On Facebook last week I posted the new “Black Box” warnings about over-the-counter sleep aids. What a firestorm that set off! You asked me to do a blog on sleep and natural solutions for sleeping. So here it is……
Over the course of a year, over half of the U.S. population will take a sleep aid. About 33% of the population experiences insomnia on a regular basis and uses an over-the-counter sleep aid. Around 12.5% of the population uses prescription sleep aid. The most serious side effects for over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids and anti-anxiety medications is their effect on memory and behavior. They have also been shown to increase depression.
So what’s a person to do??? Night after night of very little sleep impacts our daily lives in a profound way. When looking at a natural solution to sleep, anxiety, and stress we have to look at the “whole” body system, in other words, a Wholistic approach.
Which came first? Stress, then anxiety, then insomnia? Or did lack of sleep fill you full of anxiety then you got stressed out about it? It’s important to identify what is triggering insomnia if you can.
We are living in a world that keeps moving at a faster and faster pace. Our lives are nothing like our parent’s generation (born in the 1920’s or 1950’s) where we had stay-at-home Mom’s, no fast food, kids played outside and you could walk just about anywhere and not be fearful. Contrast that to both parents working, many commuting, meals have to be quick and easy, kids are running from school to after-school sports then onto computers and iPads for homework, and “play time” isn’t even in the daily activity.
You’ve heard of the “fight-or-flight” stress response, the one you need when a bear is hot on your tail. Great if you live in the woods, but many people are in the second phase of that called the “resistance reaction” phase. This phase is after the initial adrenaline rush is over (your boss yells at you or you lose your temper with your spouse) and it allows the body to continue fighting a stressor long after the effects of the fight or flight response have worn off. Other hormones, such as cortisol and other corticosteroids secreted by the adrenal cortex, are largely responsible for the resistance reaction. Prolonging the resistance reaction or continued stress increases the risk of significant disease (including diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer) and results in the final stage of the general adaptation syndrome: EXHAUSTION!
When we experience stress it is often accompanied by the feelings of anxiety. Technically, anxiety is defined as “an unpleasant emotional state ranging from mild unease to intense fear.” Anxiety differs from fear, in that while fear is a rational response to a real danger, anxiety usually lacks a clear or realistic cause. Though some anxiety is normal and, in fact, healthy, higher levels of anxiety are not only uncomfortable but are linked to all of the issues with long-term stress and insomnia. 15% of the population experiences severe anxiety called panic attacks.
Stress and Anxiety Coping Tips that Help with Sleep
- Develop a strategy for stressful times – Stress happens!! We get caught up in the moment or hours and it overwhelms us. One strategy is to STOP for just ONE minute and do some deep breathing. When we are stressed we breathe very shallow. Just stopping and becoming aware of how wound up we are can be helpful. Asking ourselves powerful questions such as “what if I don’t get this all done, what’s the worst that could happen?” or “who could I ask to help me?”. Look for solutions instead of staying in the problem. Practice your strategies over a period of weeks and you will find the one that works the best for you.
- Balance your blood sugar – the temptation when we are stressed is to eat carbs and drink caffeinated beverages. The brain is craving sugar because it’s using a tremendous amount for “quick energy” to keep the stress hormones going. Instead, remember, your brain needs protein and a “tiny” bit of carbohydrate. This will feed your brain what it wants while stabilizing blood sugar. Blood sugar crashes make you irritable, angry and stress the body in a huge way!!
- Prayer and meditation – start your day with this and protect that time as your life depends on it because it does! Get up fifteen minutes earlier (even if you have had a bad nights sleep) and incorporate either prayer or meditation into your morning routine. Starting the day with a calm mind will set you up to cope with the day ahead. If you need some help there are “apps for that”!
There are numerous supplements that can help with stress and anxiety. If you are on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication check with your doctor before trying any of these. These are also very helpful for sleep.
Reducing the activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system is GABA’s big role in the body. This has a broad range of effects on the body and mind, including increased relaxation, reduced stress, balanced moods and allows the body and mind to fall asleep. 100-200mg or more as needed. You can take it during the day as well.
is a compound that is found in tea leaves and mushrooms. Theanine boosts the level of GABBA, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. L-theanine also reduces levels of chemicals in the brain that are linked to stress and anxiety. 100-400mg daily. This can be taken during the day as well.
- Stabilize mood, relax muscles and helps control the stress response system, among a myriad of other support in the body. Magnesium also increases GABBA. Also recommended is Magnesium Threonate as it penetrates the blood-brain barrier particularly well and provides an amino acid particularly calming to the nervous system. Start with 200mg and increase as needed. You can take this during the day and/or evening.
Valerian and Hops-
- Valerian primarily functions as an anxiolytic. Anxiolytics relieve anxiety and have calming, sedative effects by increasing GABBA. Hops also work to enhance GABA levels in the brain. Research also indicates that the sedative effects of hops may come from its ability to lower body temperature. Lowering body temperature helps to bring about drowsiness and is an important part of the body’s sleep process. Valerian and Hops work better together than apart. 100-200 mg Valerian and 40-60mg hops is a good start.
- Melatonin is a hormone that the body produces naturally. Natural melatonin is produced primarily by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin has a daily biorhythm—levels rise and fall throughout the day and night, reaching their highest levels in the evening and falling to their lowest levels in the morning. In recent years, there’s been increasing scientific attention to the relationship of melatonin to diet. Cherries are one food known to be naturally high in melatonin as well as bell peppers, walnuts, and tomatoes. Recent research indicates that eating tryptophan-rich foods may be beneficial for melatonin levels as well such as eggs, salmon, dairy products, potatoes, bananas, brown rice, and oats. For regulation of sleep-wake cycles use .03mg to 3mg for insomnia 2-3mg. Start at the lowest dosage to see how you respond.
St. John’s Wort –
- Do not use if you are on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. St. John’s Wort dates back to ancient Greece and has been used for symptoms, such as anxiety, tiredness, trouble sleeping and ADHD. For anxiety and depression take 900mg daily to start.
- Not to be taken or used if on an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. 5-HTP is synthesized from Tryptophan and increases serotonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter that transmits signals between the nerve cells and alters brain functions that regulate your mood and sleep patterns. 100-300mg 45 minutes before bed. Effective is enhanced when combined with GABBA.
Essential Oils –
- People have been using essential oils for thousands of years. The most common is Lavender oil to relieve stress. Using them one hour prior to bed may be helpful.
Natural Progesterone Cream –
- If you are peri-menopausal, menopausal or estrogen dominant you may want to consider progesterone cream. This was a big help to me when going through menopause and insomnia was very bad. Use as directed on the label if cycling. Are you menopausal? You can use daily as directed. Emerita is my favorite brand found at natural food stores.
CBD Oil –
- more science is coming out all the time about the benefits of CBD oil and helping with sleep is one of them. Using around 20-30mg before bedtime can lower inflammation and relax the mind.
Wait there’s more!!
This is a lifestyle factor that I believe is a HUGE sleep disruption…..ELECTRONICS! We must make our bedrooms electronic free. Yes, no TV’s in the bedroom, wi-fi off, cell phones out of the bedroom (or in airplane mode), if reading on a device in bed use “blue blocker” glasses. Research has shown the “night setting” on the new phones and computers is still disrupting the melatonin production in the brain. This is SO important and with the advent of 5G now coming on it’s time to be diligent about getting the Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) lowered in our homes! There are EMF shields you can also buy to use on phones, iPads, and computers to lower your exposure.
A couple more tips.……Try an Epsom Salt bath before bed with Lavender oil, it’s divine! Avoid caffeine at least 7 hours before bed, that’s it’s half-life so half of the caffeine will still be in your body 7 hours later! Try “sleep Yoga” before bed, there are some great ones on YouTube.
This is a BIG topic! I wish it was an easy, quick fix but it’s not. My suggestion is you start with determining what may be causing your insomnia. Focusing on the “root cause” is far better than trying to fix it with a supplement. Then, try one supplement at a time for one week and see if you notice any difference. Remember, we are all a “study of one!”
Let me point you at some of my favorite supplements and brands to get you started.
For L-Theanine, Melatonin, Hops and Valerian I love Night Time Formula and Cortitrol (if your not a Preferred Customer yet, let me know, I can save you 15%!)
Go to my on-line dispensary at Wellevate Me for additional support. A quick registration will get you in and you can “search” for recommended supplements at a 15% discount off retail!
Let me know if you try any of these recommendations (or you have some you found to be helpful) and if they help you get a good nights sleep 🙂 ZZZZZZZ