Natural Sleep Aids

Last updated: October 13, 2019

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Getting regular and high-quality sleep is a crucial factor in maintaining and improving one’s health. Sleeping is your body’s way of restoring lost energy. Sleeping is also a way for your body to heal itself. Losing quality sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, lack of energy, difficulty in concentrating, mood swings, and forgetfulness. These may lead to decreased performance in school or at work, accidents, troubles in professional and personal relationships, and decreased quality of life. Many factors may affect one’s sleeping ability. There are also a variety of things that we can do to get better sleep each night. This article will teach you how to sleep better and avoid sleep deterrents. I will also teach you some tricks and techniques that will help you get regular and quality sleep.

Quick Overview

  • Majority of adults are either not sleeping enough or having insomnia
  • Medical drugs like benzodiazepines, antidepressants, opioids may help but are toxic and addictive.
  • Natural supplements help calm down nerves, improve sleep, and do not alter sleep pattern or cause hangover
  • Safer ways to improve sleep are behavior therapy, using supplements like melatonin, magnesium, valerian, CBD, and much more.

Natural Sleep Aids That Really Help

Though there are many herbs and supplements available in the market that claim to do wonder. Here I present some of the natural aids that work in most cases. Science shows that these natural remedies genuinely help sleep better.

Melatonin

It is the most commonly used health supplement to treat insomnia. It is a hormone-like substance that is produced by a small gland in the brain called penial gland (also called the third eye). Melatonin improves circadian rhythm. Melatonin was first extracted from cow’s pineal gland. However, nowadays it can be produced synthetically. Although I recommend taking herbal supplements that stimulate melatonin production in the body. Melatonin is not only useful for treating insomnia, but also helps treat sleep disorders due to other causes like night shift or jet lag. Melatonin is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It may change immune responses, thus helping to recover faster from diseases. Melatonin is neuroprotective. Thus it may have a role in preventing dementia, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Melatonin supplements may also help overcome anxiety and depression. Research has shown that melatonin receptors are present not only in the brain, but also in the heart, intestine, liver, and other organs. Thus it may help improve the working of various organs. It is effective, and side effects are infrequent. That is why it comes first in my list of supplement to improve sleep quality and treat insomnia.

Valerian root extract

It is undoubtedly one of the most frequently used herbal extracts to treat sleep disorders. It also helps to get rid of anxiety. Valerian root is loved by many as it improves the quality of sleep without causing any sedation. Various large-scale clinical trials have shown that valerian works without causing any side effects.

CBD

Cannabidiol or CBD oil or Hemp oil helps improve sleep. It also helps treat health problems like anxiety, depression, and is even though to prevent cancer. However, it must not be confused with cannabis as it lacks the euphoric effect.

Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the essential microelements that is required for hundreds of body functions. It helps to keep brain calm and is also good for heart health. At higher doses, magnesium salts have many health benefits. Magnesium salts are there in antacids. Magnesium increases intestinal motility and is used to treat constipation. Magnesium has been successfully used to treat seizures. It is proven to increase production of melatonin and thus help improve sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium sulfate is also used to treat pregnancy-related toxicity; a condition called preeclampsia. It reduces the risk of seizures. It has a calming effect on the heart, and thus help to lower blood pressure. Magnesium is one of the most recommended supplement for the treatment of headaches and migraine. In short, magnesium helps calm down brain and heart, prevent anxiety and depression. It is suitable for the mind and heart. It helps regulate sleep pattern.

St. John’s Wort

A plant with yellow flowers. It has been traditionally used in the European continent since two millennia to treat numerous ailments. During the last few decades, St. John’s Wort has been used a lot to treat depression. It is now well accepted that it helps to treat insomnia, quite probably due to its anti-depressant properties. It may also help control menopausal symptoms. Although it is quite safe, it is known to interact with many drugs. Thus it must be used with caution with anti-HIV drugs, some heart medications (digoxin), birth control pills, and blood thinning medications. In rare cases, it may cause dizziness, intestinal disturbances. However, in some cases, it may be highly effective in improving sleep quality. That is the reason that I have included this herb in the list of natural sleep aids.

Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate)

Extract of Passiflora has hypnotic or sleep-inducing properties. It reduces the time taken by a person to fall asleep. Further research shows that it prolongs the amount of time a person remains in a slow wave sleep (deep sleep). Thus it increases both the duration of sleep and quality of sleep. If a person takes its extract, then there are fewer events of nighttime awakening. Next day the person feels refreshed. Apart from the hypnotic effect, this herbal extract has a significant anxiolytic effect. Thus it is also used to treat stress-related medical conditions.

GABA

It is an acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid. A chemical in the brain that helps calm nerves. Many chemical drugs like benzodiazepines work by promoting the action of GABA on the brain cells. Therefore, GABA supplements may help improve sleep. Some natural supplements may not have GABA. However, they may have components that help promote the production of GAMA in the brain.

Ashwagandha

It is widely used in Indian traditional medicine Ayurveda. In recent years it gained popularity in the west for various reasons. Its Latin name is Somnifera, which literary means sleep inducing. How Ashwagandha induces sleep is not known, but what we know is that it helps. Research shows that it also prolongs the duration of deep sleep.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

It can be consumed either as a tea or supplement (extract). It has a mild calming effect. It is helpful when used in combination with other herbal extracts like valerian. Although sedative and anxiolytic effect of lemon balm are quite mild nonetheless is it often used to treat insomnia due to its excellent safety profile.

Kava Kava

The root of this shrub has been used by Pacific islanders since ages to prepare their traditional drinks. It is known to possess euphoric properties. In recent times, Kava Kava had gained popularity as an anxiolytic and sedative. There are numerous clinical trials to prove that it can help improve sleep duration and depth. Usually, for the optimal effect, it must be used regularly for a few weeks. However, it is crucial not to over consume supplements containing Kava Kava. FDA warns that its prolonged use at higher doses may be toxic for liver. It some individuals it may also cause neurological complications or skin reactions. This list is by no means complete. Many other natural herbs and nutrients may help treat sleep disorders. Amino acids like tryptophan and glycine are exceptionally safe and effective in improving sleep quality. Gingko biloba protects brain cells, enhances brain metabolism and may also help sleep well. It is a bit surprising to see that despite the proven effectiveness of numerous natural methods; many people continue to use toxic drugs. These medications indiscriminately suppress various brain centers. On the other hand, non-pharmacological remedies are safe and efficient. They not only induce sleep, improve quality of sleep, but also correct the sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Not to mention that natural sleep aids are also rich in other nutrients, they have multiple health benefits. How long and how well you sleep matters. Researchers recognize that insufficient sleep may increase the risk of metabolic disorders. It may cause diabetes, autoimmune conditions, inflammatory diseases, mood disorders, dementia, and even cancer. Sleep problems increase the risk of ill-health. Poor sleep means heavy headedness next day, sleepiness, poor performance at the job. Inadequate sleep increases the risk of road accidents, and much more. Sleep disorders may mean sleeping less or poor quality of sleep. People sleep issues may have trouble in going to sleep. They may wake up frequently during the night. Reasons for insomnia or insufficient sleep can be many. From workload to diseases. Disease conditions alter sleep pattern, and disturbed sleep worsens health, thus forming a vicious circle. For good health, we must break this malicious cycle. Many people would go for sleeping pills to have a better rest. However, recent data regarding opioids epidemics indicate a risk involved in such an approach. Abuse of sleeping pills and other similar medications can be more dangerous for health. So how to get rid of sleep disorder or insomnia? Natural sleep aids are safe and effective ways to improve sleep duration and quality. By natural aids, I mean developing better sleeping habits and using natural supplements.

Understanding Sleep

Sleep is a very complex phenomenon. It helps the body to regenerate, and brain to reorganize information. We spend two third of our lifetime in the awake state, and about one-third sleeping. All this happens in cycles or rhythm – it is called circadian rhythm. Hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus, located in our brain controls the sleep rhythm or circadian rhythm. Secretion of a hormone-like substance called melatonin plays a vital role in maintaining this daily rhythm. Specialists describe five stages or sleep cycles. However, it is agreed that there are two cycles of sleep called non-REM sleep ( stages 1 to 4), and REM sleep (5th stage of sleep). REM is a short form for rapid eye moment. When we go to bed, it all starts with drowsiness, a state when a person can be readily woken (stage 1), and sleep slowly progresses to stage 4 or the deepest stage of sleep. Phase 4 is also called slow-wave sleep, and the person is most difficult to awake in this stage. Most people reach stage 4 within an hour of going to sleep. The fifth stage called REM sleep (rapid eye moment) follows the stage 4 of sleep. In this stage, brain electrograph looks amazingly close to an awake state. It is a stage characterized by rapid eye moments and dreaming. During the night a person goes through multiple cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. Therefore, when we talk about sleep disorders, we mean shorter sleep duration and altered sleep cycles. So if a person is living with some illness, he or she may wake often. It would disturb the sleep cycles, and the brain would not be able to have enough rest. Though in many such cases a person may be sleeping for adequate time.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Although, everyone knows what is sleep, and its benefits. Nevertheless, it was never easy for researchers to say how much sleep is enough for adults, teenagers, children, infants. Doctors recommend that adults and older adults should have at least 7-8 hours of sleep in a day. Whereas, for younger adults or adolescent advice is for 9 hours. Younger children and infants need to sleep even longer (as they are fast growing bodies). Do you need less sleep as you age? Yes, but, only to some extent. As we age, we stop growing. Further, with age, comes a decline in the production of melatonin. It is a substance that is vital for maintaining the circadian rhythm. Sleep disorders are a significant public health problem. Nonetheless, there is a lack of awareness among the people. Statistics indicate that people of all age groups are not having enough sleep, even children are not sleeping enough. Problem is severe in developed nations like the US. We all are part of a society that never sleeps enough. It is undoubtedly the reason why we see an increase in specific diseases.

What is insomnia and its causes?

Sleep disorders is a broad term. However, in this article, I am concerned with something that is common and can be readily treated without pharmacological drugs. I am more concerned about the short duration of sleep and insomnia. I am talking about poor sleeping habits leading to shorter sleeping duration. Most people can benefit by merely changing their attitude towards sleep. By understanding the relevance of ample rest for good health. Insomnia is different from sleeping habits or behavior. It is something more severe and requires treatment. Insomnia is either difficulty in going to sleep or having trouble in maintaining sleep (frequent awakening). Research shows that emotional issues and behavioral problems are the most common reasons for sleep problems. Thus in the majority of cases changing sleep habits, and using natural remedies would work. Insomnia can be acute, due to body aches, tiredness, work stress, and so on. However, we must be more worried about chronic insomnia, as it is dangerous for health. Chronic insomnia is a condition when a person cannot sleep well for months together. Quite often a person would fail to tell a reason for insomnia, thus requiring medical attention. Apart from emotional problems or mental stress, another frequent cause of insomnia is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition when a person cannot breathe well while sleeping, and snoring is its most common symptoms. One of the ways to know whether you are having enough of sleep is keeping a sleep diary or record. You may not be sleeping well if you feel tired in the morning, sleepy during the day. Or you have difficulty in concentrating on the tasks. Often, people may think that they are having enough of rest, but reality may differ. Therefore, I recommend using mobile apps or wearable devices to keep track of sleep duration.

Opioid Medications and Sleep

These are medications that act on the so-called opioid receptors in our body. Opioids are potent painkillers. In recent years, their use in medicine has increased. Some doctors may also prescribe them for insomnia. Especially to those living with chronic pains like a backache or cancer-related pain. However, in recent years these drugs have received lots of attention due to increasing addiction, and related deaths. Data shows that opioid dependence and associated fatal outcomes are on the rise in all age groups. Further, research indicates that opioids can worsen the sleep quality in the long run. It happens due to their various adverse effects. They worsen the respiratory and cardiac function in the long term. They may also alter other brain function. It only underlines the importance of using natural sleep aids for treating pain and related insomnia.

Medications used to treat insomnia and health risks

Most medicinal drugs prescribed by doctors to treat insomnia or other sleep disorders are highly toxic. Many of them lead to addiction and have numerous side effects. The reason is simple, most of the pills given to improve sleep quality are non-selective. They suppress multiple brain areas and body functions. It means that if you take a drug for treating insomnia, you may have a problem concentrating next day, may feel sleepy, have difficulty in driving. Operating certain machinery and driving is not allowed with many such drugs. Benzodiazepines are the most common drugs doctor would prescribe to treat insomnia or sleep disorders. They work by acting on the so-called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. However, in the long run, they may impair memory. A person may get addicted to them. They may cause depression, mental retardation and much more. Numerous known side effect would not stop doctors from prescribing medical drugs. With time a person would develop tolerance to them. Doctors would start combining various medications. Thus they may give antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and even anti-psychotics.

Why try natural sleep aids?

All I can say, that trying to improve sleep duration with medical drugs is a dangerous way. It is a remedy that is hazardous than the illness itself. Thus chemical drugs should be used only as a last resort in extremely severe cases. Most of the people must try to improve sleep quality through natural over-the-counter pills or remedies. Natural methods and aids include behavior therapy, sleep environment alteration. Use of natural substances like herbs, supplements, and improved nutrition also help improve sleep quality. In the majority of cases, natural sleep aids would work better than chemical drugs, without side effects. Using natural aids may require more efforts than just taking a pill.

How do natural sleep aids work?

Natural supplements help overcome anxiety, depression, have a mild calming effect. They help to improve levels of melatonin. Natural supplements also provide other beneficial components like antioxidants, essential amino acids. In natural supplements, several components work in synergy to provide a beneficial effect. However, because the content of each compound is not high, they do not tend to cause side effects. Natural components do not cause sedation and do not have mood-altering effects. Natural aids help to sleep well, but they do not worsen the quality of life. Natural sleep aids to not cause hangover effect next day, they do not impair attention.

What not to do to, if you cannot sleep well

It is the first question anyone must give him or herself. Many people have problems with sleep merely due to some wrong habits. It could be like listening to music in the evening or watching television late at night. Drinking coffee, alcohol, or even smoking may alter the sleeping pattern of many. Others may love to stay out with friends. Stop doing things that are preventing you from getting enough sleep.

Start with changing sleeping habits

A specialist would call it a behavior therapy. Yes, one can learn to sleep better. Just think of statistics that show that the majority of adults in the US are not sleeping enough. In most cases it is a conscious decision, not to relax on time and sleep. Some stay out with friends, while others work long hours, some spend time worrying about the next day. So start by identifying the cause, what is preventing you from going to sleep on time, or not having enough sleep. Make time-table for going to bed. Do not compromise on it. Once the habit is formed, a person would start feeling sleepy at the fixed time. Another way to improve sleep quality is to get rid of emotional stress and learn to overcome anxiety. Practicing mindfulness may be a great way to do that. Think of practicing yoga, tai-chi, or spirituality.

Improve sleep hygiene

It means changing the sleep environment. Many people have insomnia merely because they are not sleeping in a comfortable place. Remove television from the room. Insulate a room from noises (isolate room from light and sound pollution). Quality of bed can make a difference. Thus invest a bit in a better bed and soft mattress. Environmental temperature is another critical factor. If you have sleep disorder think about improving air conditioning. A simple step like improving room ventilation (if living in a hot climate zone), or buying a warmer blanket may help.

Exercise and eat better

A tired person always sleeps better, exercising in the evening may help many to sleep well. Further, exercise also improves health; thus, in the long run, it helps to enhance the quality of sleep. Start doing aerobics training five times a week, like swimming, jogging, dancing, and so on. Certain food items may also improve sleep quality. In many cultural groups, it has been tradition to drink warm milk in the evening. Milk is also a good source of melatonin and amino acid tryptophan. Both of them help in going to sleep faster and reduce awakening. Others may benefit from relaxing herbal teas. Eating fish, walnuts, bananas, oatmeal, cheese, may help many individuals.

Use complementary medicine

Acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, all of these may help you to sleep better. We know that many people feel sleepy after the massage session. So try to discover what works best for you. Best way to improve sleep is without using any substance at all. However, if all the methods mentioned above fail, the following step could be considering the natural supplements. There are many options, and many of them are known to work.
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