(NaturalHealth365) Sleep disorders, estimated by the CDC to affect as many as 70 million Americans, can exact a devastating physical and emotional toll. Chronic insufficient sleep raises risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and premature death – not to mention the threat to life caused by motor vehicle accidents and industrial and medical errors committee by the sleep-deprived.
Conventional medicine’s answer, prescription drugs, can be addictive and cause dangerous side effects – in addition to dramatically suppressing melatonin, a hormone needed for restful sleep.
Fortunately, there are natural remedies that work with your body, instead of against it, to restore sleep patterns and promote restful sleep.
Overcoming insomnia: Ashwagandha outperforms Ativan
Also known as Withania somnifera, winter cherry, and Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has been revered in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries as a rasayana – an anti-aging herb that promotes health of body and mind. Modern research confirms the ability of ashwagandha to reduce stress and anxiety, which are strongly associated with sleep disorders.
Studies have shown that ashwagandha activates nerve cell receptors for GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, a calming neurotransmitter – incidentally, the same mechanism by which benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium, function. In an animal study published in Phytomedicine, researchers found the sedating and calming effect of ashwagandha to be equal to that of lorazepam, or Ativan – one of modern medicine’s go-to drugs for anxiety. Studies on humans have also demonstrated ashwagandha’s sedative effects.
The dosage often used in studies is 300 mg a day. You can also make a relaxing tea out of ashwagandha root by brewing a teaspoonful for 15 minutes – and drinking up to 3 cups a day.
Melatonin promotes restful sleep naturally
A hormone produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness, melatonin helps regulate the sleep/wake cycles. Since melatonin levels decrease with age, supplementation can be particularly effective for elderly people. In addition, try to avoid artificial light from computers, T.V.’s or mobile devices – at night – because that will block the production of melatonin needed at night.
In a clinical study published in Journal of Sleep Research, melatonin improved sleep patterns, quality of sleep, and duration of sleep in postmenopausal women – so effectively that researchers are now eyeing melatonin as a potential therapy to help wean people from habit-forming sleep medications. Bonus: the hormone also helped produce significant weight loss.
Too much melatonin, however, can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness – and disrupted sleep cycles. Recommended dosages range from two tenths of a milligram of melatonin to 5 mgs, taken an hour before bedtime.
Tryptophan, the calming amino acid, improves both mood and sleep
Sleep disorders are associated with depletion in serotonin, a mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter. Tryptophan helps your body produce serotonin – along with melatonin – and researchers have found that boosting serotonin levels can help reverse anxiety and insomnia.
Extensive studies have shown that 1,000 mg or more of tryptophan can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, while increasing total sleep time. Interestingly, one study demonstrated that taking 1,000 mg of tryptophan three times a times a day helped self-described “quarrelsome” adults become calmer and more agreeable. If interpersonal conflict and strife is keeping you up at night, tryptophan could very well be beneficial.
Tryptophan can even have a positive effect on obstructive sleep apnea, a dangerous condition that can raise risk of heart disease. In a study published in Bulletin of European Physiopathology and Respiration, people who took 2500 mg of tryptophan at bedtime showed marked improvement in sleep patterns, and spent more time in REM sleep – an important component of a good night’s sleep.
Caution: Do not take tryptophan if you also take antidepressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Bioactive milk peptides activate receptors for calming body chemicals
Bioactive milk peptides, derived from cow or goat whey protein, have been found to activate brain receptors for GABA, serotonin and dopamine, thereby causing a sedative effect. Bioactive milk peptides can also reduce other stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, accelerated heart rate and elevated cortisol – as well as improving sleep quality, causing sleep to occur more quickly, and reducing daytime drowsiness.
In a study published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63 female participants reduced stress-related symptoms that lead to sleep disorders – some by as much as 65 percent.
A typical dosage for bioactive milk peptides is 150 mg a day.
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Valerian is a reliable herbal remedy
Natural health experts have long credited valerian root with sedative properties – and studies bear this out. Research has shown valerian can help you fall asleep more quickly, while improving quality of sleep. Scientists believe valerian reduces anxiety by increasing GABA in the brain, in much the same way as benzodiazepines.
Valerian can be combined with other natural sleep-inducers – such as hops, passionflower and lemon balm – and some herbal preparations offer one or more of these mixed together. In a recent placebo-controlled study published in Complementary Therapeutic and Clinical Practice, a mix of valerian and lemon balm significantly reduced sleep disorders in a group of 100 menopausal women.
Herbalists and naturopaths usually recommend 250 to 600 mg, taken one to two hours before bedtime. Valerian can also be taken in dosages of 120 to 200 mg up to four times a day to reduce the anxiety that contributes to insomnia.
Valerian may not be an “instant” remedy for insomnia and anxiety. Experts note that while valerian is effective, you may have to take it regularly for a few weeks to achieve the benefits.
Naturally, you should first consult with a trusted holistic medical professional before trying any of the natural sleep remedies listed above.
Incredibly, some experts estimate that fully half of the population of America will suffer from a sleep disorder at some point in their lives. Given this statistic, it’s good to know that natural, effective sleep remedies await.
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