Insomnia Causes, Treatments & Natural Remedies
Insomnia is a type of sleeping disorder which prevents a person from getting enough sleep at night. Depending on how difficult a person finds it to fall asleep, they may only get a few hours of rest each night and certainly far less than the recommended 6-8 hours sleeping time.
Insomnia can have both short and long-term effects. In the short-term, a person is likely to feel tired, weak, irritable and unable to concentrate during the day.
As a result, a person may try to have naps during the day to recharge their batteries so that they can function properly, but not everyone is lucky enough to have a work schedule which allows for this.
It is not uncommon, therefore, to find people who suffer from insomnia falling asleep accidentally during the day or functioning well below their ability due to their sleep deprivation.
In the long-term, insomnia can have serious effects on one’s physical and mental health, which may ultimately make insomnia worse and deprive a person of even more sleep.
Chronic insomnia, that which occurs on a persistent regular basis, has been linked with impaired immune function, mood disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and premature death.
So if you or a loved one is suffering from insomnia, then this is something that should be taken extremely seriously and dealt with as soon as possible.
Health Effects Caused by Sleep Problems
Any type of sleep disorder which prevents you from getting enough rest at night can have a variety of mental and physical effects on your body and overall level of health.
Such effects can be seen as a signal or warning sign that something is wrong, and so if dealt with promptly, can be stopped from becoming worse and progressing into something more serious.
Below you shall find listed some of the main health effects that can be caused by having problems with sleeping:
Perhaps the most obvious effect of insomnia is feeling tired the following day. This can make it difficult for a person to concentrate and think clearly, which can then adversely affect how they perform at work.
Tiredness can also have a negative effect on your memory by making it harder for you to remember things or recall facts, and it can also make it more difficult for you to communicate effectively or solve problems that you are presented with.
Being unable to sleep night after night and having to wake up tired the following day can increase stress levels and cause anxiety. In some people, this may result in them feeling irritated during the day which can then cause sudden and expected outbursts of anger.
Feeling stressed can also reduce one’s ability to successfully cope with the pressures of everyday life, which can then make it more difficult for them to sleep at night if they go to bed worrying about how they will cope with their mounting work load.
Weak Immune System
One of the functions of sleep is to help the body recover and heal itself from your daily activities.
If you don’t get enough sleep the body won’t be able to recover fully, and if this continues for many nights, the immune system’s ability to fight off disease and infection will be compromised.
If a person is under high levels of stress and suffering from tiredness, their immune system will be further weakened making them much more vulnerable to suffering from ill-health.
In addition, pre-existing health conditions may also become worse and develop more severe symptoms.
Studies have shown that people who get less than 6-8 hours of sleep each night tend to live shorter lives than those who are able to get a full nights rest.
As a lack of sleep leads to premature aging, this is the only visible sign that you will have that your sleeping problems are shortening your lifespan.
Other Adverse Health Effects
There is no doubt that insomnia causes many negative effects on the body and mind, but usually, these effects tend to be limited as most people only suffer from insomnia for a short period of time.
However, those who suffer from chronic insomnia may experience much greater and more serious consequences.
Some of the health effects that chronic insomnia can cause are migraines, diabetes, weight gain, slowed metabolism, joint and muscle pains and depression to name a few.
Types of Insomnia
There are three main types of insomnia that a person can suffer from:
1) Transient Insomnia
Transient insomnia is insomnia that occurs sporadically and can affect sleeping patterns for a single night or for a few weeks.
This type of insomnia usually signals some sort of change that has happened to a person, such as the loss of a job, which is now causing them worry and anxiety.
Transient insomnia may also be caused as a result of drug withdrawal, for example, insomnia is often reported when a person quits smoking cigarettes.
2) Acute Insomnia
Acute insomnia occurs when regular sleeping patterns are disturbed for a period of less than three months.
This type of insomnia can be caused by a major life changing event, such as the death of a loved one, as such events usually take time a long time to come to terms with and accept which can then affect how well a person sleeps at night.
3) Chronic Insomnia
Chronic insomnia is insomnia that occurs for more than three months. A person suffering from chronic insomnia will usually require the help of a psychiatrist and be treated with medication.
In some cases, however, an underlying health condition may be discovered and further specialist treatment would then be required.
What Causes Insomnia?
In general, there are two main causes of insomnia. The first, relate to external factors in your sleeping environment and are categorized as non-medical causes.
For example, a bedroom that receives a lot of noise or street light during the nighttime hours may hinder one’s ability to fall asleep.
Other factors such as caffeine containing beverages, a warm room temperature and worrying at night can all interfere with normal sleep patterns and cause insomnia.
In the large majority of cases, however, if a person is able to avoid such factors then they will usually be able to fall asleep again and get a proper night of rest.
The second major cause of insomnia occurs as a result of some disruption to the normal functioning of the body, and these are categorized as medical causes.
In such cases, a person is likely to suffer from chronic insomnia which causes them to experience difficulties sleeping no matter what environment they are in.
This is the most serious and severe type of insomnia, as it often signals an underlying medical disorder which may or may not have been diagnosed.
In the next two sections, we look at the possible non-medical and medical causes of insomnia.
Most sleep problems occur as a result of a non-medical cause. This means that your insomnia is not being caused by something physically wrong with the body, such as an illness or disease, but rather by something in your environment which is having an adverse effect on you.
Some of the most common non-medical causes of insomnia are detailed below:
If you go to bed late and then try to rush yourself to fall asleep so that you won’t be tired in the morning, you are likely to delay the onset of sleep because sleep is not something that you can rush.
It is far better not to think about it, and just trust that you will eventually fall asleep when your body is ready to do so.
One thing that you should definitely avoid doing is looking at your bedside clock and then worrying about how late it is and how early you have to get up. This will only cause more anxiety, which will then make it harder to sleep.
Studies into insomnia have shown that you are less likely to fall asleep quickly if you use your bed for other things such as reading, watching TV or eating food.
Try to only go on your bed when you intend to sleep, and read books or watch TV elsewhere. Doing so will eventually train you to associate your bed with sleep, so that when you do go on your bed, your body will know that it’s time to sleep and not do something else like watch TV or read a book.
Heat & Light
There are two main signals which the body takes as a sign to sleep, darkness and cool temperature. If either of these signals are missing, it will take you longer to fall asleep.
To help promote rapid sleep, ensure that your room is cool when you go to bed and is completely dark. This can be done by using a fan, with air conditioning or by keeping your bedroom windows open.
To prevent light from entering the room, ensure that your curtains are thick enough to block out light from the outside such as from street lights or traffic lights. If this is not possible, trying wearing a sleep eye mask.
Another tip to help keep your body temperature down at night, is to avoid having a hot shower before you go to bed as this will raise your body temperature and delay the onset of sleep. Alternatively, have a cold shower instead if you dare!
Perhaps one of the worst things that you can do when trying to fall asleep is to worry about something. If your mind is preoccupied with something, you are likely to spend the whole night thinking about it rather than sleeping.
Worry can cause different types of insomnia. For example, if you are thinking about something that happened to you today which has upset you, then it will probably only affect your sleep for one or two nights.
If however, you are worrying about something more serious, such as losing your job or the death of a loved one, you may experience insomnia for weeks or months depending on how long you think about it.
To avoid bringing worries into bed, try to distract yourself with relaxation music or guided mediation. It can also help if you make a commitment to yourself not to think about such things in bed because you need your rest for the day ahead.
Some people like to have a drink before they go to bed because it helps them to fall asleep. But for others, drinking alcohol before bed can actually prevent them from falling asleep and cause insomnia.
So if you drink before going to bed and then find that you can’t sleep, try to stop drinking for a few days and see if that helps.
You are most likely to fall asleep quickly in a quiet environment, so any type of persistent noise that you are exposed to could delay your entry into sleep.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that is always under your control, especially if you are sharing an apartment or house with other people or live next to a busy street.
To help reduce the influence that external noises can have on your sleep, try wearing ear plugs or use a white noise generator to mask out the sound.
Alternatively, if it is possible for you to do so, schedule your sleep so that you go to bed when it is normally quiet.
Lack of Exercise
Another common cause of insomnia that people tend to overlook is exercise, or more specifically, the amount of physical activity that is done throughout the day.
The more active you are during the day, the more tired you will be at night and the quicker you are likely to fall asleep.
So if you spend most of the day sitting down, such as behind a desk, try to go to the gym for an hour or so to burn up your excess energy.
However, avoid exercising very late at night, as doing so will make you more alert which will then make it harder for you to relax in bed.
Uncomfortable Sleeping Environment
If your sleeping environment isn’t a very comfortable one, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to sleep in that environment.
In my case, for example, I found that simply changing my old pillow for a new one immediately helped me to fall asleep much faster than I did before.
So if there’s something you don’t like about your bed, whether it’s your duvet, pillow or mattress, do something about it!
Listed below are some possible medical causes of insomnia. If you have been diagnosed as suffering from any one of these conditions it’s recommended that you report your sleep disturbance to your doctor, as they may be able to help you to fall asleep more easily.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that your physician will just prescribe you some sleeping pills, as insomnia can sometimes be caused by ineffective medication as a result of a worsening or changing health condition.
In such a case, new medication can be prescribed that is more effective in helping to manage your symptoms, and possibly, also reduce the amount of insomnia that you suffer from as a result.
Finally, it’s worth speaking to your doctor if you are suffering from chronic insomnia, as sometimes, insomnia can be caused by an underlying medical condition which a person is unaware of.
Cardiovascular disorders include disorders of the heart and circulatory system. Two common diseases associated with such disorders are heart disease and coronary artery disease.
Cardiovascular disorders can affect one’s sleep in a variety of ways.
For example, impaired blood circulation around the body as a result of atherosclerosis, can result in restless leg syndrome (RLS) which causes a person to feel a constant need to move their legs due to an uncomfortable muscular sensation.
Early stages of heart disease may also cause respiratory problems where an individual finds it difficult to catch their breath fully at night, which subsequently prevents them from falling into a deep sleep.
Incidentally, this is a common problem that is experienced at high altitudes when climbing mountains, although it does eventually disappear once the body is able to acclimatize to the difference in air pressure.
Another possible indication of heart disease is a heavy heart beat known as tachycardia. When this occurs as a person lies on their pillow in bed at night, the sound from their pounding heart can prevent them from falling asleep as it is clearly audible through their chest.
Two common psychological disorders which can frequently lead to sleep problems are anxiety and depression.
Anxiety is something that most people suffer from in response to a fearful situation or perceived threat, and can cause transient insomnia for a few nights.
However, when anxiety is not transient but rather persistent in nature, it can be classified as a type of psychological disorder that requires the help or assistance of a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Chronic anxiety can lead to chronic insomnia by causing a person to stay awake during the night worrying about past or future events. It can also lead to physical symptoms such as a racing heart, which further hinders one’s ability to fall asleep.
Depression is an equally serious psychological disorder that causes a person to suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of regret about past events.
Similar to a person with anxiety, they are likely to be kept up at night worrying about something they may have previously done or something which has previously happened to them. This prevents them from relaxing, and so delays their entry into sleep.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is becoming recognized as an increasingly common cause of insomnia, particularly amongst military veterans or rape victims.
This disorder can affect the onset of sleep, although more commonly, it tends to interfere with sleep by causing a person to wake up suddenly during the middle of the night in an agitated state.
Inflammatory disorders can cause an overactive inflammatory response within the body, or cause the immune system to attack healthy cells.
Hay fever, for example, is an allergic response that occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen such as pollen. This can cause an inflammatory response that affects the airways and nasal passage, thus affecting one’s ability to breath properly.
However, allergic responses can also be caused as a result of exposure to other allergens, such as dust mite feces or mold spores, which have accumulated on an old pillow.
So if you suspect that your insomnia may be due to a pillow allergy, then you may want to throw out your old pillow and buy yourself a new hypoallergenic one.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another inflammatory disorder that is commonly associated with insomnia. This disorder occurs as a result of immune cells attacking parts of the body, usually the joints, causing pain and inflammation in those areas.
Unless one is taking effective medication for this condition, rheumatoid arthritis can be a very difficult condition to sleep with. If you find that your current anti-inflammatory drugs are not effective at controlling your pain, then you may want to look into turmeric.
This herb has been shown to be a very effective natural anti-inflammatory that can help to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Inflammation can also result in other disorders which cause pain that interferes with sleep. Spondylitis, for example, can result in back pain as a result of spinal joint inflammation.
This can make finding a comfortable sleeping position very difficult, which thus delays the onset of sleep. Spondylitis can also result in awakenings during the night as a result of a sharp piercing pain that can prevent a person from falling asleep again for another few hours.
Respiratory disorders, or breathing problems, can interfere with both the onset of sleep and the quality of sleep that a person receives.
Allergic responses that cause inflammation of the airways, or damaged respiratory function as a result of smoking cigarettes, can affect one’s ability to breath deeply at night or cause them to struggle for breath.
Deep breathing is necessary for the body to relax and for the heart rate to slow, and when this cannot occur, it takes longer for a person to relax enough to the point where they fall asleep.
Once a person does fall asleep, their impaired ability to breath properly can result in the body not receiving enough oxygen at night, a condition known as sleep apnea.
A person who suffers from sleep apnea will unknowingly awaken many times during the night in order to catch their breath, otherwise they would suffocate and die.
This, however, interferes with the quality of sleep that they receive, causing them to wake up in the morning feeling tired and as though they haven’t slept long enough.
Sleep apnea is a serious medical condition that has been linked with diabetes, heart disease and premature death. It is therefore something that you should seek medical attention for as soon as possible.
Other Medical Disorders
Frequent urination that affects one’s ability to fall asleep may indicate problems with the prostate gland such as prostate cancer, whereas a painful or burning sensation after going to the bathroom may indicate problems with the bladder such as bladder cancer.
Other physiological disorders that can interfere with sleep include acid reflux or heartburn. This can cause a painful burning sensation along the chest and throat area, and can put one at an elevated risk of suffering from esophageal cancer.
A neurological disorder that tends to be strongly associated with insomnia is Parkinson’s disease.
This is a progressive degenerative disorder that results in an uncontrollable trembling or shaking of the hands, making it increasing difficult for a sufferer to get to sleep at night as the disorder progresses in severity.
Alzheimer’s disease is another neurodegenerative disorder that sufferers report sleep problems with, although it is not known for certain whether these sleep disturbances are due to the underlying neurological condition, or as a result of the medications a person is taking or the worry they have about their condition.
Sufferers with Alzheimer’s disease also appear to suffer from impaired rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which can subsequently cause them to feel tired and unrested the following day.
Insomnia has been long linked to the development of diabetes, but what is less well-known is that diabetes can also lead to insomnia.
Thus there appears to be a self reinforcing cycle, whereby if you suffer from one condition it increases the chance of you suffering from the other.
An early warning sign of possible diabetes when associated with insomnia, is frequent urination during the night.
Tinnitus is a persistent ringing in one or both ears, and there is currently no cure for it. People who have severe tinnitus are unlikely to be able to sleep in a very quiet room.
Rather, they tend to find it easier to fall asleep if they have some kind of background or white noise that they can use to distract themselves from the ringing in their ear(s).
How to Prevent Insomnia
In general, there are two different types of treatments available for insomnia. Natural based treatments and drug based treatments.
Unless you are suffering from chronic insomnia where you haven’t been able to sleep properly for months, it is recommended to use natural treatments or treatments which do not require a prescription as these tend to have less side effects.
Drug based, or prescription insomnia treatments, can be used if natural treatments do not work and you need something stronger to help you fall asleep.
Have Cognitive & Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive and behavioral treatments try to cure insomnia by examining what thoughts or behaviors could be causing it. If an offending behavior or thought pattern can be identified, steps can then be taken to change them so that you sleep better.
Some examples of cognitive behavioral therapy involve changing the way you view your bedroom so that it is only used as a place of sleep, teaching you relaxation methods, learning to use your bed only for sleep and biofeedback methods to help you control your breathing and heart rate.
This type of therapy is usually done with the help of a psychologist, and although it can initially take a lot of time and effort to get right, many people who use cognitive behavioral therapy find it to very effective in helping them sleep better.
Use a Sleeping Aid
Sleeping aids, also called sleeping tablets, are designed to be taken by people who are experiencing acute or chronic insomnia. Sleeping aids can be purchased from your local chemist or online, or you may ask your doctor for a prescription if you require stronger tablets.
Sleeping aids can be a very effective treatment for insomnia, and many people are now able to sleep properly when they were unable to do so before.
However, you may experience certain side effects from taking sleeping aids such as drowsiness or a groggy feeling the following day. As a result, you should only take sleeping aids when other non-drug based treatments have failed.
Update (2012) : Health Warning Regarding Sleeping Pills
In a 2010 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), 10,000 users of prescription sleeping pills were found to suffer from an increased risk of death from all causes and also an increased (+35%) risk of cancer.
Individuals who took 132 or more pills per year were five times more likely to die than the controls (i.e., those not taking sleeping pills), and individuals who took 18 sleeping pills per year were three times more likely to die than controls.
Some researchers argue that the increased risk of death from taking sleeping pills may very well reflect the disease which is causing one’s insomnia. This means that by taking a sleeping pill you are essentially masking the symptoms of your disease and therefore delaying or preventing its treatment.
However, it’s not yet clear whether this is what accounted for the increased death risk in the study, or whether the sleeping pills themselves are what caused the increased risk of death.
The drugs included in the study were: [benzodiazepines] Temazepam (Restoril, Normison); [non-benzodiazepines] Zolpidem (Ambien, Stilnox), Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Zaleplon (Sonata, Starnoc); barbiturates; and sedative antihistamines.
Considering the fact that 10% of Americans take at least one sleeping pill each year, this study highlights the widespread danger that sleeping pills could potentially pose to your health.
Get Some Sun
Exposure to sunlight is very important for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Studies have shown that the earlier you are exposed to sunlight in the morning, the earlier you are likely to fall asleep at night.
So if you don’t get much sunlight at the start of the day, try to make an effort to do so as it may help you to sleep better.
A good idea is to go for a walk in the morning, as this will expose you to a lot of natural sunlight and the exercise you get will help to increase your level of alertness during the day.
Use Sound Therapy/Meditation
Meditative music can be very helpful in helping to get you relaxed at night, which can subsequently help you to fall asleep faster and more easily.
However, if you meditate during the day for more than 30 minutes, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep at night because meditation seems to provide similar benefits to those obtained from sleeping.
An alternative type of meditative music involves the use of binaural beats. The effect of this is to synchronize your brainwaves to a certain frequency, such as those associated with deep relaxation or sleep.
To enhance the power of binaural beats, some people use sound and light glasses. These are glasses that are worn over closed eyes and flash light in time with the music to increase the brain wave synchronization effect that such music has on your brain.
These glasses, however, are not meant to be worn while you sleep, but rather before you sleep so that your body and mind can become more easily relaxed.
Avoid TVs/Monitors at Night
Several studies have reported the effects of being exposed to bright blue light from televisions and computer screens on sleep. These studies show that exposure to such light sources can delay the onset of sleep by affecting the levels of melatonin in the body.
If you are currently suffering from insomnia, you may therefore want to try to avoid watching TV or using your computer 2-3 hours before you go to bed.
If you really need to use your computer during late hours, it is recommended that you install this program which automatically dims your computer monitor as the night approaches.
Use Aromatherapy Products
Certain essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile, jasmine and ylang ylang, help to promote relaxation and can therefore be useful for treating sleep problems.
Essential oils can be used in your room with an oil burner, oil diffuser or simply by placing a few drops on your pillow. It is important, however, to purchase essential oils from a reputable source.
Many essential oils found on eBay, for example, are very cheap but also of very low quality and purity which can cause headaches and skin irritation.
So if you do use essential oils for your insomnia, it is worth paying a bit extra to ensure that you are getting a pure product.
Don’t Nap For Too Long
Taking a nap during the day can be an excellent way to recharge your batteries and give you more physical and mental energy for the rest of the day.
However, napping too late in the day will delay the onset of sleep. So if you do nap, ensure that you only do so between the hours of 12-3 pm and for no longer than 45 minutes.
Stop That Snoring!
If your sleeping partner snores loudly at night, then your insomnia may in fact be due to their snoring. If this is the case, try sleeping in a different room and see if that helps.
Alternatively, look on the internet for snoring earplugs. These are earplugs that have been specifically designed to block out the sound of snoring, whilst also being comfortable to wear in bed.
Eat Sleepy Foods
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain which helps to promote sleep. You can increase serotonin levels by exposing yourself to sunlight during the day, and also by eating foods that are rich in tryptophan as the body can turn this amino acid into serotonin.
Some foods that are rich in tryptophan are chicken, cheese, milk and avocados. Be carefully not to eat too much before you go to bed though, as doing so is likely to cause you to put on extra weight!
Get a Massage
A massage, either on the back or on the feet, is an excellent way to relax yourself before going to bed and promote the onset of a rapid and deep sleep.
If you are lucky enough to have a willing partner, ask them to massage you before bed and you will probably sleep like a log!
The more positive a person you are, the less likely you are to worry and obsess about things. People who are not positive and worry a lot, tend to have greater difficult sleeping because the anxiety caused by their worry keeps them awake.
Of course, this is easier said than done if you naturally worry a lot, but try to keep it in mind as it can have a big influence on how well you sleep at night.
Stick to a Sleep Schedule
One of the best things that you can do to prevent insomnia, is to have regular waking and sleeping times. This is because if the body is used to going to bed at a certain time, you are much more likely to fall asleep at that time than if you try going to bed earlier or later.
Sometimes, however, you may not be able to go to bed at the same time every night. For example, if over the weekend you like to go out partying with your friends, you will probably go to bed much later than you normally do.
In such cases, try to still get up at your usual time the following morning. You will then be able to catch up on your lost hours of sleep by going to bed a few hours earlier than you normally would.
Whatever you do, try to stick to your sleep schedule as closely as possible, because if you constantly alter the time you wake up or go to sleep, you are much more likely to suffer from insomnia.
If you don’t do much exercise during the day, having sex with your partner at night can be a very effective way to burn off excess energy and calories. After sex, you are likely to feel tired, which will then make it easier for you both to fall asleep.
Alternatively, if you do not currently have a sleeping partner, some people find self masturbation to be helpful in promoting sleep.
Get Out of Bed if You Aren’t Sleeping
If you can’t sleep, get out of bed, do something that does not involve a computer or TV screen and then try going back to sleep later on.
One of the worst things that you can do if you can’t sleep is lie in bed and worry about it. The more you worry the more anxiety you create, and the less likely you will be to fall asleep.
It is generally not a good idea to eat a lot of food before you go to bed, as this tends to cause rapid weight gain. Eating a lot before bed can also cause insomnia, especially if you are consuming very sugary foods or beverages containing caffeine.
If you like to eat something before going to bed, have a light low carbohydrate snack such as some meat, milk and cheese.
Caffeine containing beverages such as coffee or tea can be a great way to pick yourself up first thing in the morning, and studies show that such beverages actually have many health benefits.
However, whilst having a few coffees or teas in the morning shouldn’t cause any problems with your sleep, drinking caffeine containing beverages in excess or late in the day can have a negative effect on your ability to sleep. This is especially true if you are naturally sensitive to caffeine.
As a general rule, try to avoid drinking anything containing caffeine after 4pm if you have trouble sleeping at night because caffeine can stay in the body for many hours after your last drink.
Natural/Herbal Sleep Aids
Some people don’t want to take drugs to treat their insomnia and so they look for alternative therapies that are available to help them.
One of the main attractions of alternative therapies for insomnia is that because virtually all such therapies are natural, they tend to cause little or no side effects.
Unfortunately, however, not everyone finds success using alternative therapies. You may find, for example, that your insomnia does not respond to natural treatments and so requires something more powerful in the form of a drug to help you get to sleep at night.
But natural treatments are still worth trying, and a lot of people do find them effective. Their effectiveness, however, may be limited to people who suffer from insomnia occasionally, or have recently begun a period of insomnia, rather than chronic long-term insomnia suffers.
Hops is used to give beer its characteristic flavor, but it can also be used to help calm the nervous system, relax you and promote sleep.
Hops can be found in many natural sleep aid formulations, or purchased separately and consumed as a tea.
Valerian root is one of the most popular herbal sleeping aids, and has similar effects to drug based sleeping pills but without causing dependency or making your head feel groggy the following morning.
However, just because valerian root is a natural product it doesn’t mean that it’s entirely free from side effects, as with prolonged use, valerian root may cause indigestion, heart palpitations and dizziness.
Although, it should be noted that the large majority of people who take valerian root do so without experiencing any side effects.
Valerian root works by reducing anxiety which can make it very effective for treating anxiety induced insomnia, and it also has sedative qualities to gently ease you into sleep.
If you purchase a ready-made sleep aid formula, there is a good chance that it will contain valerian root.
Chamomile is usually consumed as a tea, and it actually makes quite a delicious drink. Chamomile has mild sedative qualities and can be drunk every day without side effects or creating dependency.
Chamomile has also been shown to boost the functioning of the immune system, so not only can it help you to sleep better at night, but it can also benefit your health.
Kava kava has very similar effects to valerian root. It helps to relax you and can also reduce anxiety. However, long-term usage of kava kava as a sleep aid is not recommended because there are studies which suggest that doing so may cause liver damage.
Skullcap is often found in herbal smoking mixtures because it tends to create relaxation when smoked. Skullcap can also be consumed as a tea before bed, and so can be mixed with other herbs such as chamomile to produce a more potent sleep inducing tea.
Passion flower is another herb that can be consumed as a tea, and has a relaxing effect on the body and mind which helps to promote sleep.
Passion flower is commonly found in many herbal sleep aid formulations, and is thought to be one of the safest herbs that you can use to promote sleep as it has no known side effects and is non-habit forming.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body can use to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps to induce sleep. The good news is that you don’t even have to buy tryptophan, as it is found naturally in foods such as cheese, chicken and milk.
So if you like to have a snack before going to bed, try eating tryptophan containing foods and you should fall asleep much more easily.
If you suffer from a sleep disorder, lavender probably won’t be strong enough on its own to induce sleep. But it can help to promote relaxation which may increase the effectiveness of other sleeping aids.
If you don’t have a sleep disorder, having the scent of lavender in your room can help to make sleep more pleasant and encourage faster sleep.
Which herbal sleep aid should you use?
The simplest, and usually most effective herbal sleep aids, are the ready-made sleep aid formulations that can be purchased as tablets or capsules. These natural sleep aid formulations will often contain a variety of herbs in concentrations strong enough to help you get to sleep.
If you want to make your own sleep aid, try using valerian root or kava kava. If you have a mild sleep disorder, you may benefit from less potent sleep aids such as skullcap mixed with chamomile as a tea.
Using Melatonin as a Sleep Aid
Melatonin is naturally occurring hormone that is produced in the body, and plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. This cycle determines when you wake up in the morning and when you feel like going to bed at night.
In the morning when you are exposed to sunlight, the levels of melatonin fall in the body. This has the effect of making you feel awake, alert and ready for the day ahead.
At nighttime, however, the opposite happens. Darkness causes melatonin levels to rise, and once it reaches a certain threshold, you then start to feel the urge to sleep and so go to bed.
Who would benefit from melatonin supplements?
In general, melatonin production in the body declines as you age. For some people, this may result in them going to bed later at night or not being able to sleep when they do go to bed.
However, scientists have suggested that young people may also suffer from insomnia as a result of receiving an inadequate period of darkness before they go to bed.
The main reason for this they suggest, is that teenagers and young adults are staying up late at night watching TV, playing on their computer or browsing the internet.
As a result, the exposure to such direct bright light may in fact delay or even suppress melatonin activity, thereby delaying the onset of sleep and possibly even causing insomnia.
To counter this effect, scientists suggest reading a book with a desk lamp because the indirect light that is bounced off the book’s pages is not as strong as the glare from a monitor and so will not interfere with sleep.
How much should you use?
Melatonin sleep aids usually come in tablet form ranging from 1 mg to 3 mg doses, and are designed to be taken half an hour before going to bed.
The tablets will raise your melatonin levels, thereby making you feel tired and inducing sleep. This can be particularly useful if you suffer from jet lag as a result of frequent travel.
Low dose melatonin tablets can be used by people who are suffering from insomnia.
However, for chronic insomnia sufferers, they may need to gradually increase their melatonin dose over time if they feel that the effects are starting to wear off.
For most people though, taking a 1 mg melatonin sleep aid shortly before going to bed should be enough to induce sleep.
Are melatonin supplements safe?
Melatonin has been available for many years as a natural sleep aid, and many people have used it without issue.
A study carried out on the possible side effects of melatonin sleep aids found that for healthy people who were taking low doses of melatonin, between 1 mg – 3 mg for up to three months, no side effects occurred.
However, when melatonin sleep aids were used for longer than 3 months, at doses above 3 mg, side effects such as headaches, grogginess and irritability were noted.
What the evidence seems to suggest, is that if you use melatonin for a short period of time and use it at the recommended dose, then it is a relatively safe and effective natural sleep aid that can be used to combat common sleep disorders such as insomnia.
Hopefully, during the time that you have been taking melatonin, you will have reset your body clock to wake and sleep at the same time each day.
So when you stop taking your melatonin, you should still find that you are able to wake and sleep at those times naturally and without the use of a sleeping aid.
Note: If you don’t fancy taking melatonin supplements, you can either eat a bowl full of cherries or drink a glass of cherry juice an hour before bed. Cherries have been shown to raise melatonin levels and so can therefore be used as an effective natural sleeping aid.
The downside, however, is that cherries can be quite expensive. So if cost is an issue, then it’s probably more economical to buy melatonin supplements.