Herbs and Nutrients that Work to Improve Sleep Quality and Quantity
I hate to play the same song over again, but insomnia is such a huge problem in the general population and in my patient population that it feels necessary to revisit it.
While there are a few people who feel so driven they would love to function well off less sleep, research is still showing that we need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
Most people I meet want to sleep more hours. They have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or they awaken too early in the morning. The health risks of insomnia are significant and include decreased cognitive function, obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, decreased healing time, stress, anxiety, and fatigue, to name just a few. It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 adults has a symptom of insomnia.
Many doctors prescribe sleeping pills, but these come with the high price of side effects, dependency, and addiction.
Luckily, there are many natural alternatives to help you get a restful, restorative 8 hours of sleep every night.
Lifestyle factors are always the hardest thing for my patients to change. Most people would rather take a pill than change their habits. But lifestyle factors can have an enormous effect on your sleep quantity and quality. Here are a few you can work to change:
- Manage your stress during the day—easier said than done, yes! However, stress during the day makes it difficult to turn your brain off at night. Practice deep breathing, take regular breaks at work (a 5 minute break every half hour actually increases productivity), and laughing more often.
- Get outside—light during the day and darkness at night help to regulate and strengthen the circadian rhythm. Turn off those screens and lights at night, replace some of your white lights with red, and sleep in the dark. It really does make a difference!
- Try eating more carbs at night. Carbohydrates help to increase the production of tryptophan, the precursor to both serotonin and melatonin, which help to induce sleep. If you are on a low-carb diet, this can be especially useful. Try having a tablespoon of honey before bed.
Supplements can really help with insomnia as well. Here are a few that are really helpful:
- Magnesium is a calming mineral. It helps to relax the nervous system and calm muscle spasms and pain. Magnesium has been shown to help people sleep longer, fall asleep faster, and reduce early-morning waking.
- 5-HTP is an amino acid that is the precursor to making melatonin. Taking it before bed can help increase melatonin levels and reduce anxiety and depression that can keep people from falling asleep. Do not take 5-HTP if you are taking any antidepressants as it can interact.
- L-theanine is a calming amino acid. It is great for that overactive brain that keeps you up thinking. This is one you can take during the day to reduce stress levels and at night to help turn off your brain.
- Taurine is another amino acid that helps to increase levels of GABA. It, like theanine, has a calming effect on the brain.
- Melatonin is probably the most commonly thought of natural sleep remedy. We can test your melatonin levels to see if they are actually low to determine whether supplementation is needed. I like to start people on a low dose, because it can cause temporary drowsiness. Exposure to light during the day and darkness at night is a great way to naturally improve melatonin levels.
- Herbs like valerian, hops, and passionflower are powerful allies in the fight against stress, anxiety, and insomnia. I love to use plants as medicine and these sweet flowers can really help put you to sleep and help you stay asleep.
You have so many options for healthy, natural sleep remedies and I highly recommend that you start with these before your resort to medications. We can have a positive effect on your sleep and help you live your healthiest life.