Last week, I explained some of the negative side effects from taking sleeping pills: more falls and broken bones, failing memory, and feeling more tired during the day. This week I'd like to give you a few alternatives to pharmaceuticals. Let's start by addressing one of the top causes of sleeplessness: a hormone imbalance.
Your sleep cycles are regulated by a hormone secreted in the pineal gland called melatonin. Melatonin production is triggered by an absence of light. When it gets dark, our bodies produce melatonin so we can get a good night's sleep. So if you're having trouble sleeping, the first thing you should do is to get in the habit of dimming the lights an hour before you go to bed. Then keep the lights off while you sleep.
Second, you may need to address age-related reductions in melatonin. Everything slows down as we age, including melatonin production. Not only that, but when we get older, we tend to produce melatonin too early in the evening.
If you're one of those people who falls asleep after dinner and wakes up early, unable to go back to sleep, the chances are good that your body is producing melatonin too early.
The good news is that this is easy to fix. All you have to do is take a melatonin supplement an hour before bed. Start with a dosage of 1 mg. If that doesn't help you, you can go as high as 3 mgs.
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Another thing you should do is avoid starches, sugary snacks, and alcohol late at night. These sources of sugar may make you sleepy at first, but that's because they signal your blood sugar to drop. Later, low blood sugar may wake you up and keep you awake.
You can also try some relaxing herbal teas or supplements. One of the most common herbs used for sleep is valerian root (Valeriana officinalis). Its properties include reducing anxiety, inducing sleep, and having a tranquilizing effect. A placebo-controlled crossover study found that 400 mg of valerian extract when taken at bedtime improved sleep quality and reduced the number of times people awakened at night. Two other studies, using 400-900 mg, had similar effects. The more valerian a person took, the better their quality and duration of sleep.
The downside with valerian is that it gives some people a morning "hangover" effect. If you have this problem, you may want to try other herbs such as hops (Humulus lupulus), Kava (Piper methysticum), and Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Often, two or more of these herbs are combined into relaxing herb teas. Try various combinations to find the one that works best for you.
You can find additional information on insomnia remedies in the December issue of Women's Health Letter. If you're a subscriber, you can access this article on my website, www.womenshealthletter.com. (If you're not a subscriber and would like to sign up, you can do so at the website. If you do, my publisher will send you a free 7-volume health library.)
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Attele, A, DDS, et al,"Treatment of insomnia: an alternative approach", Alternative Med; Review, Vol 5, No 3, 2000.
Leathwood, PD, et al, "Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L) improves sleep quality in man", Pharmacol Biiochem Behav, 1982.
Lindahl, O, et al, "Double blind study of a valerian preparation", Pharmacol Biochem Behav, 1989.
Cranton, E, MD, Resetting the Clock, M Evans & Co, 1996