The night is dark and silent...well, except for your slightly snoring husband lying next to you, a big undefined lump curled under the covers. Although the pillow-top mattress is brand new, you're finding it hard to get comfortable. The illuminated green numbers on your alarm clock tick continuously forward, mocking you with their rapid march toward dawn.
"If only I could sleep!" you think to yourself. "I might as well be downstairs watching TV and getting the kid's school lunches packed. Speaking of the kids...Sara has a doctor's appointment tomorrow at noon. I hope the school doesn't give me trouble for taking her out for another appointment. Sam has his big social studies test tomorrow. I hope he's prepared. We certainly went over the material enough. I also need to do some grocery shopping...need to balance the checkbook before I can do that though. Oh shoot! Did I subtract my last purchase at Target? I don't think I did. GREAT! I think I might be overdrawn. Maybe I should go check right now. I also need to pee and get a drink of water so I'll just get up and do a few things...maybe that will wear me out and I can get a couple hours of sleep before the alarm goes off."
Sound familiar? As parents, working or stay-at-home, I suspect we've all suffered insomnia at some point during our lives. I know I have. And truly, is there anything worse than having a mind which just won't shut down or a body causing physical discomfort while trying to get some much needed rest? It's not really surprising sleep issues are such a common complaint among adults...and yes, among autistic children as well. These days, parents are juggling fifty (or more) balls...and they're all up in the air just waiting to cascade down on us at any moment. It's a true cause for stress and anxiety. With autistic children, insomnia seems more a result of severe digestive issues.
Insomnia is simply lack of sleep on a regular basis.
Chronic insomnia can also be the result of an underlying health condition such as depression, menopause, lung disease, certain heart conditions, digestive issues/food allergies, sleep apnea, or even diabetes. So please check with your naturopath, homeopath, or medical doctor before simply assuming the lack of appropriate sleep is caused by stress or anxiety.
As always, do your research before putting anything in your body. This includes both pharmaceutical and herbal, holistic type remedies.
Natural Sleep Aids
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by our bodies in the pineal gland
which is located at the center of our brains. Darkness causes our
brains to produce this hormone which usually causes a sleepy, lethargic feeling
to occur. Any light at all can cause a disruption of melanin...so always
keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Melatonin regulates our bodies
circadian rhythms, also known as our wake/sleep cycles over each 24 hour
There are two types of melatonin...natural and synthetic. From my
research, it appears most choose the synthetic time release capsules as they
more closely resemble the molecular make-up of melanin, without the risk of
animal parts which could possible carry disease or viruses.
Funny how pharmaceutical manufacturers are worried about animal parts and the
potential for disease transmission in melatonin...yet they put chicken embryos
and monkey blood & tissue in vaccinations.
Melatonin should be taken 20 to 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Dosage
recommendations suggest starting at 1 mg and increasing 0.5 mg every night until
sustainable, restful sleep is obtained. However, if you feel hungover in
the morning...you've taken too much and should decrease your dosage by 0.5 mg
until that groggy morning feeling subsides. The average dose for adults (and some
kids too), is 3 to 5 mg, although I've heard of people taking as much as
20 mg with no residual effects.
No real side effects have been reported other than slow reaction time and
lethargy. This is my top choice for a natural sleep aid, as our bodies
already naturally produce this hormone. Not only does it aid with sleep,
it's also an antioxidant, an anti-depressant, an immune booster, and a
dietary supplement. If you find it's not working for you, I suggest
increasing your dosage. Like with any sleep aid, DO NOT take if you plan
on driving or operating heavy machinery.
2. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian root is a plant indigenous to Europe and Asia. It's been used
since the time of the ancient Greek and Roman empires for maladies such
as sleeping problems, digestive complaints, nervousness, trembling, tension
headaches and heart palpitations.
I know of several people who use this in combination with melatonin.
Valerian works by increasing the body's supply of gamma aminobutyric acid
(GABA), a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. One huge benefit
of Valerian is the lack of 'hangovers' or feelings of grogginess the following
Some side effects include headache, vivid dreams, dizziness, itchiness, and
upset stomach. Also, if you have a known history of liver issues, this
supplement is not for you, as it's metabolized in the liver.
Adults may use the following amounts of valerian to relieve insomnia by
taking it 30 to 45 minutes prior to bedtime:
- 2–3 g dried root in tea, up to several times daily
- 1/4–1/2 tsp (1–3 mL) valerian tincture, up to several times daily
- 1/4 tsp (1–2 mL) fluid extract
- 150–300 mg valerian extract, standardized to contain0.8% valerenic acid
It may take one to two weeks of regular use before the herbal preparation
When giving valerian to children, recommended adult dosages should be
adjusted in proportion to the child's weight. Most dosages of herbal products
are calculated for an adult weighing 150 lb (70 kg). A child weighing 75 lb (35
kg) should therefore receive 1/2 the adult dose.
Again, this can be found at your local health food store or at iherb.
4. 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)
Think back to Thanksgiving day. Remember eating that huge turkey-filled
meal and then feeling a desire to do nothing but curl up on the couch and
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin in the brain. Serotonin plays a
role in sleep induction and it relies on tryptophan to aid in its
formation. While you can get tryptophan in supplement form at iherb, you can also
find this amino acid in various foods, as well. Foods like turkey, milk,
beans, nuts, cheese and eggs are full of tryptophan. You can also boost
serotonin levels in the brain by eating foods high in carbohydrates.
Dosage recommendations for insomnia are 1000 to 2500 mg daily.
5-HTP is a derivative of the amino acid tryptophan, which is used to
boost serotonin levels in the body. 5-HTP is also the precursor of melatonin,
which regulates sleep cycles.
5-HTP has been shown to aid with insomnia, depression, anxiety, appetite
control, and pain issues and is about five times more potent than regular
Dosage is up to 100 mg daily.
Foods To Avoid, according to Holistic
- Spicy foods
- Stimulant drugs
- Refined carbohydrates
- Non-organic foods containing pesticides.
- Canned foods or any source of toxicity or heavy metals.
- Sugar and foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. These raise
blood-sugar levels and can cause a burst of energy that disturbs sleep.
- Foods that are likely to cause gas, heartburn, or indigestion, such as fatty
or spicy foods, garlic-flavored foods, beans, cucumbers, and peanuts.
- Foods such as meat that are high in protein can inhibit sleep by blocking
the synthesis of serotonin, making us feel more alert.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG), often found in Chinese food. This causes a
stimulant reaction in some people.
- Avoid cigarettes and tobacco. While smoking may seem to have a calming
effect, nicotine is actually a neurostimulant and can cause sleep
Foods to eat, according to Holistic
- Chlorophyll-rich foods, such as leafy, green. vegetables, steamed or
- Microalgae, such as chlorella and spirulina.
- Oyster shell can be purchased in health food stores and taken as a
- Whole grains: Whole wheat, brown rice, and oats have a calming and soothing
effect on the nervous system and the mind (unless, of course, you're on the
gluten free diet...then this is a huge no-no).
- Carbohydrates also boost serotonin, which promotes better sleep.
- Mushrooms (all types)
- Fruit, especially mulberries and lemons, which calm the mind.
- Seeds--jujube seeds are used to calm the spirit and support the heart. Chia
seeds also have a sedative effect.
- Magnesium rich foods
Diet plays a very important role in the quality and quantity of sleep,
as you can tell, as well as our overall health.
6. Some other suggestions
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga, visualization, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Aromatherapy--lavender, in particular, has sedative qualities.
- Light--make sure you get adequate amounts of light in the morning and afternoon to help set your circadian rhythm.
- Music--gentle, slow music is another remedy that can help to improve sleep without medication. Music has been found to improve sleep quality, decrease nightly wakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
- Chamomile, hops, passionflower, lemon balm, and ashwagandha are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. Some people may find benefit from simply having a cup of chamomile tea one to two hours before going to bed. Chamomile can reduce anxiety, calm the digestive system, and relieve muscle tension.
My recommendation is to use a few of these suggestions in combination for a healthy, restful night's sleep.