This blog post concerns an extremely important topic. This matter affects approximately 1/3 of our lives, and it is estimated that about 35 million people in the United States suffer with a deficiency of this.
What am I referring to?
People throughout the ages have suffered with sleep impairment, otherwise known as insomnia. Such famous people as Ben Franklin, Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill all suffered with insomnia.
Marilyn Monroe reportedly would take up to 20 phenobarb tablets a day to help her sleep, ultimately ending her life. Insomnia has even caused changes in government.
The Earl of Rosebery, who was the prime minister of England from 1894 to 1895, had to resign his position because of chronic insomnia. He wrote, “I cannot forget 1895. To lie, night after night, staring wide awake, hopeless of sleep, tormented in nerves…is an experience which no sane man with a conscience would repeat.”
Why can’t I sleep?
There are multiple reasons for insomnia. As people get older, they have more difficulty sleeping, probably related to a decrease in certain neurotransmitters in the brain, especially serotonin.
There are many other causes for insomnia, including stress, depression, sleep apnea, problems with bladder or prostate, excessive use of stimulants such as caffeine, and hormonal imbalance.
There are millions of people every night who take some form of tranquilizer in order to get some hours of rest. Unfortunately, these drugs are not without side effects. They are highly addictive and many patients develop a tolerance to them, with the drug becoming less effective over time.
There are some safe and natural alternatives. One nutrient that seems to have multiple benefits is that of 5-HTP.
5-HTP is an amino acid precursor of serotonin. This nutrient has been studied for the last 30 years for a host of conditions. Not only can it potentially help with sleep, but studies also indicate potential benefits for weight loss, fibromyalgia, headaches, and even depression. For insomnia, it is recommended to take 100-300 mg approximately 30 minutes to one hour before going to bed. I would start with 100 mg at bedtime and slowly increase the amount over a couple of weeks, depending on your response.
Another important nutrient for sleep is valerian root. This is an herb that has been used for many years for insomnia. There have been limited, double-blinded clinical trials using this herb. In one study out of a European journal from 2002, patients between the ages of 18 and 73 with insomnia (not related to any medical illness) were treated with either the tranquilizer oxazepam or valerian extract 600 mg at bedtime for six weeks. During the six-week treatment period, the valerian extract appeared to have comparable efficacy compared to the tranquilizer. Unlike the tranquilizer, there is no morning grogginess. Valerian appears to act via a particular neurotransmitter called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA).
A third nutrient that has periodically had a lot of press regarding insomnia is that of melatonin. There have been some clinical trials that have demonstrated efficacy for melatonin for insomnia. In a meta-analysis from researchers from the Netherlands published in Gerontology Geriatrics in December, it was noted that there have been six double-blinded, randomized cross-over studies using melatonin in elderly patients. The researchers concluded that there was sufficient evidence that low doses of melatonin improve initial sleep quality in selected elderly insomniacs. Personally, I have found melatonin to be very useful for jetlag when traveling overseas. As with all health matters, treatment options for insomnia should be discussed with your physician.
Things to Avoid for Better Sleep
Aside from the nutrients and products recommended above, I would suggest avoiding some things, too.
Stimulating (Caffeine) Drinks
All stimulant-type drinks at least four hours before sleep.
Get Some Exercise
In addition, exercise is excellent, but again, should be done earlier in the day.
Finally, I have a great tip that I frequently recommend to my patients. I strongly recommend that if you have difficulty falling asleep that you read in bed. Read something that is soothing to the soul, and certainly not anything like an adventure novel or thriller. Read with a soft light.
As you feel your eyes growing heavy, you should place your book by your night stand and turn off your light without getting out of bed. If it is disturbing to your sleep mate, you could buy one of those small book reading lights. Sweet dreams.
References & Further Reading: