Natural Cures for Insomnia
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I am tired, but cannot sleep. I begin to feel agitated and become physically restless. I turn this way… I turn that way. I cross and uncross my legs. I lay on my stomach, side and back. Each passing moment lends itself to increased anger and frustration. Now my mind has jumped ahead to tomorrow, lining up all those things I have to accomplish knowing that I’ll only do so by dragging this haggard, exhausted and fatigued body around for the entire day. This process goes deeply into the night.
Any of that sound familiar?
Some reasons for insomnia include:
1. Restless Leg Syndrome
2. Circadian Rhythm Disorders
4. Alcohol and other drug abuse
5. Life changes and/or accumulation of life stressors
7. Sleep Apnea
Here are a few “Do’s and Don’ts” on how to reclaim your beauty sleep.
1. When you lay down to sleep, deepen and lengthen your
breathing patterns — shoot for five second inhales and
five second exhales. You’ll be taking 6 breathes per
minute. This takes some practice but works nicely.
2. Take a deep breath and hold it. While holding your
breathe, tense up the muscles throughout your entire body
and hold both for 30 seconds. Exhale completely and
relax. Take several relaxed breathes and repeat three
3. Choose any relaxing color (blue, green, yellow, etc).
Place your hands on your stomach and imagine that you are
expanding a colored balloon in your stomach. Exhale an
insomnia/anxiety color (red, black, etc) through your
mouth. Continue this for 5-10-50 times, whatever it
takes. It is impossible to focus on your body/breath
while entertaining thoughts.
4. Take a hot shower or bath before bed, or get up and do
if you are unable to fall asleep within 15 minutes.
5. Take some sleep food for the brain. Before going to bed
eat 1 ounce of protein, 1 ounce of cheese and 5 grapes or
6. Get out of bed if you have not fallen asleep within 15
minutes. The brain is quite easily programmed. I don’t
want your brain to associate “bed” with “awake.”
7. Once you’re out of bed do not watch TV, get on the
computer, listen to stimulating music, turn on a bunch of
lights or do anything else that stimulates your brain
into high gear.
8. Once out of bed do sit quietly, meditate on emptying
mind, listen to quiet, soothing music or do some “light”
reading. The research shows that deep meditation is as
restorative as sleep and takes less time than sleeping
for 8 hours.
9. Purchase a Brain Entrainment CD and some ear buds
(they are the most comfortable to sleep on). Make sure
the CD is designed for sleep. I won’t go into all the
scientific details here. Just know that the brain needs
to be in delta wave state 60 minutes for you to wake up
feeling fresh. My favorite is “Sleeping Through
The Rain” by a company you can find at
www.hemi-sync.com. Don’t try this on just a boom box.
The ear buds are very important to make this work.
10. Make sure your bedroom is dark. Lights out!
11. Exercise regularly. Exercise does a fantastic job of
regulating sleep cycles. The only catch here is do not
exercise within two hours of bedtime, as this can
activate mind and body systems that will keep you awake.
12. Drink Chamomile Tea an hour before bedtime and take
Valerian root with it. If you open up your first bottle
of Valerian root and it smells like rotten socks, don’t
throw it away, it’s supposed to smell like that! Can
you believe it!?
13. If worse comes to worst, consult a doctor. There are
many effective medications used for sleep which can
be prescribed by your doctor. Some of these include
Ambien, Temazepam, Sonata, Remeron, Benadryl (non-
prescription), Melatonin (Don’t take this if you have
Seasonal Affective Disorder) Trazadone and others.
14. Stay away from alcohol as a sleep aid. Many will argue
that alcohol gets them to sleep, but brain wave studies
show that once asleep, an individual does not reach the
restorative level of sleep that results in feeling well
rested in the morning.
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An herbal supplement containing valerian was associated with a significant improvement in sleep-onset insomnia, Paul J. Mills, Ph.D., said at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.
In a double-blind, crossover study patients taking Blissful Sleep, an herbal supplement made by Maharishi Ayurvedic Products International, Colorado Springs, had significant decreases in sleep latency.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month revealed that the cure for insomnia is not necessarily in a bottle, and could be all in your head.
Dr. Jack D. Edinger and colleagues, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., conducted a six-month study on 75 patients suffering from chronic insomnia. At the end of the study, the patients who were treated without drugs and were, instead, educated about better sleeping habits and put on a consistent sleep schedule (including a nightly routine to get ready for bed) got over 50 percent more sleep through the night than without the therapy. Patients who took sleeping pills reported a 16 percent reduction in the amount of time they spent awake at night and those taking a placebo reported only a 12 percent reduction.
Edinger’s study shows that many patients are unaware of proper bedtime habits and those who tend to wake up during the night do not practice these behaviors. Therefore, taking simple steps such as developing a consistent routine, sleeping the same number of hours each night and eliminating daytime naps, can help you sleep through the night without making a pit-stop for the medicine chest.
Insomnia strikes 30%-40% of American adults annually and 10% have insomnia that is chronic or severe.
Behavioral therapy is the first step recommended by some experts. But for patients whose primary insomnia has lasted for more than 4 weeks, drug therapy is the most common treatment.
Now researchers are finding that the land of Nod may be especially difficult to reach for women. Factors ranging from hormonal influences to lifestyle stresses are among the culprits.
The latest in a series of surveys conducted annually by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), women are more likely to experience insomnia than men are. Of the women surveyed, 63 percent said they couldn’t fall or stay asleep a few nights a week, a complaint experienced by 54 percent of the men.
How hormones affect sleep
So what’s keeping women up at night? Biology plays a big part, “Women are subject to all the sleep disorders men have, plus those that are related to hormones,” says Rochelle Zak, M.D., attending physician at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center. For instance, during the week prior to the start of the menstrual flow, when both estrogen and progesterone levels fall, women are likely to experience insomnia, disrupted sleep and daytime sleepiness. And the physical discomforts associated with the onset of menstruation, such as cramps, are enough to prevent a good night’s sleep for many.
Pregnancy, it comes as little surprise, can drastically interfere with sleep as well. Of the women in the NSF’s 1998 Women and Sleep Poll, 79 percent said they had difficulty sleeping due to physical or emotional stresses brought on by childbearing.
Weight gain and insomnia
Forget the notion of the bleary-eyed night owl who stays thin from pacing about. In fact, the effects of insomnia may even cause weight gain. The probable mechanism is complex, but a variety of studies implicate several hormones: leptin, which helps quell hunger; cortisol, the “stress hormone” that also affects fat storage: and insulin, which sweeps excess sugar from the blood to keep blood sugar stable. In a study by Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at The University of Chicago, subjects who were allowed only four hours of sleep each night for a week showed a sustained increase in blood sugar, a condition that is considered a risk factor for diabetes and can lead to increased fat storage. Other research suggests that lack of sleep lowers the body’s production of leptin. As a result, it seems possible that appetite is stimulated among the sleep-deprived.
Toward better sleep hygiene
But the news isn’t all bad for insomniacs. While tried-and-true methods–exercising during the day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol and eating right–are still the best, the latest approaches favor more focused tactics. New York-Presbyterian’s Zak promotes a regimen called good sleep hygiene–a prescription for day-to-day living that results in better sleep at night.
Many of her recommendations are intuitive, but others are not so obvious. For instance, Zak says women suffering from insomnia might benefit from spending less time in bed. Retiring for the evening before drowsiness sets in can lead to frustration at not being able to fall asleep quickly and thus more difficulty drifting off. Zak also tells patients trying to establish good sleep habits to wake at the same time each morning, even if they had trouble sleeping the night before.
Diet is also key in developing good sleep hygiene. Some foods, chocolate being the most common, are sources of hidden caffeine.
Eating smart isn’t lust a healthy way to keep your weight in check; it can also help you sleep better. The fact is, some foods promote sleep, while others are bound to keep you up at night.
Most people know that the caffeine in coffee, especially consumed in the evening, can lead to sleeplessness. But other foods are stealth sources of this sleep-stealing chemical. “Everybody says they can’t drink coffee after six, but they don’t think about all the other ways that caffeine may be entering their system,” says Arlington, vermont-based nutrition counselor Lynn Grieger, R.D., C.D.E. Grieger notes that certain teas can contain almost as much caffeine as coffee does: “Even herbal teas that are supposed to be relaxing can contain significant amounts of caffeine. Herbal and caffeine-free are not the same thing.” Coffee-flavored yogurt may also contain about half the caffeine as a cup of the real thing. Chocolate and cola, too, can contribute to keeping you wired and awake. (Caffeine hits neuroreceptors in the brain in a manner similar to that of amphetamines.)
Plus, some herbal products billed as energy boosters or fat burners contain caffeine-rich herbs such as guarana or stimulants such as ephedra. When in doubt, check the label, and if you don’t recognize an ingredient, look it up in a reliable reference, like WebMD.com’s drug and herb database, to see if it’s a stimulant.
On the other hand, there are foods that promote sleep. Carbohydrates aid the body’s production of serotonin–a chemical produced in the brain that regulates mood and can induce sleep. So include starchy foods like fruit, whole-wheat pasta, potatoes, oatmeal and brown rice in your sleep pantry. Most of us, too, have experienced the post-Thanksgiving meal snooze, thanks to generous helpings of turkey. That’s because turkey, and to a lesser extent chicken, contains tryptophan, an amino acid that induces drowsiness. Milk also contains tryptophan, which probably explains why a warm glass of milk at bedtime is a long-standing home remedy for sleeplessness. “There’s solid science behind some of these so-called old-fashioned remedies,” Grieger says.
Of course, you don’t want to dine on carbohydrates to the exclusion of other macronutrients, like protein and healthy fats, although you may want to choose the higher-carb foods for dinner and an evening snack and eat your more protein-rich meals earlier in the day. And, even if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t skip on carbs; eliminating or extremely restricting carbohydrate intake can raise levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, disrupting the all-important deep, restorative REM sleep.