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Sleep problems affect 70 million Americans every day—one out of five of us. Are you one of them?
You may have tried things like warm milk or chamomile tea with honey before bed, only to lie awake wondering when it was going to kick in. Or maybe you’ve mentioned insomnia to your doctor, and he handed you a prescription for something you’ve seen on TV. Most of these sleep medications are only intended for short-term use (two weeks or less), and some are actually addictive.
Sleep is one of the best things for your overall health. Long-term poor or insufficient sleep can affect:
- Chronic pain
- Mental acuity
- Impaired cognition
- Emotional balance (crankiness, bad judgment, etc.)
- Hormone production/fertility
- Premature aging
- Behavioral difficulties in children
Computers, smartphones, tablets and even your Wi-Fi can disrupt your sleep with an EMF (electromagnetic field), especially if they’re charging next to your bed. Turn these off at night, or move them at least three feet away from the sleeping area—including children’s rooms. Use a regular alarm clock, also three feet away, with a gentle but effective alarm to wake you up in the morning.
Making your room completely dark (or as close as you can get) will help normalize your circadian rhythm and start the production of melatonin. A slightly cooler temperature—around 69 Fahrenheit—is optimal. Even a small bit of light—from outside, from a phone, or from anywhere else can disrupt your sleep and stop the normal flow of melatonin.
Regular exercise also helps, but not at night–unless it’s a relaxing yoga or other type of stretching. Avoiding big meals and caffeine too late at night allows your system to relax and sleep. But if you’re still having trouble sleeping, or you’re waking up at night, natural sleep aids are non-addictive and readily available.
- Melatonin. This hormone controls your sleep and is produced by the pineal gland. Pill dosages range from 3mg to 10mg, so you’d have to try some and find out how it affects you. Too much can lead to headaches, nausea and other side effects, so start with a small dose and raise it as needed. Take it one hour before bedtime, unless it’s a “quick release” pill. Melatonin is best for short-term use.
- Valerian root. One of the most common natural sleep aids available. The plant is native to Europe and parts of Asia, and is consumed either as a tea or in capsules. Valerian root promotes deep sleep and calmness, and increases GABA levels.
- GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid. This amino acid works in the central nervous system to tamp down the brain’s nerve activity. Low levels of GABA interfere with deep sleep, causing you to wake up frequently. GABA is sometimes combined with 5-HTP to promote sleep.
- L-Tryptophan. Yes, this essential amino acid in turkey also helps with sleep on its own. Available as a supplement, 500 mg nightly helps maintain serotonin and 5-HTP levels and promotes sleep.
- L-Theanine. This green tea extract is an amino acid that’s also available in pill form. It promotes calmness both day and night, resulting in a deeper sleep. Recommended dose is 50 to 200 mg.
- Magnesium. A deficiency of this multipurpose mineral can cause insomnia. Taking 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate before bed removes calcium from the muscles and relaxes cramped muscles. You also can soak in Epsom salts or rub magnesium oil on your skin to absorb it quickly.
- Lavender. A small pouch of dried lavender placed under your pillow, or in a sleep mask, can help you relax and fall asleep. Lavender spray on bedding also works.
Try only one of these supplements at a time, and when you have time to sleep (i.e., weekends, a day off). You don’t want to be late for work because something knocked you out! Once you determine if it works, you’ll know if you can take it regularly.
Magnesium makes me sleep, Dr. Carolyn Dean, 12/26/2012
Nightcaps, sleeping drugs and magnesium, Dr. Carolyn Dean, 2/18/2010
Sleeping with the enemy, Dr. Carolyn Dean, 08/16/2010
8 Natural Remedies That May Help You Sleep, Mercola.com, 01/06/2009
What Happens in Your Body When You’re Sleep Deprived?, Mercola.com, March 03, 2016
How Much Melatonin Should You Really Be Taking? Sleep.org (The National Sleep Foundation)
Why I chose Magnesium over Melatonin, Sylvie McCracken, HollywoodHomestead.com, December 2013.
7 Natural Sleep Aids that Really Work, DrAxe.com