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Natural Herbs & Supplements to Help you Sleep

How To Get That Precious Rest

Think of everything you have to do during your day. At the top of most people's list is work, family time, meal and cleaning schedule, workout  etc.. but most of us forget one important item that should be taking at least a third of our time........SLEEP! Lack of sleep is an epidemic across the country, and many people forget the cost of poor sleep and its profound consequences for their long-term health.

Most people have trouble sleeping; for some it is a short term issue, for others it is a way of life. I'm sure that everyone is familiar with the dark circles and bags around the eyes in the morning, but there are many other symptoms of lack of sleep.

  • Difficulty thinking quickly or clearly, forgetfulness
  • Headache
  • Craving for sweets
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased performance and alertness

However, consistent lack of sleep can lead to more serious health conditions such as:

  • Compromised immune system
  • Increased risk of
  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Decreased libido
  • Obesity
  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Increased irritability and crankiness
  • Increase in the blood bio-markers associated with ageing

Thankfully, there are some herbs and supplements that can help you sleep better, however before you go that route you can try these simple steps.

  • Keep noise and light to a minimum.
  • Avoid eating large meals for two hours before bedtime.
  • Try to restrict caffeine intake during the day and don't have anything with caffeine (tea,coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate) four to six hours before bedtime.
  • Limit how much you drink before bed. You don't want to be up in the bathroom 4 times a night. Also limit the amount of alcohol you drink in the evening.
  • Keep a cool bedroom  
  • Exercising regularly will reduce your stress hormones and help improve sleep quality
  • Make sure your bed is actually comfortable. Spend the extra money on a good mattress, good pillows and comfortable sheets
  • Cut back on electronic devices usage before bedtime. Many studies have shown that these devices disrupt sleep cycles. Instead use a relaxation technique (meditation, progressive relaxation or reading).

Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine)

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the brain from the amino acid tryptophan. This hormone is believed to play a central role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythms. This hormone tells your body that it’s nighttime and it’s time to go to bed. Many studies have demonstrated that melatonin can help people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. Synthetic melatonin is a popular supplement that helps ease circadian rhythm disorders but  be aware that at the wrong dosage, melatonin may actually harm your sleep cycle and cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, or irritability.

Valerian

Valerian is an herb that can help people fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality. Valerian is also used for conditions connected to anxiety and stress.  Several studies have demonstrated that 450 mg of valerian at bedtime is safe for sleep disturbance.

Chamomile

Chamomile, the wonderfully sweet aromatic flower, is an ideal stress buster. Taken as a tea (tea bags and loose flowers are both readily available) chamomile is soothing to tense stressed nerves and can gently help with relaxation and sleep. Chamomile's effectiveness as a sleep aid has not been widely researched in humans, but in animal studies it has been shown to be a safe and mild sleep aid.

Tryptophan and L-tryptophan

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid because our bodies can't make it.  After absorbing L-tryptophan from food, our bodies convert it to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), and then to serotonin (hormones that transmit signals between nerve cells). Some studies have shown that L-tryptophan can help people fall asleep faster. Results, however, have been inconsistent and you should always discuss with your doctor prior to use.

Lavender

Lavender is probably the most popular soothing nighttime scent used for generations as an effective sleep aid. Many studies have demonstrated that sprinkling pure lavender essential oil on a piece of material under your pillow or using a diffuser helps ease anxiety and insomnia. Researchers found that lavender increased the amount of time spent in slow-wave sleep, the restful and restorative sleep phase.

Recently there has been a surge in the number of over-the-counter sleep aids on the market (Benadryl, Tylenol-PM, Advil PM etc...). These can be effective for the occasional sleepless night but be aware that many leave you feeling groggy and ill the next day. In addition, over a period of time, your body builds up a tolerance to chemical sleep aids, and you will have to take more and more for them to work, which in turn can lead to greater risk of side effects.

When you’re scrambling to meet the countless demands of your day, cutting back on sleep might seem like the easy answer. Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be the important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions. The strategies here can help, but remember if it becomes chronic, consult your doctor for additional help.  Welcome to a good night's sleep and waking refreshed to meet the day.