Most of us are affected at one time or another in our lives with the sleep disorder insomnia. About 33 percent of the population experiences insomnia on a regular basis.
Causes range from stress, to improper diet, to lack of exercise. Over 6 million people are prescribed sleeping pills by doctors in the US, and many millions more self-medicate with over-the-counter sleeping aids to combat insomnia.
Reports have shown that sleeping pills can alter the brain-wave patterns of sleep, preventing the normal cycle of sleep stages. The side-effects are also frightening, ranging from dependence and withdrawal symptoms, to the alteration of the memory process and other cognitive functions.
- Valerian root is an effective and reliable sedative and sleep aid. It is not habit forming, nor does it produce a hang-over-like side effect.Caution: Large doses of valerian may cause vomiting, stupor, and dizziness, and continued use may lead to depression.
- St. John’s wort, California poppy, skullcap, passion flower, hops, wild lettuce, and/or oat straw are effective sleep aids. It is best to rotate among several herbs than to rely on one herb on a regular basis. Take these herbs forty-five minutes before bedtime.
- Chamomile tea taken 45 minutes prior to bedtime will help aid in falling asleep. Drinking chamomile tea several times through the day helps to calm and tone the nervous system, promoting restful sleep. Caution: Do not use chamomile on an ongoing basis. Avoid chamomile if you are allergic to ragweed.
- Kava presents a sense of tranquillity, produces a deep, dreamless sleep and does not produce any morning hangover. Caution: Long term use can cause liver damage.
- Honey has long been a favorite folk remedy for insomnia. Take it mixed with a little warm milk, in a cup of chamomile tea, or in hot water with lemon.
- Catnip has mild sedative properties. This herb is safe even for children if taken in tea form
- Lavender is an herbal sedative and analgesic, It can be used as an oil which can be messaged into the temples. The fragrance helps to promote relaxation.
- Lobelia is a powerful nerve relaxant
- Dong quai (angelica) has been used to treat insomnia. Caution: Do not use during pregnancy.
- Eat foods high niacin and vitamin B6
- In the evening, eat turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, and whole grain crackers or nut butter. These foods are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep. Eating a grapefruit half at bedtime also helps.
- Avoid alcohol. A small amount can help induce sleep initially, but it invariably disrupts deeper sleep cycles later.
- Avoid tobacco. While smoking may seem to have a calming effect, nicotine is actually a neurostimulant and can cause sleep problems.
- Avoid caffeine-containing beverages after lunch.
- Avoid bacon, cheese, fish, chocolate, eggplant, ham, potatoes, sauerkraut, sugar, sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and wine close to bedtime. These foods contain tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant.
A well balanced diet is a more natural source of nutrients and it is best to get as much as possible from food. If you are not eating a varied mixture of the main food groups or foods high in a certain nutrient needed for your health situation then make up the remaining through vitamin and mineral supplementation.
- Copper: 2 milligrams
- Iron: 10 milligrams for men and non-menstruating women
- Magnesium: 400 milligrams. Caution: If you have heart or kidney problems, you should always check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements
- Calcium: 1,200 milligrams at bedtime. Caution: Do not take calcium supplementation without your doctors approval if you have heart or kidney problems
- Melatonin: 3 milligrams
NON DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Avoid taking nasal decongestants and other cold medications late in the day. While many ingredients in these preparations are known to cause drowsiness, they can have the opposite effect on some people and act as a stimulant.
2. Establish a set of habits and follow them consistently to establish a healthy sleep cycle. Among them:
3. Go to bed only when you are sleepy.
4. Do not stay in bed if you are not sleepy. Get up and move to another room and read, watch television, or do something quietly until you are really sleepy.
5. Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex—not for reading, working, eating, or watching television.
6. Set an alarm clock and get out of bed at the same time every morning, no matter how you slept the night before. Once normal sleep patterns are reestablished, most people find that they have no need for an alarm clock.
7. Do not nap during the day if this isn’t a normal thing for you to do.
8. Exercise regularly in the late afternoon or early evening— but not right before bedtime. Physical exertion is an excellent way to make your body tired so that sleep comes about more easily.
9. Take a hot bath (not a shower) an hour or two before bedtime. Use lavender scent bath bubbles.
10. Keep the bedroom comfortable and quiet. If too much quiet is the problem, try running a fan or playing a radio softly in the background. There are also devices available that generate “white noise” sounds like the ocean surf or a steady rain that help people who are “quiet-sensitive” to sleep. This can be found in children’s toy stores by the videocassettes.
11. For occasional sleeplessness, try using melatonin. This is an effective and safe sleep-promoter.
13. A program of regular exercise improves sleep quality, provided the exercise is not undertaken too close to bedtime.
In some cases, herbal products can interact negatively with other medications. Such interactions can be dangerous. Herbal remedies are not regulated and their quality is not controlled. Moreover, while there is an abundant supply of information circulating about herbs, not much of it has been scientifically proven. Consult your physician. Informing your doctor and pharmacist of what herbal products you are using is just as important as letting them know what drugs you are taking. Your physician and the pharmacist on duty at your pharmacy can assist you in deciding which herbs