Many of us will go through periods in life where we struggle to sleep. For some it is just a passing blip while for others it can be more of a chronic condition. Often after a while people feel like they need to resort to taken sleeping medication to help them but while this may provide some temporary relief there are two major problems with taking sleeping pills. The first is that the sleep you get is not of the same quality as natural sleep, so even if you spend seven or eight hours asleep you will not wake feeling as good in the morning compared to having natural sleep. The other major issue is that the longer you take them the harder you will find to get to sleep without them. In other words, you can fast become dependent on sleeping pills, which is a terrible place to be. Either way, while sleeping pills can help as a short term stopgap measure, you do not want to take them for any sustained period of time.
Natural is better
Fortunately, you there are many natural supplements that you can take to help you sleep that are very effective but do not have the same negative consequences as sleeping pills. The reason that sleeping pills do not give you the same quality sleep is that they will generally limit the number of sleep stages you go through. In natural sleep you go through a total of five sleep stages, four non-REM stages and one REM stage. You will generally cycle through these five stages several times in the night and to have a restorative night’s sleep you need to go through all five at least once. That is why you will wake feeling terrible if you have been disturbed several times in the night as even if you go straight back to sleep, you have been knocked out of the cycle and will start again at the first stage of sleep when you go back to sleep. Many sleeping pills do not allow you to go through these natural stages and this is why you do not get as good a quality sleep.
But not all natural
Be warned that just because something is ‘natural’ does not instantly make it better for you. There has been a huge shift in public consciousness in the last few decades and now terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are used to promote all kinds of products. Certainly these can be useful terms, but you really need to dig deeper than these convenient labels that to ensure that you are getting a good product. Many unscrupulous firms use these terms even though they do not have any credible reason to do so. That is why not all products labelled as ‘natural’ should be assumed to be good. However, some are excellent and below is a list of natural sleep supplements that really work and they work because they work naturally with the body to help it get healthy sleep.
Listen to the experts
When considering something as fundamentally important to wellbeing and health as sleep it pays to listen to the experts. Ignore the adverts of companies who only want to make a quick buck and pay attention to the scientific professionals who have dedicated their lives to understanding this phenomenon. The following advice on natural sleep supplements has been taken from two sleep experts, Doctor Sharon Plank, with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Center for Integrative Medicine, and Doctor Alon Avidan, a sleep researcher at the UCLA School of Medicine. They recommend four different supplements, and advise that people seek an expert medical opinion before trying any of these supplements. They also offer the caveat that each works differently for different people and that people should try one first and if they do not get the requisite results, should then try another.
The four supplements are:
• Chamomile tea
Chamomile tea’s sleep inducing properties have been recognised for many thousands of years and a number of more recent scientific studies have proven that chamomile tea really does help calm people. In a study done by Japanese researchers it was found that a chamomile extract help rats fall asleep as fast as they did when they were given benzodiazepine (which is a very strong tranquilizing medication). While it is still early days on the research into chamomile, the reality is that it is a widely consumed drink that is seen to be very safe and has no side effects. That said, it is recommended that you use chamomile cautiously if you are allergic to ragweed (as the plants are related). Also, you should not have chamomile tea if you are pregnant or nursing.
Plank’s advice is: “The trick is to make sure you are brewing it properly. Use two or three tea bags. Then put a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water -- so you get the medicinal effects of the tea.”
Melatonin is the hormone that the body clock uses to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, it is naturally occurring and is produced in the body when light levels drop past a certain intensity and change in hue. A rise in melatonin in the body makes a person tired and this hormone plays a central role in the natural sleep-wake cycle. There have been several research projects that have looked at melatonin’s role in sleep and they have found that it not only helps people to go to sleep but also plays a role in the quality of the sleep. “Melatonin comes in two forms -- extended release and immediate release,” explains Plank. “If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take extended release before you go to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, try immediate release.”
Avidan says that “melatonin supplements can be effective in treating certain sleep disorders, including jet lag.” However, it must be taken at the right time to help with jet lag, specifically you take it on the day you leave when it would be time to go to bed at your destination. Then take it at the same time for the next few days.
While melatonin is seen as being safe for a short period of time, there have been no studies on long term use and there are potential issues with bleeding and the possibility of an increased risk of seizures so be wary when taking it.
Like chamomile, valerian root has been used for its sleep inducing properties for many thousands of years and recent scientific studies have confirmed that it does help people fall asleep faster. A meta-review of 16 recent studies of valerian root have all shown that people who have taken valerian root fall asleep faster than those who have not. Valerian root works better after you have been taking it for a while so to get the full effect you need to take it consistently over several days or weeks. Start by taking a lower dose, then gradually increase this over several days’ time. Valerian is considered safe to take for up to four to six weeks, but should not be taken any longer than this. However, many people report having upset stomachs, morning fogginess and headaches after having valerian root so monitor yourself and stop taking it if the side effects are too much. It is also recommended that you avoid taking it when you have been consuming alcohol.
The kava plant is well known in the South Pacific and has been used for many years as a sleep aid. A recent meta-review of the scientific literature on kava has shown that it helped to reduce anxiety while another found that it was very effective when taken by people who have got stress-related insomnia. Again, kava is seen as being safe to take for short periods of time and is especially good for anyone who suffers from anxiety and stress. However, it should not be taken by people who drink alcohol or are taking any medicine that is metabolised in the liver, such as cholesterol medication. It has even been linked to an increased risk of liver damage so it is best to consult your doctor before taking it.
It needs to be repeated that while these natural supplements have all been tested and found to be relatively safe for short term use it is recommended that you talk to your doctor before taking them (though chamomile tea can be seen as being the least concerning of the four and most people will already have tried it).
Also important to remember is that if you have chronic issues with sleep, you should seek expert medical help as while supplements can help you to sleep to really get on top of your problem it is best to try and find what is causing the issue so that you can find a cure.
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