image of cryotherapy chamber, a natural wellness treatment that can help you sleep

7 Trendy Wellness Treatments That Might Help You Sleep Better

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/ October 23, 2019
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Sleep deprivation is a real struggle in the United States: According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders. This can have some serious health effects, from negative cognitive function to an increase in blood pressure, with long-term sleep deprivation leading to more severe health conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and even cancer.

So it's no wonder that so many people are turning to unique, alternative sleep remedies to help them sleep better—everything from cryotherapy to infrared saunas is fair game. But do these remedies actually work? Below, learn about some quirky wellness treatments that may help you sleep better—and what science has to say about them.

Cryotherapy

In the case of whole-body cryotherapy, you stand in a liquid nitrogen-cooled air chamber, with temperatures as low as -110˚C, for anywhere from one to three minutes to stimulate anti-inflammatory responses in your body. According to studies, benefits range from everything from weight loss to relief from chronic pain and inflammation.

In a 2019 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, a patient with self-reported sleep issues said she saw improvement in her sleep after trying cryotherapy—but that tiny sample size isn't enough to draw any meaningful conclusions just yet.

Although more research needs to be done, the fact that cryotherapy helps ease pain means it could have positive effects on sleep. “Whole-body cryotherapy, while not actively linked to sleep, can improve a range of issues that affect sleep, such as chronic pain and migraines," explains Benjamin Feinson, CEO and co-founder of Cryofuel in New York City. “It also helps boost mood, which can help you feel relaxed enough to sleep."

Related: 7 real-world tips for living with chronic back pain

Acupuncture

A part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (also known as TCM), acupuncture is a form of treatment that involves inserting very fine, sterile needles at specific points in the body to elicit healing responses. The goal of TCM is to balance the energy (also known as "qi") that flows through meridians, or pathways, in the body. This is done by inserting needles into the meridians, which is supposed to ease several symptoms, including anxiety, stress, and pain—all of which can make sleep difficult.

Research shows that acupuncture may be useful in treating certain sleep conditions. One study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found that a combo of acupuncture and medication was more effective at treating insomnia than medication alone.

“In Chinese medicine, we are always looking to treat the root cause," explains Molly Forsyth, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine and founder of 8 Point Wellness in New York City. "For example, if someone reported trouble falling asleep, we would treat that differently than someone stating that they wake up repeatedly at night." Tailoring acupuncture to target the root cause helps the body release how or where it's holding onto stress, says Forsyth.

Even if you seek acupuncture for something unrelated to sleep, you may find yourself snoozing more easily as a result. “We can calm the nervous system and increase circulation to allow healthy movement of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body," Forsyth says. "Better, more restful sleep is often an unintended positive side effect for most patients—even if they hadn't complained of poor sleep."

CBD

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is everywhere these days. The non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant, CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system and changes the activity of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other cells in your brain and body.

It's hard to say for sure whether the sleep benefits of CBD are legitimate, as research is still in its infancy. Some studies do suggest that CBD may help with anxiety, insomnia, sleep apnea, daytime drowsiness, and pain—but other research is mixed. For example, a study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that CBD didn't have much of an effect on sleep.

“The mechanism of how CBD improves sleep is still murky," says Lauren Slayton, RD, founder of NYC-based nutrition practice Foodtrainers. “Do you sleep better because you're less anxious? Perhaps." Slayton says that what she's seen in her clients is that CBD often leaves them feeling as though they've slept more soundly. "CBD doesn't seem to work for everyone's sleep, but when it does, it's pretty fantastic," she says.

Related: Can CBD really help you sleep better?

Salt therapy

Himalayan salt therapy involves sitting in a room surrounded by pure, pink sea salt, which releases negative ions into the space. This is supposed to purify the space and improve air quality. Because of this, many believe that it can do everything from increase energy levels to alleviate symptoms of allergies.

“The salt is naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antimicrobial, so the treatment offers a unique, natural therapy that allows you to get a sense of peace and serenity while simply breathing," explains Shannon Coppola, founder and CEO of Montauk Salt Cave.

While there's not much scientific evidence backing salt therapy's benefits, many people do claim that they feel better afterward—and some medical experts say it could be helpful, especially when it comes to respiratory issues. "When fine salt particles are inhaled, they will fall on the airway linings and draw water into the airway, thinning the mucus and making it easier to raise, thus making people feel better," according to Norman Edelman, MD, senior scientific advisor to the American Lung Association. "Also, these environments are allergen-free and thus good for people with allergies affecting their lungs." And if you have trouble sleeping due to respiratory issues, then salt therapy could potentially help you achieve better sleep, says Coppola.

The salt that's dispersed into the air also contains magnesium, which studies are beginning to show is an effective natural sleep aid, adds Coppola. "It helps activate neurotransmitters that are responsible for calming the body and the mind, quieting the nervous system and preparing your body for sleep," she says.

Flotation therapy

During flotation therapy (also known as sensory deprivation therapy), you're submerged in a dark tank for 30 to 60 minutes, with no sound other than your breathing. The water is salty, so you float—and some people say it feels like you're back in the womb. As a result, proponents of flotation therapy claim it can help with everything from easing anxiety to improving concentration.

On his blog, Michael Breus, PhD, clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, explains that flotation therapy is a form of Reduced Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST). Over the years, studies have shown that REST is effective at helping to treat insomnia—as well as conditions that make sleep more difficult, like anxiety and fibromyalgia.

One of the reasons flotation therapy helps you relax, and, in turn, sleep better is that it quiets your mind. “Flotation therapy becomes an ideal environment for mindful meditation," says clinical neuropsychologist Justin Feinstein, PhD, director of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research Float Clinic and Research Center. “For anyone who may have trouble focusing on their breath outside of the tank, floating makes it a lot easier to enter into a meditative state."

Related: How to meditate for better sleep

Infrared saunas

Different from the regular saunas you find at the gym, infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit light, which is then experienced as radiant heat and absorbed by the skin. Several infrared saunas also come with different LED light colors to add to the ambient experience and calm the body. Each LED color is considered to have a different benefit, such as fighting inflammation or boosting collagen.

Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps, founders of HigherDose in New York City, say infrared saunas relieve aches and pains by penetrating joints and chill you out by decreasing cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing serotonin, the happiness hormone. Less pain and less stress mean an easier time falling—and staying—asleep, say fans of infrared saunas.

While research on infrared saunas is still in early stages, some studies have found that it can help relieve health conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, which can make sleep difficult. It's even shown to have positive effects on chronic fatigue syndrome, according to a study published in Internal Medicine. Participants reported better moods and less anxiety, depression, and fatigue after spending time in an infrared sauna.

Reiki

Although reiki sounds a bit woo-woo, energy healing is a fairly ancient practice that emerged in Japan in the 1800s. Reiki practitioners believe that energy gets transferred from one person to another, and through the removal of energy blockages that cause pain in the body, a person can be cured of several ailments that impact sleep, including anxiety, depression, and muscle pain.

While studies haven't determined how effective reiki is as a practice, it has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Some hospitals even offer it as a method of healing (although be aware that insurance rarely covers it).

"Energy healing helps to release and open up stagnation in the body, creating more spaciousness, ease, and flow," says Valerie Oula, director of Vibrational Energy Healing at NYC-based wellness center The Well. "People usually feel more relaxed after a session, and regular sessions contribute to a more optimal frequency for the mind and body, which always means better sleep."

Another alternative therapy for sleep that's buzzing right now: crystals. Here, learn whether or not crystals can help you sleep.

Nikhita Mahtani

Nikhita Mahtani is an New York City-based freelance journalist covering primarily health and design. She graduated with an M.A in Magazine Journalism from New York University and loves to debunk popular health myths. Her idea of wellness includes a sweaty spin class, wine with loved ones, and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen.

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