The National Science Foundation (NSF) estimates there are as many as 88 different sleep disorders disrupting our nightly rest and rejuvenation. And worse, as many as 60 percent — or more — of adult Americans report frequent sleep difficulties.
It’s no wonder, then, that we often turn to “natural” supplements in the forms of vitamins and herbal mixtures to help our nighttimes. Probably two of the most used — and most common — are melatonin supplements and valerian root.
Melatonin, of course, is the natural sleep hormone produced by the brain when our eyes sense darkness surrounding us. If we lack exposure to the sun, and as we age, however, melatonin production can be slowed, and thus it becomes harder to get a good night’s sleep. So people turn to melatonin supplements. Some report that these supplements help, while others lament a “melatonin hangover,” or grogginess, the next morning. Others warn that taking the supplement repeatedly will hit the shut-off valve on the body’s natural melatonin production plant.
Valerian root is a bit different, not being a naturally produced body element. Clinical studies have shown some sleep-help effectiveness in taking valerian root, but the results suggest that it has to be taken repeatedly over time to work properly. Since valerian root is often combined with other herbs and substances in sleep aids, single-use studies are rare and somewhat inconclusive, though it is certainly a product that cuts across ages and cultures in use for sleep purposes. It is time-honored, in other words.
Chamomile tea has certainly also been long used to aid in going to sleep, and it has shown to be fairly effective in some persons. It’s best to get the decaffeinated version, however.
Lately, calcium and magnesium have come into focus as sleep aids. Somewhat like melatonin, the body finds it harder and harder to retain and use these two minerals as we age. James F. Balch, MD, author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing, writes: “A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep.”
Calcium been shown to help the brain produce melatonin, according to studies in Europe, while magnesium has been associated with deeper, less interrupted sleep.
Most recently, an emphasis on D3 has come into focus. Though billed as a vitamin, D3 is actually a hormone that all animals –not just humans — produce from interaction with the sunlight, and D3 serves as a regulator of numerous bodily functions. (Exposure to sunlight has also been associated with weight loss and natural weight maintenance.) Sleep, of course, is one of the functions that D3 helps regulate.
At least one doctor believes that increasing one’s level of D3 by taking supplements can reverse the symptoms of even obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Writes Dr. Stasha Gominak:
“Most of the neurological problems my patients have are … related to the fact that D hormone deficiency causes sleep disorders; insomnia, sleep apnea, REM related apnea, unexplained awakenings to light sleep, inappropriate body movements during sleep. All of these disorders keep us from healing our bodies during sleep.”
If you visit a vitamin shop or naturalistic health center, you’ll find a variety of sleep aid products that mix and match among the above ingredients. You may find some that help, but the body is a tricky mechanism, and it can get used to sleep aids fairly quickly and render them less effective. That’s not to say that increasing calcium, magnesium and D3 intake might not help the body function without their wearing out their welcome. Feel free to experiment once you speak with your family doctor.
The best advice, as always, is to seek help if you have chronic sleep problems. Start with your family physician and then proceed to sleep professionals for a sleep evaluation if your problems persist or you suspect a sleep disorder. And don’t wait. Get started today.