Natural sleep remedies

Natural sleep remedies

Despite the fact that insomnia has reached epidemic proportions, especially among developing countries, it doesn’t mean that it is a modern phenomenon. More likely, we are just better able to count the millions that now battle with it. Folks have been dealing with insomnia for centuries — and common home remedies have a proven track record.

Herbs have been used for centuries in treating all types of medical conditions. Many serious medical and health problems are best treated pharmacologically, but the fact is, much of modern medicine’s power drugs were engineered or synthesized from natural plant materials.

In the treatment of insomnia we find a wide variety of herbal remedies, all-natural vitamins and supplements, and homeopathic treatments that do a fairly good job at relieving symptoms.

Back in the days when our ancestors had no artificial light, they would wake up at sunrise and sleep at sunset. This is called the circadian rhythm — or in simpler terms, the wake-sleep cycle. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour biological wake–sleep cycle that governs most animals and humans into a synchronized series of natural functions and responses — such as hunger, thirst, and body temperature. The wake-sleep clock is controlled by a small hypothalamus in the brain. A simple explanation of how it works is that light admitted through the retina area of the eye sends a message to the area of the brain which governs our circadian rhythm, which in turn controls the amount of melatonin that is released. So as light fades, the brain releases more melatonin — and as dawn approaches, our melatonin levels drop once again, to daytime levels. Melatonin is therefore a sleep-inducing hormone.

The use of melatonin to treat insomnia

The hormone melatonin in its natural state is a key ingredient in the sleep-wake cycle. When our biological clock is in synchronisation with the natural rhythm of the world, our melatonin levels increase and decrease throughout a 24-hour cycle and largely in response to changes in the natural light.

If we work nightshifts, or rotate shifts, many scientists observe that we never become truly accustomed to these unnatural conditions. Our biological clock senses that we are supposed to be asleep when we are actually active. For this reason, many people who work night shifts experience insomnia symptoms, which can even be chronic. Others, though, have conditioned themselves to this type of work, and may suffer circadian rhythm disorders because of it.

For many sufferers, the natural levels of melatonin seem to be either absent or irregular. When melatonin is not being produced (naturally) we are less likely to get drowsy before bedtime, leading to difficulties in falling asleep — and if this hormone level fluctuates, insomnia will ensue.

There is good news, however. Synthetic melatonin is available for the treatment of insomnia, which may be a safer alternative in many cases to prescription sleeping pills. The hormone is quite effective at helping overcome symptoms of sleep disturbance; it is especially effective in regulating sleep onset and negating difficulty falling asleep. Synthetic melatonin mimics the natural process in our brains, which can help us get the essential sleep we need — thereby re-plotting our natural sleep-wake cycle.

Advertised widely on the internet, it is believed to be an effective insomnia treatment, since it is naturally produced in the body and should trigger the body’s circadian rhythm. Many people believe that as we get older, our melatonin levels decline. But its effectiveness remains to be thoroughly studied, and findings so far are mixed.

In one small study, it was found that melatonin may help night shift workers sleep during the day.

Dr. James K. Wyatt of Rush University Medical Centre and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School assigned a group of people free from sleep disorders to be put on a 20-hour sleep-wake schedule, simulating a traveller crossing four time zones eastward every day. They were asked to take 0.3 or 5 mg of melatonin — or a similar placebo pill — 30 minutes before each scheduled sleep period, which was of 7 hour duration. The study found that the people who used melatonin had longer sleep time during the day when the body doesn’t naturally produce it, compared to those who took a placebo. However, when administered synthetic melatonin at night (when the body produces its own natural melatonin), no added benefits were observed.

Another factor that you must consider before buying melatonin is that its safety is not guaranteed, as its production is not closely monitored. Forms of melatonin available in health stores may contain other substances which are untested for long-term use.

Common side effects of melatonin supplementation include dizziness, daytime drowsiness, and headache. You should always consult with your doctor before beginning a course of melatonin supplementation, and discontinue use at the first sign of adverse effects.

Vitamins

These supplements can be very beneficial, and ideally, should include the vitamins B3, B6, and C, which help to relax the central nervous system — thereby resulting in improved sleep.

B vitamins assist in the stimulation of the neurotransmitters of your brain, essential for restful sleep and a quiet mood.

Vitamin B6 and magnesium present in bananas and potatoes helps transform tryptophan into serotonin, which is a sleep inducing hormone.

Vitamin B6 also helps produce melatonin and dopamine in the brain, which regulates sleep, mood, and our circadian rhythm.

Vitamin B12 helps to promote positive mood and thoughts and a healthy nervous system. Consuming orange juice, leafy green vegetables, cereals and beans is also good for alleviating insomnia. These foods are rich in vitamins and minerals such as folic acid and magnesium, which help with sleep inducement.

Aloe Vera is a rich source of minerals and vitamins, especially the B vitamins in their natural form. It also helps maintain a healthy digestive system, as well as joint and muscle function.

Herbal remedies

Historically, in the treatment of insomnia, we find a wide variety of herbal remedies that do a fairly good job at relieving insomnia symptoms. The Greeks and Romans used Valerian and St. John’s Wort to combat insomnia, and these herbal remedies are still in use today. Other common herbs used are chamomile, passion flower, lavender and lemon balm.

Herbal and natural treatments for sleeplessness are taken in a variety of forms, including teas, capsules and pills, powders added to food and drink, tinctures, serums, and even aromatics in room perfumers and bath oils.

As part of your bedtime ritual or sleep hygiene, you may include:

- Warm milk. Milk is known to contain a naturally occurring sedative known as serotonin, which has a very calming effect on the brain.

- Chamomile tea

- Valerian tea or tincture

- A hot bath, with Epsom salts or a sleep inducing essential oil added to the water

- A spoonful of honey, which can be added to the warm milk

- A little nutmeg or cinnamon sprinkled in milk, and again, some added honey

- An essential oil burner in your bedroom with perhaps a few drops of lavender essential oil added. Lavender is known to have relaxation inducing properties. Remember, no naked flame after retiring!

Valerian

This all-natural remedy is derived from the valerian plant root and comes in many forms. Natural remedies containing the valerian plant have been used for centuries. It has been brewed into a medicinal tea, but is now also widely available in a pill or capsule form and manufactured from potent oils available in the plant’s roots.

There is no scientific proof of valerian’s actual neurological effects, but centuries of use continue to illustrate its effectiveness as a sleep aid and its value in relieving anxiety conditions.

Valerian may help to shorten the amount of time taken to fall asleep, and to reduce instances of middle-of-the-night wakefulness.

For most people, it is relatively free from side effects, provided that it is taken as directed. But some folks, including me, have allergic sneezing reactions to valerian. The only side effect I’ve noticed when taking valerian is sneezing and runny nose the next day. When buying valerian in supplement form, you should deal only with reputable companies, and use it according to package directions. If it becomes necessary to consult your doctor about insomnia concerns, and you are using a valerian product, it’s advisable to disclose this. Sleep aids prescribed by your doctor should never be replaced by valerian without proper consultation. Valerian use should be discontinued at the first sign of adverse side effects.