One in three people complains about insomnia, which includes difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking earlier than planned. In some cases, insomnia is a short-term problem caused by stress or excitement. However, it may also linger for years and become a major issue that can take a toll on many areas of a person’s life. While some cases of insomnia will require professional intervention, mild cases may be helped dramatically by one or more of the following clinically proven natural remedies.
Melatonin: Secreted by the pineal gland, melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Low melatonin secretion at night is one common cause of insomnia, especially among older adults. Several studies show that supplementing with melatonin can greatly improve sleep quality by shortening the time to sleep and prolonging time asleep. It has also proven extremely helpful in cases or jet lag, or for people doing night shift work. In one study in Israel, elderly patients with low melatonin levels who were given supplements reported less trouble falling asleep, longer sleep periods, more refreshing sleep and feeling better in the morning.
5-HTP: Short for 5-hydroxytryptophan, this cousin of the amino acid tryptophan is important for the body’s production of serotonin, which is converted into melatonin (see above). It has been shown to promote sleep and to prolong time spent in two important sleep stages — deep sleep and REM sleep (dreaming stage). People taking 5-HTP have reported awakening more rested and refreshed. 5-HTP is also linked to benefits in mood disorders, fibromyalgia and obesity.
Magnesium: For those with trouble sleeping due to “restless leg syndrome” or muscle cramps, this common mineral may be the answer. Magnesium relaxes muscles and many people report a “sedative” effect when magnesium is taken at bedtime. Muscle cramps and insomnia are both known symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and several studies show a benefit to sleep quality after taking magnesium.
Valerian: Used for centuries to calm nerves and improve sleep, valerian is the most often-studied herb for insomnia — with impressive results. In one double-blind study, valerian improved sleep quality and quantity, without the morning “hangover” effect of sleep-inducing drugs. Researchers believe valerian mildly sedates the body’s central nervous system, as well as relaxing the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. Using a combination of valerian and lemon balm has also proven very effective in research trials.
NOTE: Chronic insomnia may indicate a serious health disorder and requires professional attention.
Sources: The Healing Power of Vitamins, Minerals and Herbs, Reader’s Digest:1999; Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements by M Murray, Prima:1996; Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible by E Mindell, Fireside:1998; supplementinfo.org