How You Can Get to Sleep Naturally

MoonThe numbers are staggering when it comes to how many people have trouble sleeping at night. It is estimated that over 50 million Americans suffer from some type of sleep disorder.  These disorders range from insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy. Every year approximately 4 to 6 million Americans take a prescription medication to help them sleep.  Over the years there has been much research done to understand why people don’t sleep, and I will cover some of that research in this article.

Let’s look at the mechanisms of sleep and understand why our lifestyles affect this very important function of life itself.  Sleep is a restorative process that replenishes nerve energy that is needed for many body processes, a time for renewal and repair. It is an essential part of daily life and determines our state of health.

The sleep cycle consists of two states, REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement).  REM sleep is known as dream sleep, and NREM sleep which consists of four stages. Stage 1 is going from wakefulness to Stage 2 which is light sleep to Stage 3 and 4 which is” delta” or deep sleep.  A period of REM sleep normally follows each period of NREM sleep.  NREM sleep accounts for the major part of sleep.

The neurotransmitter serotonin and norephinephrine are responsible for helping us get to sleep at night.  Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophane, an essential amino acid.  It is found in turkey, fish, beans, and milk as well as other plant sources.  Evening primrose seed has more tryptophane than any other plant according to Dr. James Duke. Unfortunately, tryptophane was taken form the market due to a contaminated batch that passed through customs and the FDA and contributed to the loss of approximately 120 lives.  It was later proven that the tryptophane was not the problem but the contaminant. Tryptophane in its free form is still unavailable over the counter but is still used in infant formulas.  A new form called 5 HTP is available now. Ironically, the same year that tryptophane was taken off the market, Prozac was introduced which works with serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin plays a major role in NREM sleep.  If serotonin is exhausted, the result is insomnia and a reduction in NREM sleep. Norephinephrine is associated with REM sleep, but a reduction has no influence on NREM sleep.  Another neurotransmitter is dopamine which actually helps you go to sleep.

Sleep disorders occur for many reasons: Psychological (anxiety), biochemical (dietary deficiency or drug dependency), medical (sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome) as well as daily living activities, lack of exercise, and environmental factors.

Diet is considered the primary cause of many of these disorders. The over-consumption of caffeine in the form of coffee, tea and cola drinks has been associated with insomnia and restless leg syndrome.  Many OTC cold and cough preparations contain pseudo ephedrine, a stimulant.  Food allergies have also been linked to insomnia. The main two allergens are dairy and wheat, with corn and chocolate next.

Other considerations are drugs and alcohol. Drugs that interfere with sleep are thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, beta blockers and marijuana. Excess alcohol consumption reduces overall sleep and interferes in REM and NREM cycles.

Environmentally, Anthony Scott-Morley, D.S.C.,Ph.D, M.D.,B.A. from England, states “Items that interfere with the body’s electromagnetic field and create fields of their own can disrupt sleep. These include electric blankets, heated waterbeds, electric clocks, and 60 cycle frequencies (household electric current) as well as power lines and generators.”

The psychological effects of stress, depression, grief, fear, and excitement can all be factors in sleep disturbances and need to be assessed when looking at treatment protocols.

When it comes to treating sleep disorders, there are many approaches that can be taken. One must rule out dietary deficiency and food intolerance first.  The use of nutritional supplements and herbal remedies has shown good result, as well as homeopathics and behavioral treatments. The following are some of the nutritional supplements known to aid sleep:

  • Calcium – Helps with nerve conduction, muscle contraction, blood clotting and release of neurotransmitters
  • Magnesium – Aids nerve function and relaxes muscles, necessary for calcium transport and utilization.
  • B complex vitamins (including biotin, niacin, inositol, B6 and B12) – Help nerve function and aid synthesis of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids (essential fats).
  • Chromium – Helps to regulate blood sugar.  Low blood sugar causes the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, a stimulant.
  • Phospholipids – Aid in neurotransmitter production and help nerve endings.
  • Melatonin – A natural hormone that serves as a precursor to serotonin
  • 5 HTP (hydroxyl-tryptophane) – A new form of tryptophane that aids serotonin production in the brain.

Many traditional herbs have also shown benefits when it comes to lack of sleep.  Some of the most popular are:

  • Valerian Root – Anti spasmodic, anodyne, carminative, nervine used to relieve stress, muscle spasms, depression, stomach cramps fatigue and nervous conditions. Over 120 chemical components have been identified and has been the subject of over 200 studies for its therapeutic actions.
  • Passion Flower – Nervine, sedative, anti-spasmodic, hypotensive.  It has been used for Insomnia, shingles, anxiety, Parkinson’s and high blood pressure.
  • Kava Kava – An anxiolytic, sedative, muscle relaxant, analgesic, has many methods of action on the nervous system. Non-addictive and non-toxic.
  • Skullcap – Sedative, nervine, anti-spasmodic. Aids relaxation, calms, helps in alcohol and drug withdrawal.  A tonic for the nervous system.
  • St. John’s Wort – Sedative, anti-depressant, nervine, anti-inflammatory. Has been used in Europe for centuries for insomnia, has had numerous studies on its usefulness in depression.

Many years ago when I was having problems sleeping, and I made a formula that consisted of these herbs: Chamomile, spearmint, lemon grass, skullcap, valerian, and hops. You steep this for 15-20 minutes and drink before bed.  It certainly helped me.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you if you are suffering from lack of sleep:

  • Establish a regular bedtime and a regular time for waking in the morning
  • Don’t spend too much time in bed trying to fall asleep
  • Spend some time in bright sunlight during morning hours
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Avoid alcohol at least two hours before bedtime
  • Don’t eat late at night
  • Be active during the day

Some good reading material on this topic is Everybody’s Guide To Natural Sleep by Jeremy P. Tarcher and No More Sleepless Nights by Hauri. P., Ph.D.  There are also many natural sleep formulas available from nutritional supplements, herbs, homeopathics; and numerous techniques and programs available to help you if you suffer from sleep disorders.

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