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If you are experiencing short-term problems with sleep, there are a number of easy and natural steps to take that can be very helpful. Some of these are behavioral approaches, dietary suggestions and natural products.
Everyone has a tough time getting to sleep or staying asleep from time to time, and it’s usually not a serious problem.  If, however, you are consistently having trouble with sleep issues, it can become a serious problem.
 

Insomnia

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder that can mean you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. People with insomnia generally have one or more of these symptoms:
  • You have difficulty falling asleep
  • You wake up more than once during the night and you have trouble getting back to sleep
  • You wake up too early in the morning
  • You feel tired when you wake up and you are sleepy during the day
  • You are irritable
  • You have problems with concentration and memory
Insomnia can be primary (when your main problem is with sleep and not any other health issue) or secondary (when your sleep problems are due to another condition such as pain, depression, cancer or a medication).  Insomnia can also be acute (short-term) lasting from a night or two to a few weeks.  This can happen if there are life stressors going on, environmental issues, a medication that you are taking on a short-term basis, physical or emotional discomfort or worries, illness, or a short-term break in your normal sleep schedule (jet lag or a switch to a different work shift). Chronic insomnia is long term, lasting at least 3 nights a week for a month or more.  Some causes of chronic insomnia are depression and/or anxiety, chronic stress, pain, sleep apnea and other illnesses or medications.

You should always talk to your physician if you are experiencing sleep issues.  They may do a physical and get a sleep history and may refer to a sleep center for testing.

If you are experiencing short-term problems with sleep, there are a number of easy and natural steps to take that can be very helpful. Some of these are behavioral approaches, dietary suggestions and natural products. On following pages you will find several behavioral approaches that will help you deal with insomnia.

Against insomnia with relaxation techniques

Reserve about 20 minutes before your desired bed time for these techniques:
  1. Visualization—imagine a quiet, relaxing scene.  Make it as vivid as possible, trying to see, smell, hear and feel everything around you.
  2. Use the “Relaxation Response” -this is basically a meditation technique where you focus on deep, slow breathing and repeat some sort of mantra for yourself—this can be a prayer, a word or a sound.
  3. Try yoga—it’s a great technique to keep in shape and has been shown to be helpful in improving sleep time.
  4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)  techniques where you purposefully tense up groups of muscles, relax them and then observe the sensations.  This technique has proven to be beneficial in helping people sleep better.
  5. Exercise-the more you exercise, the better you sleep!

Fight insomnia with dietary changes

  • Stop using caffeine-Too much caffeine can cause serious sleep problems.  After all, a good number of us use caffeine in the morning to help us wake up!  There are the usual sources—coffee, tea and sodas, but look for “hidden” sources as well—chocolate, over-the-counter remedies are two examples.
  • Avoid sugar-Just as too much caffeine can cause sleep problems, so can too much sugar. Uneven blood sugar levels tend to wake us up in the middle of the night.
  • Eat food to HELP you sleep-High carbohydrate snacks (with no sugars) can help you sleep, in part, because these help     maintain stable blood sugar values.  Any food with tryptophan—turkey, cheese, sunflower seeds and sesame seed—can help get you to sleep and stay asleep. Eating magnesium rich foods such as beans, seeds, dark, leafy greens, nuts and whole grains will     help as well—magnesium is a natural sleep aid.
  • Limit the amounts of liquid you drink! While this may seem obvious, it pays to remember not to have too much liquid before you go to bed—what the point of all these approaches if you wake up needing to go to the bathroom!

Natural herbs and supplements to fight insomnia

  • Valerian root- Valeriana officinalis has been used for centuries.  It has very few side effects (mild indigestion, headaches, dizziness) but it doesn’t work for everyone and most people prefer to use it in capsule form—it is considered to have a bad odor.  It may take a week or so to work, and should be taken about an hour before the desired bedtime.
  • Melatonin-melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland which is found in the brain.  It works on a daily cycle to help you sleep. Many people have found it to be useful, but it appears to work best in those with low melatonin levels, like the elderly or people with jet lag.
  • Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum) is an herb used traditionally in ceremonies of the Polynesian islands. It has been found to have anti-anxiety properties and is best used for those who can’t sleep because of stress in their lives. There have been some reports of liver damage in people using kava, possibly related to how its produced, so it should only be used as a short-term approach.
  • 5HTP- taken at night, 5HTP works as a sleep aid.  The body converts 5HTP to serotonin, another neurotransmitter, and helps you fall asleep.
  • Magnesium-magnesium taken at night also helps you sleep.
  • Chamomile tea- chamomile is a soothing herb and can help you relax.  Just be sure to limit the amounts of fluids you drink before going to bed!

Other approaches to fight insomnia

  • Our sleep cycles are naturally based on the day-night cycle.  Some people, especially during the winter, may benefit from the use of full-spectrum light.  This also seems to help with depression.
  • Aromatherapy-lavender has a very long history of use as a sleep aid.  Put a bit of essential oil on or near your pillow to help you sleep.
  • Take a hot shower about 2 hours or so before bedtime—when your body cools down, it sends a signal to the brain to release melatonin.