According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), up to 40 percent of Americans experience occasional insomnia — difficulty falling and staying asleep at night — while up to 15 percent say their insomnia is nightly.
“Insomnia is a complex condition often caused by a number of factors,” says Qanta Ahmed, MD, a sleep specialist at the Winthrop-University Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Mineola, N.Y. “Addressing those factors often requires lifestyle and environmental changes.”
Burning one’s candles at both ends — working long hours and then hoping to indulge oneself for long hours after that, whether being out and about late at night or staying active at home, even if just watching TV too late — is one prime causative factor in insomnia. One’s brain is so taxed by bedtime that the body just can’t wind down fast enough.
However, some natural “remedies” might help, though life-style change is usually the biggest, surest “cure.”
You can try melatonin supplements. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that one’s body naturally produces when it becomes dark (thus staying up watching TV or reading underneath a light will delay and/or prevent melatonin production). Some people have reported success with these supplements, but the problem is that one’s system can adapt and they lose their effect, or worse, they may interfere with one’s natural sleep hormone production.
Lavender also helps some. There are lavender pills to ingest, but the flower’s aroma itself seems to help people drift off. Chamomile tea (decaffeinated, of course) is also a nice drowsy-inducer.
Warm milk and light snacks before beddy-bye can also help. One sleep specialist recommends a combination of carbohydrates and proteins and suggests a light snack of half a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a whole wheat cracker with some cheese 30 minutes before turning in.
Magnesium also plays a significant role, as research has shown that even a marginal deficiency in magnesium can interfere with sleep. You can take magnesium supplements, but better still is to increase your magnesium levels through better nutrition. Good food sources include green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and almonds.
Check with your doctor before taking either melatonin or magnesium supplements, however. There can be side-effects to both.
Valerian root is an herb that has been used since ancient times to help with sleep. “Valerian can be sedating and may help you fall asleep,” says Tracey Marks, MD, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist.
If you have insomnia or trouble sleeping, follow good sleep hygiene but seek professional help if your troubles persist. Your nights are meant to rejuvenate you, not force you on a caffeinated binge to stay awake the next day.