Sleep is crucial to our wellbeing and health and yet many people cannot get a good nights sleep. Sometimes it is getting to sleep that is the problem, other people can get to sleep fine but cannot stay asleep. The medical establishment advocates looking at your lifestyle to help identify the problem. Common reasons for poor sleep patterns range from too much caffeine late at night, being too sedentary, that is not getting enough exercise, getting the brain over active by doing too much work late at night or just plain old watching too much TV.
Before giving medication to aid sleep most health professionals would want to see a change in lifestyle first. If you have taken an over-the-counter sleep aid then it should only be taken short-term because most products contain antihistamine and this is not helpful for longer term sleep problems.
If after changing your lifestyle sleep patterns do not improve there is a natural option before going on to prescription drugs. Most medical professions now agree that there is a place for supplements in providing a good night’s sleep.
Supplements for Natural Good Sleep
Sleep researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Center for Integrative Medicine have a few natural remedies they suggest to try before moving on to drugs. Chamomile tea is recommended, with the researchers adding that for thousands of years chamomile tea has been used medicinally. Known for its calming affect, chamomile tea and essential oils are now being used as a complementary treatment for insomnia. Doctor Sharon Plank, MD, one of the researchers says “Chamomile is safe as a tea. But the trick is to make sure you are brewing it properly. Use two or three teabags. Then put a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water — so you get the medicinal effects of the tea.” She also adds that, although she does not know of any studies, in her experience, “for optimal nerve health (to help you relax), take 100 to 400 milligrams of magnesium”.
The FDA states that chamomile is safe with usually no side effects. However certain groups should avoid taking it. Pregnant ladies should not take it as there is evidence that it may act as a uterine stimulant. Also if you are allergic to ragweed then you must avoid chamomile too. Breastfeeding women should avoid chamomile too, but only because this area has had little study done on it as of yet. Because of its desired effects of enhancing drowsiness chamomile should not be used by anyone operating machinery or intending to drive.
One research study found that rats which were sleep disturbed slept more normally after taking chamomile extract. The study stated that chamomile was as good as a standard dose of benzodiazepine – a tranquilizing medication. However researchers concluded that more work must be carried out.
As with any supplement, start with low doses. If you have any doubts then talk to your doctor, some supplements should not be taken if you are taking certain drugs. Remember that this is a supplement to aid getting off to sleep and having a good nights sleep. This means that it should not be used long term. If you cannot get to sleep naturally go back and address your lifestyle and then talk to your health professional.
Other supplements said to aid relaxation and will help give a good nights sleep are valerian and melatonin.
Melatonin for Sleep
Your circadian rhythm is regulated by a natural hormone called melatonin. The circadian rhythm is the inbuilt body clock that we all have telling us when to sleep and when to wake. By stabilising that the chances of a good sleep increase. Our natural levels of melatonin fluctuate for many reasons, getting older, working shifts, stress, jet lag and sometimes some medications affect it too. Melatonin and its effects are not yet fully understood but it is generally accepted that it plays a pivotal role in the control of the bodys sleep cycles.
Because of this, melatonin supplements may help when treating certain sleep related issues such as jet lag. However the timing of administration of the hormone is crucial to successfully controlling your sleep pattern and preventing jet lag. Research has identified that melatonin can treat insomnia and improves the quality of sleep, and may also be useful in letting people sleep longer. The two forms of melatonin deal with the two types of insomnia. The extended release helps the insomnia sufferers who can get to sleep easily but cannot stay asleep and the immediate release which helps people who have trouble falling asleep.
Although considered safe for short term use melatonin may increase the risk of seizures in children with brain disorders and if you are taking warfarin you should not take melatonin without talking to your doctor.
Valerian for Sleep
Valerian can assist in promoting sleep if the results of 16 studies are to be believed. They also assert that quality of sleep is improved too. Perhaps this is not surprising as valerian has been known to man for more than 2,000 years. Its uses are normally related to sedative and anti-anxiety conditions. Luckily enough nowadays it comes in capsule form. This means that you can avoid having to smell this unpleasant herb. Having very few side effects, rarely it causes stomach upsets or headaches, valerian is safe to try as a supplementary treatment. It has been found that it works better if taken regularly, building up its effectiveness each additional night.
As with all supplements start with the lowest dose and do not take it for any longer than six weeks. The studies previously conducted have all been small scale and the measure of sleep quality has been subjective causing them to lack scientific rigour.
Kava for Sleep
The kava plant grows on many Pacific islands. The root is the part which is commonly used for remedial purposes and herbal remedies. The root of this pepper plant is said to improve sleep patterns. In one study patients were split into two groups, one group received kava and the other group were given a placebo. Those taking kava showed a drop in anxiety levels compared to those taking the placebo. Some people with stress related insomnia had improved sleep after taking kava and valerian, states a small study.
Although only a few of the people taking part in these studies showed only very mild side effects the FDA has issued a warning that kava supplements have been associated with a risk to liver damage. And the American Academy of Family Physicians only recommends short term use when dealing with anxiety. However, they further add that no alcohol or cholesterol medicines can be taken if kava supplements are being used. There is a potential risk if kava is taken, a visit to the doctor before starting with kava may be advisable.
Lifestyle Changes to Aid Sleep
Although supplements can help aid sleep, experts tend to agree that for the long term answer lifestyle issues must be addressed. Learn how to avoid stress and get your bedroom ready for a comfortable sleep. Some other tips are below.
Avoid caffeine, which means no tea, coffee or fizzy drinks up to six hours before bedtime. Do not have any large meals within two hours of bedtime either, but a light snack if you are peckish is fine. Avoid having a nap later in the afternoon and if you are working late then always stop at least an hour before going to bed. This gives your brain some time to calm down.
Get your bedroom into a good position to aid your sleep by keeping it dark and quiet, earplugs or an eye mask work for some people. Make sure that your room is well ventilated though and at just the right temperature for you. Keep your pets out of the room too.
Exercise is good for your lifestyle but not just before going to bed, give yourself about 2 hours between exercise and going to sleep. If there are emotional problems at home then do not discuss them going to bed. Some people find that learning meditation or having acupuncture also helps.
As people get older they are sometimes kept awake with general aches and pains. If that is the case take an over the counter pain killer before going to bed.