According to recent reports, many people today have a serious problem getting a good night's sleep. Our lives are simply too busy for us to get the 8 hours we really need. To make matters worse, many of us suffer from insomnia. When we do get to bed, we may stay awake thinking for hours. Sleep itself may be restless instead of refreshing.
Most people who sleep substantially less than 8 hours a night experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. The most common are headaches, mental confusion, irritability, malaise, immune deficiencies, depression, and fatigue. Complete sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations and mental collapse.
The best way to improve sleep involves making lifestyle changes: eliminating caffeine and sugar from your diet, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, adopting a regular sleeping time, and gradually turning down the lights. More complex behavioral approaches to improving sleep habits can be adopted as well.
Antidepressants can also be used to correct sleep problems. Low doses of certain antidepressants immediately bring on sleep because their side effects include drowsiness. However, this effect tends to wear off with repeated use. For chronic sleeping problems, full doses of antidepressants can sometimes be helpful. Antidepressants are believed to work by actually altering brain chemistry, which produces a beneficial effect on sleep. Trazadone and amitriptyline are two of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants when improved sleep is desired, but most other antidepressants can be helpful as well.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Although the scientific evidence isn't yet definitive, the herb valerian and the hormone melatonin are widely accepted as treatments for certain forms of insomnia.
However, there have been some positive results, both with valerian alone and valerian combined with other herbs.
any at most
Mixed results like these suggest that valerian is at most modestly helpful for improving sleep.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Valerian article.
The body uses melatonin as part of its normal control of the sleep-wake cycle. The pineal gland makes serotonin and then turns it into melatonin when exposure to light decreases. Strong light (such as sunlight) slows melatonin production more than weak light does, and a completely dark room increases the amount of melatonin made more than a partially darkened room does. Taking melatonin as a supplement seems to stimulate sleep when the natural cycle is disturbed. It may also have a direct sedative effect.
Note: There can be risks in discontinuing benzodiazepine drugs. Consult your physician for advice.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Melatonin article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Other herbs reputed to offer both anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia benefits include ashwagandha , astragalus , chamomile , He shou wu , lady's slipper , passionflower , and skullcap . However, there is again no supporting evidence to indicate that any of these really work.
A number of supplements might offer benefits for improving mental function during periods of sleep deprivation. See the Enhancing Memory and Mental Function article for more information.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 05/04/2015 -