Explore natural sleep remedies

Sleep is a natural process designed to recharge the body and mind. Although some people find no difficulty in settling down for the night, many others profess to have periodic or chronic sleep problems. But before asking doctors to reach for their prescription pads, men and women struggling to fall asleep at night may want to consider some all-natural remedies to help them get a good night’s rest.

Delta Sleep Labs says between 20 and 40 percent of all adults have insomnia in the course of any year, and more than 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and wakefulness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic that can result in difficulty performing daily tasks, hypertension, depression, and even obesity.

While sleeping pills can be effective, they pose the risk of dependence and also may carry with them dangerous side effects. Some individuals have driven or engaged in other potentially dangerous activities while under the influence of sleeping pills. No such side effects have been associated with natural remedies.

When lifestyle changes, such as limiting caffeine intake or creating asleep hygiene program, fail to produce the desired results, the following natural remedies, when used as directed, may help men and women get a better night’s rest.

• Meditation: Focusing on breathing and employing visualization may help relax the body into a state where it can drift off to sleep. In addition to calming the mind, meditation can reduce stress and hormone levels. Picturing a relaxing scene and focusing on all the senses involved in that scene may put you in a peaceful state of mind that makes it easier to fall asleep.

• Distraction: Although there are conflicting reports as to whether reading or watching television before going to be can be a help or a hindrance, some people with insomnia do find these actions can help induce sleep. Choose a book or a program that isn’t stimulating to distract yourself from anything that is causing distress. Doing so can create a state of relaxation that makes it easier to fall asleep. Use the sleep timer on the television to automatically turn of the TV after a set number of minutes, so you are not woken from sleep by a loud show after drifting off.

• Aromatherapy: Calming scents can relax the body. Preliminary research suggests that lavender essential oil may lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep and help people feel refreshed in the morning, particularly for women who have a more acute sense of smell than men. Put a few drops of lavender on a pillow before retiring to bed, or take a relaxing bath with the oil mixed into the bath water.

• Magnesium: Magnesium is a natural sedative. Foods rich in magnesium include dark green, leafy vegetables, almonds, whole grains, and legumes. Magnesium supplements also are available, and these are usually taken in a specific ratio with calcium to be the most effective.

• Valerian: Valerian is a natural herbal remedy that grows in the form of a tall, flowering grassland plant. The roots are ground to produce the supplement that could assist with sleep. The Mayo Clinic notes that several small studies indicate that valerian may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and help you sleep better. Other studies have shown valerian to be no more effective than a placebo. However, with relatively few side effects, valerian may be worth a try.

• Lemon balm: This herbal supplement and tea works in a similar method to valerian. It is said to relieve anxiety and calm nerves, which could be infringing on your ability to fall asleep.

• Acupuncture: A study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for insomnia. The study found that five weeks of acupuncture increased melatonin secretion in the evening and improved total sleep time.

• Melatonin supplements: A naturally occurring hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle in the brain, melatonin is produced when darkness falls. According to a Journal of Sleep Research study, time-release melatonin supplementation was effective in reducing sleeplatency and improving sleep quality. Lower doses of melatonin have been shown to be as effective as higher doses, so less is often more with melatonin.

Insomnia can often be traced to anxiety and an overactive mind. However, it also may be a side effect of medication or a symptom of a larger condition. Speak with a doctor if insomnia becomes chronic or problematic.

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