Not able to sleep? Natural remedies may be the solution 

Written by Dr Juliane Weber, BSc (Hons), PhD (Physiology)

Insomnia is generally characterised by an inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or both, leaving you feeling sluggish and tired. This can be a short-lived problem (acute insomnia) or go on for months and even years (chronic insomnia). It’s estimated about one-third of adults suffer from acute insomnia at some time in their lives, although this may be as high as 50%. Chronic insomnia isn’t as common, but it does affect about one in every 10 people.

Insomnia is serious – “Good sleep is fundamental to good health and lack of sleep will hurt either immediately or eventually,” says homeopath Dr Maureen dos Ramos. Poor immune function, heart disease, obesity and type II diabetes are potential consequences of insufficient or poor-quality sleep. In her experience, sleep is often disrupted by pain, stress and anxiety, resulting in fatigue – this in turn reduces the ability to deal with stress and pain, resulting in further anxiety and physical discomfort, all of which again reduces the ability to sleep.

Hypothetically speaking

Treating the cause is not necessarily straightforward. Scientists have spent years hypothesising about insomnia’s origins. But to unravel insomnia, one first needs to understand sleep.

Sleep is regulated by two processes: time spent awake and the body’s internal biological clock. The longer we’re awake, the more we want to sleep, with sleep timing controlled by our internal clock – we’re physiologically programmed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. Problems arise when this is disrupted.

Common offenders include irregular bedtimes and wake times, which disturb the natural sleep cycle. Pre-bed screen-time is another common sleep disruptor. This is particularly problematic for children.  

Some people are simply biologically predisposed to insomnia, which may initially be caused by something like a stressful life event, and then perpetuated by behaviours like spending too much time in bed or drinking excessive amounts of coffee. Other theories propose insomnia may occur when bedtime activities and one’s bed become less associated with sleep. Insomniacs may also focus too much on trying to fall asleep and stay asleep, interfering with the body’s natural ability to do so.

Insomniac’s brain

Insomniacs tend to have greater brain activity (“hyperarousal”) than good sleepers, both day and night. Also, brain areas responsible for wakefulness, thought processing and emotions don’t slow down as they should at night. So insomniacs can maintain nighttime brain activity patterns similar to those during the day. This is especially pertinent to those who can’t sleep despite the fact that there’s nothing obvious keeping them awake. 

Scientists are unsure whether hyperarousal causes sleep disturbances, or whether being unable to sleep enhances brain activity. Determining this would be key in targeted insomnia treatment. In the meantime though, give natural sleep remedies a try.

Natural sleep aids

According to Dr dos Ramos, several natural supplements can help. L-tryptophan (especially when combined with vitamin B6), is most effective in people with mild insomnia when taken 20-30 minutes before bedtime, preferably on an empty stomach with some carbohydrates; sleep improvements are usually observed after about two weeks. Magnesium glycinate has been shown to improve sleep quality, and calcium (in a chelate form) has a calming effect. Vitamin B12 may be beneficial, as it’s known to improve the functioning of the nervous system.

Niacinamide, inositol and melatonin are associated with improvements in sleep parameters. Melatonin is useful for age-related sleep disturbances, sleep cycle disruptions and sleep problems associated with depression or schizophrenia. Dr dos Ramos warns that all these treatments should only be taken under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Several homeopathic remedies are available, which will be prescribed based on your particular requirements. These options include Nerexan, Quieta and Sedatif.

If you have unexplained insomnia that’s persisted for more than four weeks, Dr dos Ramos recommends that you visit a healthcare provider who will try to identify the underlying cause, so you can receive the appropriate treatment. 

Putting insomnia to bed

  • Improve sleep habits Go to bed and wake up at the same time; use your bed only for sleep and sex; get out of bed and leave your bedroom if you’re unable to sleep; avoid napping  
  • Get comfortable Make your bedroom cosy and keep it cool, dark and quiet
  • Relax before going to bed
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in the afternoons; also avoid eating large meals at night
  • Psychotherapy can help you deal with bad attitudes toward sleep

 

This article is courtesy of Health Intelligence Magazine.

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