Good sleep is vital to our wellbeing, but unfortunately sleeplessness is quite pervasive (experts say that approximately 30 percent of us experience insomnia over the course of a year). It’s often caused by anxiety and tension, as well as other dietary and lifestyle factors. That’s why the key to solving the problem of sleeplessness lies in first identifying the causes.
Insomnia manifests in two different categories: sleep-onset (difficulty falling asleep) and sleep maintenance (difficulty remaining asleep). Factors causing sleep-onset insomnia include anxiety, tension, emotional upset, environmental change, sleep phobia, pain/discomfort, caffeine and alcohol. Sleep-maintenance factors include depression, environmental change, sleep apnea, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), restless leg syndrome, pain/discomfort, drugs and alcohol.
If you’re experiencing either type of insomnia, a good first step is to limit dietary and lifestyle factors that you know can contribute to sleeplessness. Avoid natural stimulants such as caffeine, soft drinks, chocolate, cocoa, tea and alcohol.
Nocturnal hypoglycemia can also cause sleeplessness. Try to eat bedtime snacks that are full of complex carbohydrates (e.g. oatmeal, whole grain cereals and breads). These types of foods help support healthy blood sugar levels and promote sleep by providing nutrients that help your body make more serotonin, a hormone necessary for sleep.
Of course, exercise is always helpful for encouraging better sleep, but try to avoid too much exercise too close to bedtime, as it can be over-stimulating to the body.
When you get into bed, practice something called progressive relaxation. Lay still and start by focusing on a specific muscle group and then work on relaxing it. Slowly move throughout the body to different muscle groups and mindfully work on their relaxation.
Here are some supplements that can also be extremely helpful in your quest for sleep:
- Melatonin is the natural sleep/wake hormone the body produces. As we grow older, our bodies may produce less than needed. Try Melatonin from Source Naturals or Pharmaca.
- Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan and is a very important initiator of sleep. You can take either tryptophan (which will convert to 5-HTP, then to serotonin) or 5-HTP. Ensure you are also getting adequate vitamin B6, niacin and magnesium, as they are required to transform tryptophan or 5-HTP into serotonin. I like Jarrow Formulas’ or Source Naturals’ L-Tryptophan or Pharmaca's 5-HTP.
- Take magnesium to help relax muscles (try Pure Essence).
- Try blended formulas such as Sleepy Nights by WishGarden Herbs, Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc., Tranquil Sleep by Natural Factors (a blend of melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine—a best-seller at Pharmaca and one I love), or Hyland’s Calms Forte, a gentle homeopathic blend that can be taken throughout the night and won’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning.
Different people respond to different sleep solutions, so give a few different options a try. But don’t give up! Address any causative factors first, and then try these great natural solutions for a better night’s rest.
For more information on better sleep, look here.
Kate Brainard, is a naturopathic doctor based in San Diego, California. A graduate of Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine, she works forPharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, a holistic pharmacy staffed with expert practitioners. She currently manages the Pharmaca in La Jolla and spends time educating customers on supplements, health, and lifestyle choices.