Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Tired of counting sheep? Prescription drugs may help but they can be habit forming, may lead to hang over, and produce side effects. There are many natural alternatives.
Certain herbs contain pharmacologically active tranquilizing ingredients. These include Valerian root, hops, lemon balm, passion flower, skullcap, and chamomile. EZ Sleep® made by Nature’s Way contains a combination of these herbs and can be tried. People who are chronically stressed feel tired and exhausted yet they cannot fall asleep. This is because they have raised cortisol levels from an overactive adrenal gland. Some herbs are known to lower cortisol level and they include Rhodiola, magnolia, and ashwgandha. Rhodiola Plus® (Douglas Lab) is a combination of these herbs and is the best example of this approach. Many a time a stressed patient needs something to lower their cortisol level as well as something to “knock him/her out”. In this case a combination of a herbal tranquilizer and an adrenal supporting agent will work best. Seditol Plus® (Douglas Lab) contains rhodiola and tranquillizing herbs and is an example for this approach. Sleep Tonite® can help the body deal with cortisol and induce alpha-waves in the brain, thus promoting a deep sense of relaxation. Some people wake up with night-mares like a panic attack. A homeopathic Echinacea Angustisfolia preparation called Anz Ease® (Terry Naturally) works well for this situation. For those cannot fall asleep because their mind is full of unwanted thoughts or they bring their worries to bed, there is a Bach Flower Remedy called White Chestnut that helps people to eliminate unwanted thoughts from their mind. Better still, take which has White Chestnut added to the ever popular Rescue Remedy. Yet another group of patients fall asleep easily but they wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake till sunrise. The concomitant use of Rescue Sleep and the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica or Homeogene-46 (Boiron) will be suitable for these people.
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. Yet another group of patients falls asleep easily but they wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake till sunrise. When sleep is broken, fragmented, or restless, try Homeogene-46 (Boiron) that contains stramomium, hyocyamus, psssiflora, ballota and nux moschata. The nice thing about homeopathic medicine is that it has no side effects, can be used together with other medications, and there is no age limit.
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. This endocrine 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 recognized. At this time, taking melatonin either as an oral tablet or sublingual lozenges will help the body to adjust faster. Melatonin should not be needed for more than a few nights, and when used properly, the body will not get addicted to it. It is best suited for shift workers and international flight crews. 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. A possible side effect of melatonin is wild dreams and restless sleep.
Lifestyle plays an important role in sleep patterns. Start a regular exercise program. Avoid strong spices and MSG in your food. Cut down on coffee, strong teas, nicotine, and alcohol. Before you go to bed, take a warm shower, eat a few 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. Read something relaxing in bed. This will dissociate your mind from your day activities. Soft music and a relaxing aromatherapy mist in the room also help. Pay attention to room temperature and proper blankets. Finally, say a prayer and keep repeating until you pass out.
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. Christine Cheng is a registered pharmacist with a Natural Products Advisor Certificate.