There are three basic patters of sleep disorders: difficulty in falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night and awakening too early in the morning. If sleep disruption continues over an extended period of time, powers of concentration and physical and mental performance will suffer, because sound sleep is vital to mind-body health. Sleep disorders have many causes: anxiety, alcohol, heavy meals or such external conditions as loud noizses and bright lights. Hormone imbalances in the brain can also trigger sleeplessness. The pituitary gland plays a key role in the regulation of brain hormones, including melatonin, which is made by the pineal gland and is the main regulator of the sleeping and waking cycles. Normally, levels of melatonin rise in the evening, causing drowsiness and a slowed heart rate. However, as people age, melatonin levels diminish and insomnia may result. Modern lifestyle factors, such as too little sunlight exposure during the day and too much artificial light at night, can also suppress melatonin levels and disrupt normal sleep cycles. Natural medicine offers a number of safe and effective remedies to restore healthy sleep patterns.
A sleep diary
Keep a sleep diary for a period of 2 weeks to help you and your physician determine the reason for your sleep disorder. Take note of the following:
- The time you go to bed
- The time you get up
- Any foods, drinks (including alcohol) or medications you take after 5 pm
- Any factors that interfere with your sleep
- Thoughts that occupy your mind at night
What you can do
After noon, avoid beverages or foods that contain caffeine. Don't eat just before going to bed, although spirulina or soy nuts are fine because they enhance melatonin production. Eliminate noise, light and other factors that might keep you awake. Autogenic training, a relaxation method you can teach yourself to do, can help you get to sleep. Stress reduction measures are also important because they increase melatonin levels.
Treat yourself well
After a difficult or long day, spend the evening relaxing: listen to music, read or take a bath. If you are sedentary during the day, a 30-min evening walk could prove quite beneficial.
Create an ideal environment
Dedicate your sleeping area solely to sleeping. Remove electronic diversions, such as the television or radio. Keep the room temperature above 56 deg F, and make sure the air is not too dry. Sleep on a firm but comfortable mattress, and use natural bedding materials that breathe, such as cotton, silk or feathers.
Take a warm bath
Relax with an evening bath. The water should be about 104 deg F. add lemon balm, lavender, hops or valeria extract to the water. These herbs have a soothing effect that promotes drowsiness and will help you sleep.
Extra tip : Some people find that fragrant pillows are particularly effective for promoting sound sleep. You can make an herb pillow yourself: simply fill a small linen bag with valerian root, lavender or lemon balm and tie it closed.
This remedy for insomnia and anxiety requires a handheld bath or shower jet. It consists of 2 cold water jet treatment per leg, a quick 15 sec circle around the back of each leg, followed by a circle across the front. Start with the right leg. Move the water jet from the little toe to the heel then to the back of the knee via the outside of the calf, and then back along the inside of the calf to the heel. Repeat these steps on the left leg. Apply the second treatment from the outer edge of the heel via the front of the leg to the knee and back, ending at the big toe. Repeat these steps on the left leg.
There is a wide array of relaxing and sleep-inducing medicinal herbs. Those most frequently recommended for sleep disorders include valerian, lemon balm, hop cones, St. John's wort and passion flower. If an individual herb does not have the desired sedative effect, you can purchase a prepared tea mix from a health-food or herbal store or prepare your own soothing blend:
- 3 ½ oz. valerian root
- ½ oz. lemon balm leaves
- 2/3 oz. hop cones
- ½ oz. passionflower
- 1/3 oz. Seville orange rind
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tbsp. of this blend; steep for 10-15 min and strain.
Sleep promoting aids
The melatonin produced in our bodies helps regulate the body's sleeping and walking cycles. Thus, taking melatonin supplements can help alleviate general sleep disorders. Take as directed on the bottle about 20 min. before bedtime. Do not mix melatonin supplements with other sleeping agents.
Passiflora incarnate (Passionflower) is sometimes recommended for insomnia. Add 5-10 drops of the tincture to a glass of warm water and drink shortly before bedtime.