Dr. Henry Cheng
Tired of counting sheep? Prescription drugs may help but they can be habit forming. Many lead to hang over and other side effects. There are many herbs and homeopathics that will help sleep. However, try to modify your lifestyle first.
A regular exercise program is important. It has been found that sedentary office-workers are more prone to insomnia than manual workers. The best time to do your workout is early in the morning when you are “fresh”. Remember to avoid doing exercise in the evening. Pay attention to your diet. Avoid fatty foods, strong spices, caffeine and alcohol. Do not drink coffee or tea after 5 p.m., even Green Tea. Do not watch exciting movies in the evening. Avoid afternoon naps. Do not smoke in the evening and of course it would be best if you do not smoke at all. Take a warm shower before bedtime. A cold shower may wake you up, and too hot a shower may make you sweat. After your shower, you can apply some talcum powder or soothing body cream to make yourself comfortable. Eat a couple of cookies and drink two ounces of warm milk. A little bit of food and milk neutralize the acid in the stomach so adrenaline production is minimized. A transient hyperglycemia after a petite meal also induces drowsiness. Do not overdo this, however, because too full a stomach will disturb your sleep and too much fluid will cause excessive “bathroom runs”. Cold drinks are not advisable because they are refreshing. Brush your teeth and rinse your mouth. Oral comfort helps promote good sleep. Do some reading at bed time. This will dissociate your mind from the day’s activities. Read in bed and when your eyes feel tired, just throw the book aside and fall asleep naturally. Soft music and a relaxing aromatherapy mist in the room also help. Pay attention to room temperature and your blankets. You will not sleep well if your bed is too cold or too warm. When you are in bed, do not think about your worries and problems. Worrying does not help solve problems. Instead, think about a happy family reunion, a memorable vacation, steps you have learned in an aerobic class, or the sequence of a dance. Of course, old tricks like counting sheep and saying a prayer also work. If you cannot kick unwanted thoughts out of your mind, try the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Sleep”. It contains all the Bach ingredients for stress plus White Chestnut that is for unwanted thoughts.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is located in the middle of the brain. The pineal gland normally produces melatonin when the sun goes down. Melatonin circulating in the blood tells the body that it is time to relax and rest. The pineal gland stops secreting melatonin when the sun rises, and the body returns to a state of alertness. The pineal gland memorizes the day and night rhythm where we live and when we move to a different part of the world, this memory is retained and hence sleep pattern of the new location is not being picked up. At this time, taking melatonin either as oral tablet or sublingual lozenges will help the body to adjust faster. Melatonin should not be needed for more than a few nights, and a person will not get addicted to it. It is best suited for shift workers and international flight crew. It does not work on all types of insomnia. For example, it is not very effective in insomnia due to stress, anxiety, or over-excitement. Some people have wild dreams and unstable sleep after taking Melatonin.
Herbs work through several mechanisms. Valerian root, hops, passion flower, skullcap, lemon balm, and chamomile are tranquilizers. Rhodiola, magnolia, and ashwgandha are adrenal supporters and they relieve stress by reducing cortisol. Theanine and L-tryptophan are amino acids that may induce a sleepy feeling. The reason why one feels sleepy after a turkey dinner is because there is a lot of tryptophan in turkey meat. If you just need a calming agent, then combination of tranquillizers will work, e.g. Sedaplus (Thorne) or Seditol Plus (Douglas). If there is a stress factor, then combinations of ashwagandha, magnolia, and L-theanine e.g. Sleep Tonight (Enzymatic) will probably work better. If you have anxiety and panic attacks, try Anz Ease (Terry Naturally).
Homeopathic medicines work by helping the body to adjust to stressful situations so the body can relax and fall asleep. Neurexan® (Heel) contains homeopathic avena sativa, passiflora, zincum valerianicum and coffea cruda. If you have restless sleep, try Homeogen-46 (Boiron) that contains stramomium, hyocyamus, psssiflora, ballota and nux moschata. The nice thing about homeopathic medicine is that it has no side effect, can be used together with other medications, and there is no age limit. A single remedy called Nux Vomica helps if you fall asleep easily but wake up at 2 a.m.
Dr. Sarah Sjovold, N.D., a local naturopath is giving a seminar on “A Naturopathic Approach to Insomnia & Sleep Disorders” at 7 p.m. on March 21st, right here in Cloverdale. For more information and registration, please click HERE.
Dr. Henry Cheng is a medical graduate of the University of London, England, and has been long time Natural Products Consultant at Cloverdale Pharmasave Health Centre.