged, dehydrated, and foggy. The prescription stuff, on the other hand, worked too well. I tried to reserve them for absolute emergencies, but who has the willpower to say no to a guaranteed full night of sleep? My best intentions were not enough to contend with the promise of feeling rested, and that was definitely not the path I wanted to be heading down.

So what else can we do to improve our sleep? What steps can we take towards building better, healthful nighttime routines? For people with real difficulties falling asleep, a cup of chamomile tea, while indeed relaxing, simply doesn’t cut it. Over the years I have, however, accumulated a fairly thorough toolkit of natural sleep solutions that really do help and which I’d like to share with you. Because I know just how difficult it is to function after a sleepless night, and how it contributes to a whole host of health problems. But that is a topic for another article.

1. Turn Off Technology, Especially Social Media, At Least 1 Hour Before Bed

This one can be tricky for many people. It’s tempting to check your email one last time before going to bed, or scroll through your Facebook feed, but these activities are incredibly stimulating to our brains. I know for a fact that once I’ve reached out for my phone and peeked at my email in the morning, that’s it – I’m awake.

They can also be sources of stress. How on earth are you supposed to let your mind quiet down if you’ve just received an email about a big deadline at work, or if you’ve just gotten a bunch of “likes” on your Instagram account? Negative and positive stress will both prevent you from sleeping with equal efficacy.

Studies have also shown that the blue light emitted from computer, cell phone, and tablet screens trick the brain into thinking it’s morning, thereby effectively disrupting your internal clock and keeping you from falling asleep. You can read more about that here.

2. Schedule Worry Time

This has probably been the most helpful piece of sleep-related advice I ever received. Since my issues stem from an over-active mind, often related to stress, taking the time to allow my thoughts to run their course has proven incredibly effective. For many people, the moment your head hits the pillow is the moment your brain chooses to start processing the events of the day and planning those of tomorrow. Rather than lying awake in bed fighting this natural urge and agonizing over the fact of being awake, give your mind the time it needs by scheduling some time before you’re ready for sleep. I call this my quiet time or my worry time. I find a quiet, dark corner, cuddle up with a blanket and some herbal tea, and just let my brain do its thing. WHY did I say that stupid thing earlier today? What will I wear tomorrow? Have I forgotten to email or call anyone? Do I have any important meetings or discussions tomorrow, and do I feel prepared? The dialogue will be different for everyone, but these are the common things that run through my head before bed. By the time I have sat there quietly for 20 minutes, my tea is finished and my head is starting to droop.

3. Meditate

This is the natural progression from Step 2. Many people are uncomfortable with the notion of meditation, either because they think they “don’t know how” or think it simply doesn’t work. But the truth of the matter is, if you’re sitting quietly, regulating your breathing, and focusing on clearing your mind – you’re meditating. Allowing myself worry time eventually leads to meditation, because I no longer have various thoughts and worries fighting for my attention. If a new thought pops up, I simply acknowledge the fact that it’s there, without attaching an emotion to it, and move on.

Breathing deeply and slowly will work wonders for carrying you to a restful state. The physiological changes alone will bring about a state of calm – you literally can’t help but feel relaxed after some time of breathing in this way.

4. If You’re Not Sleeping, Get Out of Bed

This one is the hardest for me, but I hear it time and time again – bed is only for sleep (and for sex). If you start to associate it with other things – like lying awake and feeling stressed, or being on the computer, or watching TV – you are only making things exponentially harder on yourself. You need to associate your bed with sleeping, so if you find you’ve been lying there for more than 20-30 minutes and are still wide awake, get up and do something until you feel tired.

I know this seems counterintuitive. You want to sleep, not be awake doing things, but lying there will only make things worse. Get up and do something in another room – make some herbal tea, read a book, listen to some calming music, cuddle with your partner – until you start to feel sleepy. Only then should you return to bed. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you fall asleep! The amount of time you spend out of bed will be significantly less than the time you would have spent tossing and turning.

Just remember, don’t get up and flip on the TV or use the computer – the stimulating effects of these activities, combined with the blue light emitted from the screens, will only keep you up longer.

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What are some of your nighttime routines? Do you know of other techniques that work? Share in the comments below!

Make Your Own Vanilla Cashew-Almond Milk (Recipe)

 I know there are plenty of you out there who already make your own nut milk, but for those of you who have yet to make the transition – or for those looking to make their milk a little more exciting – then this post is for you.

Several months ago I started making my own nut milk at home, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a very long time! I had thought about doing it for ages, but it was always just one of those things that I avoided for no real reason; I assumed it would be too time consuming, too expensive, too… hard. How wrong I was.

If you have ten minutes, a handful of nuts, and some fabric – you can make nut milk.

Once I realized this was going to become a permanent part of my life (immediately after tasting my first batch), I invested the $10 in a nut milk bag, but for my first time around I simply cut the leg off a pair of (clean) pantyhose that would have ended up in the trash, thanks to a lovely run down the thigh. You don’t need to invest any money into this if you don’t want to. Old pantyhose are also great for mason jar sprouting, FYI.

You’ll be amazed at how something that once seemed so daunting so quickly becomes a normal part of your routine. It will literally take 5 minutes of your time once or twice a week – I’ve spent more time than that choosing which almond milk to buy at the store! And doing this yourself ensures that you know exactly what’s going inside your body: no unnecessary chemicals, preservatives, thickeners; no added sugar.

There is something so unbelievably empowering about making something from scratch. The less cans, boxes, and packages you bring into your home, the better you will feel both physically and emotionally – I promise! I can’t tell you how proud and excited I feel every time I pull a jar of milk out of the fridge that was made with my own two hands. And I want to share that feeling with everyone.

As if that feeling weren’t enough to motivate you… it tastes incredible! I really love this combination of nuts, the cashews lend this milk such a creamy, luxurious taste, and the vanilla just sends things right over the edge. No sugar needed, though a couple of dates thrown in there would be insane.

The other amazing thing about making your own almond milk is that you no longer need to buy almond meal. Many people throw away the leftover almond pulp, but that’s literally throwing your money into the garage. Get the most bang for your buck by drying the pulp and using it in baked goods exactly as you would almond meal from the store. I’ve had great luck with this cashew-almond mixture – it makes my raw cookie dough balls taste extra good, and I’m sure it would work well in a variety of recipes!

Show your body some love and start making your own milk today!

If you have a favourite recipe for nut milk that you’d like to share, post in the comments below!

Vanilla Cashew-Almond Milk (makes 4 cups)

~ gluten free, vegan, sugar free, soy free ~

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 vanilla bean pod, beans scraped
  • 1/4 tsp of Himalayan sea salt
  • 4 cups filtered water

Directions

  1. Place your raw nuts in a container (or right in the blender to save yourself from washing more dishes), cover with water, and soak overnight.
  2. When you’re ready to use them, drain the water and give the nuts a quick rinse.
  3. Add them back to your blender, along with the 4 cups of water, vanilla, and salt, and blend on high for about a minute. The water will go from clear, to grainy, to white in this time.
  4. Strain into a glass container or mason jar using your nut milk bag or other fabric – you may have to do some squeezing!
  5. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes

  1. Your milk will separate after sitting in the fridge for a while, so just remember to give it a good shake before serving. This does not mean it has gone bad – I made the mistake of throwing out some perfectly good milk before I learned this lesson!

A 5 Ingredient Vegan Dessert Recipe: Coconut Butter + Tahini Cups With Coffee Creme Filling

I  wrote an article about my struggle to reduce my daily sugar intake. Avoiding processed sugars and things like high fructose corn syrup has become second nature to me, but even natural sweeteners need to be consumed in moderation.

I developed this recipe as a (mostly) guilt-free option for satisfying my sweet tooth in the afternoon. The original recipe uses coconut oil and tahini as the base, and while coconut oil has a myriad of health benefits, I found the resulting cups were too rich tasting and oily, and there was too much filling, making them very sweet. I instead used coconut butter and in much larger quantities, along with vanilla for flavour, so there are more cups, with the fibre that coconut meat contains, with less sugar in them.

While dates are high in natural sugars, they also contain fibre and essential minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, and accordingly are anti-inflammatory and can aid digestion and reduce blood pressure. And since they are spread out in this recipe, each serving contains only a moderate amount of sugar.

The rest of the ingredients are pretty fantastic, too. Here are just a few of the health benefits they offer.

Tahini

Made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is an excellent source of fibre, and a good source of minerals such as copper, manganese, calcium, and iron, among many others. Sesame seeds are also an incredible plant-based source of protein. They also contain two unique substances — sesamin and sesamolin — both of which belong to a special group of fibers called lignans, which help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Sesame seeds also help to protect the liver from oxidative damage.

Coconut Butter

Made from ground coconut, coconut butter is a healthy source of fat in the diet, providing the body with sustained energy throughout the day. Also high in fiber, it helps to keep you feeling full and accordingly can help with weight loss. Rich in lauric acid, coconuts have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties as well.

Coffee

Last but not least, coffee, when consumed in moderation, offers a wide range of health benefits. It is massively high in antioxidants and can improve energy levels and enhance mental focus and physical performance. It may also help with fat loss, and several studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

It is important to remember, however, that not everyone tolerates caffeine as well as others. Listen to what your body tells you and then determine whether caffeine consumption is right for you. It is also important, for a number of reasons, to buy organic coffee, as conventionally grown coffee beans (aside from wreaking havoc on the environment) are heavily sprayed with pesticides, consumption of which may well mitigate its health benefits.

A Wholesome Recipe to Satisfy Your Cravings

coconut-butter-cups-4-1-of-1

This recipe offers a perfect balance of bitter and sweet, and the result is a dessert which leaves you feeling satisfied, not craving more sugar (I promise!). 

coconut-butter-cups-1-of-1

They are also really cute, and easy + fun to make! Give the puree a little pat with your fingers to ensure it fills the cups evenly.

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Recipe comes from my blog, The Healthful Hoard, and was adapted from a recipe by Emily Von Euw in her book Rawsome Vegan Baking.

5 Ingredient Coconut Butter and Tahini Cups with Coffee Crème Filling (makes 24 mini cups)

~ gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free, grain free, nut free, soy free ~

Ingredients

  • 1 cup melted coconut butter (if using freshly made, it will be liquid already)*
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup pitted Medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup espresso or strong-brewed coffee

Directions

  1. Soak the dates in the freshly brewed espresso for about half an hour – longer if they are quite hard. If you have a glass measuring cup you can just pour the coffee straight in and save yourself from washing another dish.
  2. In the meantime, line your mini cupcake pan with paper liners.
  3. Once the dates are soft, pour them along with the coffee into a high-powered blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Place into a small bowl, set aside, and give your blender a quick rinse.
  4. Add the melted coconut butter, tahini, vanilla, and a pinch of sea salt to your blender and process until combined.
  5. Fill each liner about halfway to the top with this mixture, then place the pan in the fridge for 10 minutes to set.
  6. Once they’ve set, remove from the fridge and spoon the date mixture on top. It should fill go almost (but not quite) to the top – about 1 tsp per cup. Flatten with your fingers.
  7. Cover each cup with the remaining coconut butter (and rejoice if you have some left over — it’s delicious on oatmeal or by the spoonful), then place the trays back into the fridge to set for another 10-15 minutes before enjoying.
  8. They are best kept in the fridge to keep from getting soft and sticky.

Notes

  1. You can buy coconut butter from health food stores but one small jar will run you at least $12 or so, while a big bag of unsweetened, shredded coconut from a bulk store will cost you maybe $5! The difference in price is pretty steep. I definitely recommend making your own coconut butter. The process is exactly the same as making nut butter, but takes less time, and for this recipe you need to use the blender/food processor anyway.