Although it is common to have the occasional sleepless night, if you lack sufficient sleep on a regular basis, it is called insomnia.
Before starting any natural remedies, consult your doctor. Chronic insomnia can be a symptom of another condition, such as depression, heart disease, sleep apnea, lung disease, hot flashes, or diabetes, so it's important to see a doctor if you are having trouble sleeping.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Here are fourteen natural remedies that are used for insomnia.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herb that has been long used as a remedy for insomnia. Today, it is an over-the-counter insomnia remedy in Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy.
Exactly how valerian works in the body is still not well understood. Some studies suggest that like conventional sleeping pills, valerian may affect levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA.
Unlike many other sleep medications, valerian is not believed to be addictive or cause grogginess in the morning. But valerian doesn't work for everyone. And although studies in labs have been encouraging, clinical trials are still inconclusive.
Valerian is usually taken between an hour before bedtime. It takes about two to three weeks to work. It shouldn't be used for more than three months at a time. Side effects of valerian may include mild indigestion, headache, palpitations, and dizziness. Although valerian tea and liquid extracts are available, most people don't like the smell of valerian and prefer taking the capsule form.
Valerian shouldn't be taken with many medications, especially those that depress the central nervous system, such as sedatives and antihistamines. Valerian shouldn't be taken with alcohol, before or after surgery, or by people with liver disease. It should not be taken before driving or operating machinery. Consultation with a qualified health practitioner is recommended.
Find out more about Valerian.
Melatonin is a popular remedy to help people fall asleep when the sleep/wake cycle has been disturbed, such as in shift workers or people who with jet lag. Melatonin is a hormone found naturally in the body. The pineal gland in the brain makes serotonin which is then converted into melatonin at night when exposure to light decreases.
Melatonin is typically taken about 30 minutes before the desired bedtime. Some experts caution that melatonin should not be used by people with depression, schizophrenia, autoimmune diseases, and other serious illness. Pregnant and nursing women should not use melatonin.
A University of Alberta study examined 17 studies with 651 people and found no significant side effects when used for three months or less. The long-term effect of melatonin supplementation is not known.
Read more about Melatonin.
Kava is an anti-anxiety herb that may be helpful for anxiety-related insomnia. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury resulting from the use of dietary supplements containing kava. To date, there have been more than 25 reports of serious adverse effects from kava use in other countries, including four patients who required liver transplants.
For more about kava, read my article Kava: What You Need to Know.
4) Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are one of the most effective ways to increase sleep time, fall asleep faster, and feel more rested in the morning. They require a minimum of 20 minutes before going to bed. There are many different techniques:
- Visualization - involves imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
- Relaxation Response: A mind/body technique based on the principles of Transcendental Meditation. Learn how to elicit the relaxation response.
- Mindfulness: A type of meditation that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present. Learn mindfulness.
- Yoga: combines deep breathing, meditation, and stretching. A Harvard study found that daily yoga for eight weeks improved total sleep time, the time to fall asleep.
Caffeine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine.
Although sugar can give a burst of energy, it's short-lived and can cause uneven blood sugar levels. This can disrupt sleep in the middle of the night as blood sugar levels fall.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Carbohydrate snacks such whole grain crackers before bedtime may help to promote sleep. Just be sure to stay away from sweets.
Magnesium is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. It has also been use for people with restless leg syndrome.
Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast, and whole grains.
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