Having trouble falling asleep? Wake up in the middle of the night? One of these 5 herbs may help you get to sleep and stay asleep all night without causing you to feel groggy in the morning.
Valerian root helps many people relax enough to fall asleep. The herb has anti-anxiety activity and may also be useful for withdrawal from alcohol, nicotine or pharmaceutical sleep aids.
Valerian has a mild sedative effect, which means it should not be used prior to driving. The typical recommendation is to take it 30 minutes prior to bedtime and do something relaxing for out of bed for those 30 minutes.
Sleep researchers find that spending time in bed when you are not sleeping actually interferes with your ability to sleep. They recommend using your bed only for sleeping (or sex), especially if you have trouble falling asleep.
If you do wake up in the middle of the night, it’s not a good idea to take more valerian root. You might oversleep.
If you’re not sleeping, you should only stay in bed for 30 minutes or so. Avoid tossing and turning in the bed. Get up and do something boring, preferably something that does not involve looking at a monitor. The lights from monitors and television screens can interfere with your body’s production of melatonin, a sleep hormone produced by your body and covered in some detail below.
Valerian root extracts can vary in terms of effectiveness. Be sure to choose a good brand and pick one that is derived from the roots. The active compounds are found in the roots, not the stems or leaves of the plant.
Some studies indicate that valerian is also beneficial for irritable bowel syndrome, nervous tension and stress. Stress during the day is one of the common causes of sleep difficulties at night.
The correct dosage depends on the supplement. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. Do not combine natural sleep aids or use them with alcohol. There could be unpleasant side effects.
Avoid preparations that contain valerian and skullcap. This combination could be toxic to the liver after just a few days of use.
Chamomile extracts have been studies quite extensively for their medicinal properties. The plants contain a variety of compounds that can help you relax and also improve your health in other ways.
Chamomile is a source of antioxidants such as Quercetin and Rutin. Antioxidants help to prevent free radical damage that causes cellular aging, contributes to wrinkles and plays a role in cancer.
The antioxidants, flavonoids and other natural compounds in chamomile have natural anti-inflammatory activity. This makes them helpful for painful conditions like arthritis. Inflammation also plays a role in heart disease and cancer. Increasing your intake of natural anti-inflammatories may help you avoid those health problems.
Certain compounds in chamomile may have blood-thinning properties which can be beneficial to heart health, as long as you are not taking a blood-thinning drug. If you are taking any kind of drug, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking an herbal preparation. Some doctors and pharmacists are unfamiliar with the medicinal activity of herbs but you can learn about drug-herb interactions on line.
As is the case with other herbal sleep aids, you should avoid them when you will need to drive or operate equipment. They are generally milder than prescription and over the counter sleep aids but they can still cause drowsiness in situations that could be dangerous.
Velvet Beans (Mucuna Pruriens)
Velvet beans were shown in a recent study to improve sleep quality in men and women. Mucuna pruriens is the scientific name of the plant, which is a tropical species. Mucuna is the name you will usually see on a supplement that contains the natural sleep aid.
Velvet beans contain levodopa, a compound produced in the body from l-tyrosine and used in the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. The neurotransmitters play a role in regulating sleep, appetite and other bodily functions.
The plants also contain small amounts of serotonin, a “feel good” neurotransmitter, and 5-HTP, a compound used in the body to make serotonin. The bean seeds, the stems and the leaves are sources of these compounds. Supplements may be made from the seeds, the stems, the leaves or all of those plant parts.
There are warnings concerning mucuna use. Most have to do with the potential interactions with drugs such as SSRIs. SSRIs are commonly prescribed anti-depressants that also raise serotonin levels. The result of excessive serotonin in the brain can cause a condition known as serotonin syndrome which can be deadly.
Even at non-toxic levels, serotonin syndrome symptoms can be unpleasant. They include increased heart rate, sweating, shivering and twitching. Headaches, hallucinations, nausea and high blood pressure are other possible symptoms. Mucuna supplements alone will not cause these symptoms but using the supplement with SSRIs could be dangerous. Since so many people today are taking SSRIs, it is important to mention this possible interaction.
Hops are plants commonly used to flavor beer. They are the female flowers of the hop plant. The medicinal properties are similar to those of valerian root. You might not actually have to consume hops to get the sleep benefit. Pillows filled with hops are an age-old remedy for sleeplessness. Animal studies have confirmed the sedative effect of exposure to the flowers. You would have to find fresh hops and replace them regularly to get continued results. A supplement may be an easier choice.
Melatonin is not an herb but a hormone naturally produced by people, plants and microbes. In people, it is involved in the regulation of the circadian rhythms. It is your natural circadian rhythms that allow you to sleep. Modern life can interfere with melatonin production and with circadian rhythms.
Melatonin is included here with the herbs because it is classified as a dietary supplement, not a drug. It is a natural remedy with antioxidant activity. In addition to helping you sleep, the supplement may also support your immune system strength.
The supplement has been studies as a treatment for a number of conditions including GERD, depression, migraine headaches, sexual dysfunction and insomnia. The “prolonged release” formulas appear to be most beneficial.
Animal studies indicate that melatonin may be beneficial for weight loss, especially in obese people. Insomnia and excessive weight often go hand in hand.
At low doses, melatonin causes very few side effects and is safe when used for up to three months. Like other natural sleep aids, it can cause drowsiness and should be used with caution at times other than close to bedtime.
Unlike most of the herbal sleep aids, melatonin causes next-day grogginess in some people. Irritability is one of the other common side effects.
Other Natural Sleep Aids
In addition to herbs and melatonin, nutritional supplements may also be of benefit. For example, l-tyrosine could help by stimulating the production of dopamine within the body. 5-HTP is also available in supplement form. It makes sense to try simple natural remedies before taking a prescription sleep aid that could do you more harm than good in the long run.