According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 1.6 million American adults with insomnia have gotten a deeper, more restful night’s sleep by using natural and alternative remedies. The most widely known natural aids for sleep are the minerals calcium and magnesium, the herb valerian root, the natural hormone melatonin, and the amino acid tryptophan. Nutrition Breakthroughs, which has been providing research-based natural health articles and proven natural remedies for the past six years, is offering this update on natural sleep remedies.
The NIH study on Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that “A majority of people who used natural therapies for their insomnia reported they were helpful.” Many adults who suffer with sleeplessness would prefer to avoid the side effects of sleep medications such as memory loss, headache, nausea, depression, dizziness, confusion, a hangover effect and possible addiction.
In modern herbal medicine, Valerian is the most common herb used for insomnia. Valerian root makes getting to sleep easier and is also used for nervous tension and anxiety. Valerian is often combined with other mildly sedating herbs like chamomile, hops, passion flower and lemon balm. Drowsiness and an inability to remain alert are Valerian’s most common side effects. It may be unsafe to take while driving or operating heavy machinery and should not be consumed along with alcohol or sedative drugs.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is located in the center of the brain. At night or in the dark, the pineal gland releases melatonin to regulate the sleep cycle. The body produces less melatonin with advancing age. While melatonin doesn’t require a prescription, it is a potent hormone. If too much is taken, it can make it more difficult to wake up and may result in daytime grogginess. It is best used under the supervision of a doctor.
Tryptophan is an amino acid (a component of protein) that is found in turkey, tuna, bananas, dates, oats and dairy products. It has been used for people with insomnia because it is converted into serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain that’s involved in mood, appetite and sleep. Tryptophan is no longer widely available in the U.S., but may possibly be found in some of the larger health food stores.
A related compound that occurs naturally in the body, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), is more obtainable and may also be helpful for insomnia. Possible side effects with 5-HTP include nausea, stomach upset and decreased sex drive. It should not be used along with antidepressant drugs.
The minerals calcium and magnesium may be the best choice for insomnia. They are proven natural relaxants and provide many additional health benefits. Calcium is directly related to our cycles of sleep. One study found that calcium levels were higher during some of the deeper levels of sleep, such as the rapid eye movement (REM) phase. Calcium causes the release of the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Magnesium, particularly magnesium chloride, has been successfully used for sleeplessness. Regarding magnesium, probably no other single deficiency is so responsible for the widespread use of tranquilizers.
Calcium helps to strengthen bones, lower blood pressure, alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and protect against colon cancer. Magnesium chloride has been shown to provide improved digestion, a stronger immune system, calmer nervous system, lower blood sugar levels, and stronger nails and hair. One possible side effect from taking too much calcium or magnesium is diarrhea, at which point less can be used.
Digestibility and absorption are important factors in selecting the best forms of calcium and magnesium. For example, Sleep Minerals from Nutrition Breakthroughs, uses calcium lactate gluconate and magnesium chloride, as both of these dissolve instantly in any temperature of liquid and are rapidly absorbed.
Nancy Richardson of Burbank, California was having a difficult time sleeping soundly. She says: “The Sleep Minerals put me to sleep pretty fast and I slept like a rock. It was quite beneficial. And I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep and staying that way but this was terrific.”
The NIH study confirms that millions of people are benefitting from natural remedies for insomnia. Indeed, these are far better than putting a drug-based, potentially addictive chemical into your body. A good tip is to seek remedies that not only help you sleep more deeply, but also have additional benefits to your overall health.