Having trouble sleeping? The author offers three natural sleep aids that are effective, save, and extremely affordable.
How’d you sleep last night? Not well? You’re not alone. According to statistics, 48 percent of Americans say they suffer from insomnia occasionally, while 22 percent report experiencing insomnia every, or almost, every night. And it’s serious business. People with insomnia are four times more likely to suffer from depression than people who sleep well. Lack of sleep due to insomnia may contribute to illness, including serious stuff like heart disease. And, people with insomnia miss more time from work and receive fewer promotions.
Of course the pharmaceutical companies are cashing in on this epidemic to the tune of billions of dollars, but there are natural sleep aids that are safe, effective, extremely affordable, and in my opinion, certainly worth a try. Below are the three I like best.
Valerian is a plant native to Europe and Asia that has been used medicinally since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Over the years Valerian has been used for a variety of conditions including insomnia, digestive complaints, nervousness, anxiety, tension headaches and heart palpitations. There is no clear consensus on what the active components of Valerian are. It's speculated that Valerian's effectiveness may result from a combination of compounds rather than any one. Valerian appears to increase the body's available supply of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), possibly by increasing its production, decreasing its absorption or slowing its breakdown.
Valerian grows up to four feet high and has trumpet-shaped flowers. The Valerian root is what is used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Although the fresh root is relatively odorless, the dried root has a strong odor that many find unpleasant.
There are no shortages of studies available on Valerian, although the conclusions can vary widely. Some studies report that Valerian shows no measurable benefit as a sleep aid, while others claim that it’s useful for treating mild to moderate insomnia.
The general consensus, however, is that Valerian is safe to take and has very few side effects. There seems to be no morning “hangover” feeling that is sometimes associated with other sleep aids. It’s reported to be most effective when taken over a period of time, rather than on a single dose basis. Most studies state that it’s safe to take for extended periods of time, although it’s often recommended to discontinue its use after six to eight weeks.
Valerian can be found in capsule, tea, tablet or liquid extract forms in most health food stores, some drugstores, and online.
Dosages can vary according to brand, but typically 300 to 600 mg taken in capsule form before bedtime.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that regulates other hormones and maintains the body's circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is an internal “clock” that plays a critical role in when we fall asleep and when we wake up. When it’s dark, your body produces more melatonin; when it’s light, the production of melatonin drops.
Many studies have suggested, although results vary, that melatonin can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, increase the number of sleeping hours, and boost daytime alertness. Some studies, however, report that the use of melatonin only reduces the time it takes to fall asleep by a few minutes.
One study of 334 people aged 55 and older found that sustained-release melatonin seemed to help people fall asleep faster, sleep better, be more alert in the morning, and improve quality of life in people with primary insomnia. Some evidence suggests that melatonin may also help children with ADHD sleep better, although it doesn’t seem to improve the behavioral symptoms of ADHD. Melatonin may also be effective in reducing the effects of jet lag. As a side note, my son has ADHD and he swears by melatonin.
The best approach for any condition is to begin with very low doses of melatonin. Keep the dose close to the amount that our bodies normally produce (< 0.3 mg per day). You should only use the lowest amount possible to achieve the desired effect. Your doctor can help you determine the most appropriate dose for your situation, including how to increase the amount, if needed.
Melatonin has also been shown to have strong antioxidant effects. Some evidence suggests that it may help strengthen the immune system.
Melatonin is available as tablets, capsules, cream, and lozenges that dissolve under the tongue.
Native to southeastern parts of the Americas, passionflower is a perennial climbing vine with herbaceous shoots and a sturdy woody stem that grows to a length of nearly 10 meters (about 32 feet). Each flower has 5 white petals and 5 sepals that vary in color from magenta to blue. According to folklore, passionflower got its name because its corona resembles the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during the crucifixion. The passionflower's ripe fruit is an egg-shaped berry that may be yellow or purple.
Passionflower has been used as a sedative and pain reliever as far back in time as by the ancient Aztecs. Over the years passionflower has been used to treat anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, epilepsy, and other conditions of hyperactivity, as well as high blood pressure. Today herbalists often recommend it as a sedative and antispasmodic agent.
Passionflower can be an effective sleep aid because it calms muscle tension without affecting respiratory rate or mental function the way many pharmaceutical sedatives do.
In Europe passionflower is sometimes added to pharmaceuticals intended to treat nerve disorders, heart palpitations, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Unlike most sedative drugs, passionflower has been shown to be non-addictive.
Passionflower is available at health food stores in the form of infusions, teas, liquid extracts and tinctures.