Natural treatments for INSOMNIA

By: Elna Botes van Schalkwyk
Sleep is one of the most deeply healing and revitalizing experiences known. When we can get enough restful sleep each night, the entire world looks brighter. A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor's book! I believe that there’s more refreshment and stimulation in a good night’s sleep, than in all the alcohol ever distilled. Here are some helpful hints to reduce insomnia and to assure a better night’s sleep. ZZzzz…

Although alcohol can make you feel drowsy and may actually put you to sleep, it has the unpleasant side effect of waking you up later on in the night with a headache, stomachache, or full bladder. In addition, once alcohol's sedative effect wears off, there's a rebound effect that actually makes you more likely to have trouble falling back to sleep.

Caffeïne, on the other hand, stimulates your brain. Limit your coffee intake to two cups a day. Starting at noon, consume no foods or beverages that contain caffeine. Other foods and drinks to avoid for insomnia besides caffeine products, sugar (although honey has a wonderful sedative effect. Try adding 1 tablespoon honey to some decaffeinated herbal tea or even to your warm rice-milk for a relaxing pre-sleep drink) and high fats are caffeinated colas, caffeinated teas, spicy foods which may give indigestion, canned foods which are a source of toxicity, chocolate and preservatives. If you are prone to allergies, there may be some foods which will pose an allergic reaction. Learn what those foods may be and avoid them altogether. For instance, monosodium glutamate, known as MSG, is a substance which many are allergic to. If this is the case for you, avoid Chinese food or tell them to hold the MSG. Another helpful hint would be to avoid heavy meals in the evening. 

Opt for items that are calcium-rich when you're trying to choose foods to cure insomnia. By drinking an eight-ounce glass of low fat milk a few hours before you go to bed, for example, you can Raise Serotonin Levels in your system to help you get a sound night of sleep. Since dairy products are not recommended for MS-patients, try some of the other calcium-rich foods: Vegetables: broccoli, watercress, curly Kale, okra, red kidney beans, chic peas, green/French beans and baked beans; Fish: Sardines and Salmon; Fruits: apricot, lemon, orange (just be careful due to it’s high acidity), mulberry and currants; Nuts: almond, brazil, hazel, sesame seeds, walnuts, cashews, pine-nuts and tahini paste; rice, gluten free pasta and gluten free bread. 

Eat foods that reduce stress levels that can lead to sleeplessness. Choose foods to cure insomnia like nuts, gluten free oat bran, artichokes, spinach and black beans that are high in magnesium to help combat the anxiety that keeps you awake at night.

Add bananas to your diet to serve as natural remedies for insomnia. Featuring a high level of vitamin B6, bananas can also help generate serotonin to keep your internal clock functioning properly to both prevent fatigue during the day and help you fall asleep at night. Other foods that fit into this insomnia cure include bell peppers, tuna, chicken, spinach and halibut.

Consider items with a high glycemic index when you choose foods to cure insomnia. Eating items like potatoes, crackers, white bread, brown rice, pretzels and dates within five hours of bedtime has been shown to be a treatment for insomnia by having a sedative effect. Because of their affect on blood glucose and insulin levels, however, this insomnia cure should be used with caution if you have a medical condition like diabetes or are trying to reduce carbs to lose weight.

Tryptophan and serotonin:

Some scientists believe it's the presence of tryptophan, a chemical that helps the brain ease into sleep mode, that does the trick. Some experts believe a tryptophan deficiency can cause problems with sleep. Made from tryptophan, 5-HTP helps the body make serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are a known factor in sleepless nights. Taking a 5-HTP supplement may be a benefit if your body has low levels of tryptophan. How do you know if you're low? Low levels of tryptophan are most common in people who are depressed. If your insomnia is associated with depression, it might be a good question to ask your doctor. In one study, 100 mg of the supplement was enough to make sleep longer and better. 

Herbal remedies:

The following herbs can be used during the day, or try using 20-30 minutes before bedtime.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis): Chamomile is a time-honored sedative herb which can be safely used by children and adults alike. Chamomile tea is commonly used in Europe, South America, and Mexico for insomnia and restlessness combined with irritability, particularly in children. Chamomile oil can also be put in bath water (5-6 drops) to soothe overwrought nerves, diluted to 2% to make an excellent massage oil, or used as an inhalant. 

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 30 drops 3 x daily. 

Hops (Humulus lupulus): Hops, a major flavoring component of beer, has a long history of use for sleeplessness, nervousness, and restlessness. Hops pillows are sometimes used for mild insomnia. 

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 30-40 drops 2-3 x daily. 

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis): Lavender is a gentle strengthening tonic for the nervous system. A few drops of lavender oil added to a bath before bedtime are recommended for persons with sleep disorders. Additionally, the oil may be used as a compress or massage oil or simply inhaled to alleviate insomnia. 

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Essential oil--oil may be inhaled, massaged into the skin (use 10 drops essential oil per ounce of vegetable oil), or added to baths (3-10 drops).

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata): Passion flower is used for minor sleep problems in both children and adults.It is an excellent sedative with no side effects even when used in large doses.

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 3 x daily; Tincture, 30-60 drops 3-4 x daily. 

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Unlike benzodiazepines, using valerian to treat insomnia increases the amount of time spent in deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Valerian contains chemicals with strong muscle-relaxant and sedative properties called valepotriates. All parts of the plant contain these chemicals, but they are most concentrated in the roots. Ironically, even valerian preparations without valepotriates have helped some people to fall asleep, raising the possibility that some still unidentified chemical, or a reaction amongst various compounds in the root, may produce a calming effect. Herbalists use valerian extensively for its sedative action against insomnia, nervousness, and restlessness. It is recommended for those type of people who have a hard time falling asleep, because it shortens sleep latency. It also reduces nighttime waking. Valerian is an excellent herbal sedative that has none of the negative side effects of Valium and other synthetic sedatives. It works well in combination with other sedative herbs, such as California poppy, skullcap, hops, and passion flower.

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup as needed; Tincture, 2-5 droppersful 2-3 x daily. 

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa): Wild lettuce is a mild sedative and nervine used for restlessness and insomnia. It may be found in a variety of formulas for the treatment of acute and chronic insomnia. It is used homeopathically for restlessness and insomnia. Because of its safety of use and calming effects, wild lettuce is a good children's remedy.

• Dose: Tincture, 2-3 drpfls 3-4 x daily. 

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica): California poppy is my favorite sedative and sleep-promoting herb which can currently be found in a variety of herbal remedies sold in the United States for promoting sleep, helping one to relax, and easing mild anxiety. Because of its mild sedative and analgesic properties, it can be given safely to children. Clinical and laboratory work on California poppy has clearly demonstrated the plant's sedative and anti-anxiety properties; it has been shown to improve both sleep latency and quality. 

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 30-40 drops 2-3 x daily. 

• Note: Since the tea is mild, a tincture is recommended when a stronger dose is desired. 

Kava kava (Piper methysticum): Kava is the national drink of Fiji and is popular throughout the South Seas. It imparts a calm feeling, relaxes the body, and sometimes enhances communication and dreaming. This sedative herb is often used for sleeplessness and fatigue.

• Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 3-4 droppersful 2-3 x daily. 

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum): This common yellow-flowered weedy herb from Europe is quickly becoming an important part of modern herbal therapeutics. It has a long history of use dating back to ancient Greek times. Modern scientific studies show that it can help relieve chronic insomnia and mild depression when related to certain brain chemistry imbalances. Because this herb can sensitize the skin to sunlight, if you are taking a full dose, avoid direct skin exposure to bright sunlight.

• Dose: Tincture, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon 2-3 x daily; powdered extract, 1-2 tablets or capsules 2-3 x daily. Allow 2-3 weeks for the full therapeutic effect to develop. If you experience light sensitivity or other unpleasant symptoms, reduce or discontinue the St. John's Wort and consult a qualified herbalist for a total program. 

Melatonin: Melatonin is a human hormone that is increasingly popular as a supplement to promote sound sleep, especially in people who travel between time zones or who work odd hours. People report mixed success with this product; some people find real benefit and others feel nothing from its use, while a smaller percentage of users experience side effects such as nervousness and increased insomnia. Whether you have benefited from the use of melatonin or not, one or more of the sleep hygiene tips, as well as safe and natural herbs and formulas covered in this article are likely to help you get a deep refreshing sleep, without side effects. . Ask your doctor about taking 1 to 3 mg of melatonin 11/2 to 2 hours before bedtime.

Essential oil:

A few drops of essential oil of lavender added to a foot bath or regular bath can have a nice, calming effect. Finally, sleep pillows made of equal parts of hops, lavender, and chamomile and bath salts containing relaxing essential oils both help promote sleep and are available in some health food stores.

May sleep now envelop you as a bed sheet floating gently down, tickling your skin and removing every worry. And if tonight your soul may find it’s peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower ~ may you’ve been dipped again in God, and new-created! (D.H. Lawrence)