By Cathy Wong
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The scent of the aromatherapy oil English lavender has long been used as a folk remedy to help people fall asleep. Research is starting to confirm lavender's sedative qualities. It's been found to lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and make people feel refreshed. It appears to work better for women, possibly because women tend to have a more acute sense of smell.
The good thing about lavender is that it begins to work quickly. Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow or place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief. Or add several drops of lavender oil to a bath -- the drop in body temperature after a warm bath also helps with sleep. Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are chamomile and ylang ylang.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, you may need more light in the morning. Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up. Try taking a walk first thing in the morning. Just be sure to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from ultraviolet rays.
On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning, you may need more light in the afternoon. Try taking a walk in the late afternoon.
Gentle, slow music is another remedy that can help to improve sleep without medication. Music therapy has been found to improve sleep quality, decrease nightly awakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
Acupuncture may help with insomnia. A University of Pittsburgh analysis concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for insomnia. A preliminary study found that five weeks of acupuncture increase melatonin secretion in the evening and improved total sleep time.
In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness. This syndrome is not necessarily related to kidney disease in Western medicine. A few signs of are low back ache, tiredness and fatigue, and a burst of energy at about 11 pm in the evening. Women in menopause often experience this type of insomnia. People who are taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen also experience this type of insomnia, however, they should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang that may increase estrogen levels.
In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a vata imbalance. Vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a vata imbalance often notice irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia. One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For the pitta type, room temperature coconut oil is used, for the vata type, warm sesame oil is applied, and for the kapha type, warm mustard oil is often applied.
Lack of exercise can contribute to poor sleep. Muscle tension and stress build in the body. Exercise can promote deep sleep that night. However, intense exercise too close to bed can increase adrenaline levels, leading to insomnia.
Feng shui, which originates in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, instructs on how to arrange rooms, furniture, offices, houses, and other arrangements to maximize favorable energy flow throughout living spaces. Here are some recommendations that may help promote relaxing sleep and also read these 6 feng shui tips for your bedroom:
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