A good night’s sleep can be elusive for many people and for many different reasons. For some, insomnia can be the result of stress or anxiety caused by work or family problems. For others, it can be a nervous disorder or a hormone imbalance that can cause sleeplessness. As people age, they may also have trouble sleeping through the night. And although there are many prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids on the market, often people fear they will become addicted to theses products. Using a natural sleep aid may be the right fit for many people having trouble sleeping. Here are three natural remedies available to help cure insomnia.
Valerian for Insomnia
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herbal medicine that has been used since the days of ancient Rome and Greece for insomnia, nervous disorders and anxiety. Valerian works as a relaxant in order to help a person fall asleep and is also beneficial as a muscle relaxant. Many studies have been done on the effects of valerian on insomnia and several did show an increase in the ability to relax and sleep in the participants.
It is believed that one component in valerian that promotes sleep is gamma aminobutyric acid, GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter which has a calming effect on the brain. Researchers also believe that valerian affects serotonin levels in the brain much like some prescription anti-depressants do. Studies have found that valerian works much like many prescription sleep aids but without the dangerous side-effects or the sluggish feeling in the morning. It is also a non-addictive medication as opposed to some prescription sleep aids. Side-effects of valerian include dizziness, headaches and stomach upset. In a small percentage of people, valerian may actually act as a stimulate and cause insomnia.
The roots and lower stems of the plant are used to make capsules, extracts, tinctures and tea. It is recommended to take valerian 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime in doses of 300 to 500 milligrams, if taking capsules. People who are already taking a prescription sleep aid or anti-depressant should not take valerian unless prescribed by their doctor. Pregnant women, children under age 3 and people who drink alcohol regularly should also not take valerian. Always consult a doctor before trying any new herbal medication.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) has been used since the 17th century for anxiety, insomnia and seizures. It grows wild in the southern part of the U.S. as well as in South America and has been naturalized in Europe. In Europe, passionflower is added to several sedative drug mixtures.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, researchers believe that the active ingredient in passionflower is the flavonoid GABA which lowers activity in the brain allowing it to rest. Passionflower isn’t considered as strong a sedative as valerian, but for people who cannot tolerate other sleep medications it is a good alternative for insomnia. It can also be safely combined with kava, valerian, lemon balm or chamomile for a more effective sleep aid.
Passionflower is available in capsule, extract, tincture and tea form. Mark Stengler, N.D., author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapy suggests taking 500 to 1,000 milligrams of passionflower in capsule form 30 minutes before bedtime. If taking tincture form, he suggests 20 to 30 drops (0.5 mL) before bedtime. One to three cups of tea can also be effective as a sleep aid.
Studies have found passionflower to have no side-effects, however people who are already taking a prescription sedative, sleep aid, anxiety medication or MAO inhibitors should not take passionflower. Women who are pregnant or young children should also not take this herbal medication. Always consult a doctor before trying any new herbal medications.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which is located at the base of the brain. The melatonin released by the pineal gland is responsible for setting the rhythms of the waking and sleeping cycles. Melatonin is also found in some foods including ginger, tomatoes, barley, bananas, oats, rice and corn. There are many reasons why a person may have low levels of melatonin which disrupts their ability to sleep. Stress, anxiety, unusual work schedules, and some medications can reduce the amount of melatonin in the brain. Consuming alcohol, caffeine or taking aspirin or ibuprofen can also lower the production of melatonin. Some researchers also believe that melatonin production drops as people age.
Melatonin comes in capsule, tablet and liquid forms. Because melatonin is a hormone as opposed to an herbal medication, it is best to use the lowest dose possible that works for you. If taking capsule or tablet form, it is recommended to start with 5 milligrams or lower until you know how melatonin affects you. It has also been found that taking a B-complex vitamin as well as calcium and magnesium helps melatonin supplements to be more effective.
Melatonin is relatively safe and is non-addictive. Women who are pregnant, nursing or trying to get pregnant and young children should not take melatonin. People taking steroid medications should also not take this sleep aid. Always consult a doctor before trying any over-the-counter medications.
Getting a good night’s sleep can be difficult but you may be helped by one of these natural sleep aids. Finding the right natural sleep aid may help you on your way to curing insomnia and finally getting some much needed sleep.
Office of Dietary Supplements “Valerian” Retrieved June 21, 2010.
University of Maryland Medical Center “Passionflower” Retrieved June 21, 2010.
The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies by Mark Stengler, ND
Prentice Hall Press 2001 & 2010. Pages 456-458; Pages 347-349; Pages 316-320
University of Maryland Medical Center “Melatonin” Retrieved June 21, 2010.