Valerian is one of the most commonly used sleep remedies for insomnia. Studies have found that valerian improves:
- Deep sleep
- Speed of falling asleep, and
- Overall quality of sleep
Bear in mind however, that herbs can affect people differently, and about 10 percent of people who take valerian tend to actually feel energized by it, which may keep them awake…
In the featured study above, 30 percent of the post-menopausal women participating in this randomized, triple-blind, controlled trial showed an improvement in the quality of their sleep after taking 530 mg of valerian twice a day for four weeks. The authors concluded that:
“Valerian improves the quality of sleep in women with menopause who are experiencing insomnia. Findings from this study add support to the reported effectiveness of valerian in the clinical management of insomnia.”
An earlier study, published in 2001, also found that people who are regularly kept awake at night, plagued by thoughts of work deadlines, relationship problems or other stressful life events might find some relief in the herbs valerian and kava. In that study, adults who had suffered from stress-induced insomnia for over 15 years first received 120 mg daily of kava for 6 weeks. Then, after two weeks off treatment, they received 600 mg of valerian daily for another 6 weeks.
Overall, the participants reported that both herbs significantly relieved their overall symptoms of stress and insomnia, and while the majority, 58 percent, reported no side effects from either treatment, some did experience side effects.
- 16 percent reported vivid dreams after taking valerian, and
- 12 percent experienced dizziness with kava
I personally believe that melatonin is one of the best options available, as far as supplemental sleep aids are concerned. Melatonin is a hormone produced by a pea-sized gland in the middle of your brain called the pineal gland, which is affected by light and dark. At night, when it gets dark, your pineal gland switches “on” and begins producing melatonin to be released into your blood, which makes you feel sleepy. When functioning normally, your melatonin levels will stay elevated for about 12 hours (usually between 9 pm and 9 am). Then, as the sun rises, your pineal gland turns “off” and the melatonin levels in your blood decrease.
The pineal gland’s sensitivity to light and dark explains why the use of light emitting electronic gadgets should be avoided before going to bed, and why something as simple as turning on a light in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom can interfere with your sleep for the rest of the night. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that when you’re taking melatonin as a supplement, lower doses are more effective, so do not make the mistake of thinking that more is better.
The amount of melatonin you create and release every night varies depending on your age. Children usually have much higher levels of melatonin than adults, and your levels typically decrease with advancing age. Researchers believe this may explain why many older adults occasionally experience disrupted sleep patterns. Still, even melatonin is only a short-term solution. The best option if you regularly have trouble sleeping is to try to find out the root cause of your insomnia.
CAUSES OF INSOMNIA
As explained by sleep expert Dr. Rubin Naiman in a previous interview, insomnia is the most commonly reported sleep disorder. To understand why insomnia occurs, you need to understand that sleep is the outcome of an interaction between two variables: sleepiness, and what Dr. Naiman refers to as “noise.”
Ideally and under normal conditions, your sleepiness should gradually increase throughout the day, peaking just before you go to bed at night. In order to get a good night’s sleep, you want your sleepiness level to be high, and the noise level to be low. If “noise” is conceptually greater than your level of sleepiness, you will not fall asleep. Noise” can be any kind of stimulation that inhibits or disrupts sleep, and is generally classified into three zones:
1. Mind–The most common type is referred to as “cognitive popcorn;” unstoppable thoughts running through your mind at night.
2. Body–Such as physical pain, discomfort, indigestion, side effects from prescription drugs, or residual caffeine from drinking coffee too late in the day.
3. Environmental–Environmental noise is usually obvious, such as noises in your room or house, a snoring partner, music, lights, or a bedroom that’s too warm.
More often than not, the reason why people can’t fall asleep is not because of lack of sleepiness, but rather because of excessive noise. Therefore, the questions you need to ask yourself when you can’t sleep is, “Where or what is the noise? Does it originate in my mind, my body, or my environment?” Typically, there are more than one form of noise disturbing your sleep and keeping you awake, so carefully evaluate your environment and inner/outer state to determine ALL the contributing factors, and make sure to address them all.
SLEEPING PILLS — AVOID!
In 2008, Americans filled more than 56 million prescriptions for sleeping pills and spent more than $600 million on over-the-counter sleep aids. However, according to a 2007 analysis of sleeping pill studies financed by the National Institutes of Health, sleeping pills like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata reduced the average time to go to sleep by less than 13 minutes compared to a placebo, which can hardly be considered a worthwhile improvement.
Aside from being pathetically ineffective, sleeping pills also come with a slew of detrimental and potentially dangerous side effects.
For starters, they’re notorious for being addictive, which means that once you want to stop taking them, you’ll likely suffer withdrawal symptoms that could be worse than your initial insomnia. Some sleeping pills may also become less effective when taken for longer than two weeks, which means you may find yourself needing ever higher dosages.
Other common side effects include weight gain, sleep walking, and eating in your sleep. You’re also more apt to get into a traffic accident when using sleeping pills. (Ambien ranks among the top 10 drugs found in the bloodstreams of impaired drivers, according to some state toxicology labs.)
Most people do not realize that certain sleeping pills — those containing Benadryl – can have a half life of about 18 hours. So, if you take them every night, you’re basically sedated for a large portion of the day as well! Not surprisingly, they’re associated with cognitive deficits in the morning.
Many sleeping pills are also a potent anti-cholinergics, which suppress REM sleep and dreaming. These drugs are also known to increase dementia risk in seniors. All in all, there are far better, safer and more effective ways to get a good night’s sleep than resorting to potentially dangerous drugs. For more safe and sane tips to improve your sleep, please see my article 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.
Dr. Pinna says:
What Dr. Mercola has said above is substantially true. However, the real chemical cause of insomnia was not described.
Insomnia is caused by a deficiency of a Neurological Transmitter called GABA. GABA acts on receptors in the brain that inhibits (stops) muscular and nervous transmissions.
When these transmissions are stopped, either because there is insufficient GABA, or the GABA is blocked by another Neurological Transmitter, such as Adrenalin, which excites the brain and nervous system, the body falls into a basic survival mode that we call “Sleep.”
During sleep, our neurons stimulate breathing and not much more. Dreams are found during the entry period of sleep and then again before waking. Dreams are a connecting phenomenon with the spiritual world that exists alongside the physical world that we call “Reality.”
The spiritual world is constantly examining the physical world in order to extract all experience.
Our dreams are not rehearsals of the future, or remembrance of the past, but, rather, permutations of our existence. It is as though our spiritual side wants to know, not what happened or will happen, but, what could happen.
That is why babies and infants spend so much time sleeping and dreaming. They are examining the potentials of their new life.
Without dreams we cannot sleep. Although one function of sleep is dreaming, the other function is restoration of our metabolism to a basic state, so that all repairs can be made to the billions of cells in our body.
Sleep is possibly the closest we can get to our spiritual world. In Western Societies, most people try to avoid seeing the Spiritual Side of their lives…