Your Natural Sleep Routine
Written By Dr. Millie Lytle ND, CNS.
If you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have insomnia. There are two types of insomnia - sleep onset disorder or sleep maintenance disorder. If you experience either of these, there is good news; you are not alone and natural remedies might greatly help you.
What is Insomnia?
The term insomnia is both a symptom and a cause. Lack of sleep is a symptom of a greater emotional or lifestyle problem, and it is also a risk factor for even more chronic problems to come 1. Thus, insomnia has been thought of as both a symptom and a sign. In order to be diagnosed with insomnia, sleep difficulty must occur at least 3 times per week and must be a problem for at least 1 month. A general consensus, developed from population-based studies, report that approximately 30% of a variety of adult samples drawn from different countries report one or more of the symptoms of insomnia: difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, nonrestorative or poor quality of sleep. Chronic insomnia is even more prevalent and affects approximately 30% of the general population. Severe insomnia that leads to perceived daytime impairment or distress as a function of the insomnia symptoms results in approximately 10% prevalence of insomnia1. Approximately 40% of adults with insomnia also have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder—most notably depression1. Insomnia impairs cognitive and physical functioning and is associated with a wide range of impaired daytime functions across a number of emotional, social, and physical domains. Compared with “good sleepers”, people with persistent sleep disturbances are more prone to accidents, have higher rates of work absenteeism, diminished job performance, decreased quality of life, and increased health care utilization. Various risk factors associated with increased prevalence of chronic insomnia include older age, female gender, and comorbid (accompanying) medical and psychiatric conditions.
Nearly 50% of older adults have insomnia, with difficulty in getting to sleep, early awakening, or feeling unrefreshed on waking. With aging, several changes occur that higher ones risk for insomnia, including age-related changes in various circadian rhythms (your body’s internal clock), environmental and lifestyle changes, and decreases in nutrient intake, absorption, retention, and utilization of these nutrients2. In addition to fatigue, insomnia in older adults is of particular concern because it could increase risk of injury, with impaired quality of life, cognitive impairment, depression and a heightened risk of metabolic syndrome. Insomnia is also associated with a moderately increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. In this context, insomnia has been thought to influence total-mortality, and more specifically, cardiovascular mortality has been shown to increase risk for all-cause of mortality (dying from any cause)3.
If this is your dilemma – you are exhausted but when you finally get to bed, you are no longer tired – there are natural insomnia remedies that may be just what you need to begin getting the sleep you deserve.
Natural insomnia remedies
Magnesium is a mineral essential to over 400 functions in the body. It is essential for blood pressure and blood sugar regulation. It is an electrolyte that calms the heart rate, eases muscle cramping and restless leg syndrome. It is also relaxing to the nervous system. Supplementation of magnesium improved subjective measures of insomnia such sleep efficiency, sleep time, early morning awakening in one study on elderly people. It also reduced stress signaling, such as lowering cortisol and increased melatonin levels in the same population2. If L-Theanine relaxes the mind, Magnesium relaxes the body.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the center of your brain. Melatonin regulates the body's circadian rhythms, your body’s 24-hour clock that regulate your sleep-wake cycle. The levels of melatonin in the blood are highest prior to bedtime. When Melatonin is high, cortisol is low. Melatonin is also essential for the synthesis of Serotonin. As a supplement, it re-calibrates your 24-hour body clock for shift workers or those who work nights. Excellent for jet lag and travelling. In a systematic review of sleep aids used for children and adolescents with ADHD, melatonin showed a positive response, higher total sleep time, and easier time falling asleep at bedtime as well as after waking in the middle of the night6.
Valerian root has been used as a sedative and anti- anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years. Extracts of the roots of valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are widely used for inducing sleep and improving sleep quality. A review of 16 small studies suggests that valerian may help people fall to sleep faster with only minor side effects and no hangover5. Valerian’s sedative properties becomes more effective over time, so it's best to take it every night for a short period of time. Start with the lowest dose (200mg) then increase over several days' time (up to 1000mg). Valerian is considered safe to take for four to six weeks alone or in combination with other herbs, but not alcohol or sleep medications. Valerian does not work for everyone.
California poppy, the official state flower of California, Eschscholzia californica is one of the only safe and available sources of opiates. This herb works as a painkiller and helps to induce sleep. Unlike its drug-based opioid cousins, California poppy is not habit forming and easy on the liver. Developing research suggests California poppy, in combination with magnesium, might be useful in treating mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders7.
L-Theanine, an extract from green tea, is excellent for persistent thoughts. Day or night, take for anxiety, panic and to calm down worrisome thoughts by increasing blissful alpha-waves in the brain, before bed or in the middle of the night. It works fast and comes with very few side effects. L-Theanine when compared with the drug Zolpidem increased speed of falling asleep children with ADHD using Zolpidem experienced zero sleep benefits and many side effects6.
Chamomile can be taken as tea, in an herbal tincture or a sleep formula. One Japanese study on rats found that chamomile extract helped the rats fall asleep just as quickly as rats that got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication), though experts do agree that better research of chamomile is needed. The FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with no usual side effects. If you are using tea as an insomnia remedy, ensure you are brewing it properly by using two or three tea bags and putting a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water in order to get the medicinal effects of the tea. Chamomile is safe for children and adults of all ages. Don’t take chamomile tea if you are pregnant. If you have a ragweed allergy, avoid it4.
Alternatives Methods for a Good Quality Sleep
One of the best practices that help to fall asleep is exercising. Another good tip is to finish dinner at least 2 hours prior to “hitting the hay” and develop a sleep routine. Follow this checklist to help turn your nights into dreams:
- Turn off cell phones, computers and the television at least an hour before bed
- Go to bed at a regular time each night. The best time is at least 1-2 hours prior to midnight.
- Engage in gentle activities such as: calm conversation, listening to soothing music or meditation tracks, light stretching, having a bath, drinking herbal teas, reading a novel, cuddling or other intimate contact, or petting an animal.
Once into bed, only do sleep-time activities. At this time, using essential oils such as lavender applied to the bottoms of feet and dropping on pillow is enjoyable and soothing. If counting sheep are not enough to blank your mind, then try an exercise-based relaxation technique called progressive-relaxation, which involves clenching each muscle group of the body as hard as possible, then enjoy the relaxation. Progressive relaxation clears the mind and relaxes the body.
1.Roth T. Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences J Clin Sleep Med. 2007 Aug 15; 3(5 Suppl): S7–S10.
2.Mai E and Buysse DJInsomnia: Prevalence, Impact, Pathogenesis, Differential Diagnosis, and Evaluation. Sleep Med Clin. 2008; 3(2): 167–174.
3.Y, Zhang X Winkelman JW, Redline S, Hu FB, Stampfer M, Ma J, and Gao X. The Association between Insomnia Symptoms and Mortality: A Prospective Study of US Men. Circulation. 2014 Feb 18; 129(7): 737–746.
5.Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W. Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12.
6.Barrett JR, Tracy DK and Giaroli G. To Sleep or Not To Sleep: A Systematic Review of the Literature of Pharmacological Treatments of Insomnia in Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2013 Dec 1; 23(10): 640–647
7.Hanus M, Lafon J, Mathieu M. Double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a fixed combination containing two plant extracts (Crataegus oxyacantha and Eschscholtzia californica) and magnesium in mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders. Curr Med Res Opin. 2004 Jan;20(1):63-71.
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