What natural insomnia remedies are available?
Many alternative treatments are effective in treating both the symptom of insomnia and its underlying causes. Many people with insomnia choose herbal remedies for treating their insomnia. Some such as chamomile tea or lemon balm are harmless for most people. It should be strongly noted that a being labeled "natural" is neither equal to being safe or
necessarily to even being natural. Herbal remedies are not regulated. Some even contain conventional medicines.
Some people find that commercially available GABA taken before bedtime is helpful. Tryptophan is available at compounding pharmacies and can be taken before bed. 5-Hydroxytryptophan is available at most health food stores and can be taken before bed as well. Avoid taking vitamin B6 supplements within 6 hours of taking 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) because vitamin B6 can cause the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin in the blood before it has a chance to cross the blood-brain barrier to increase serotonin in the brain. Excessive serotonin in the blood can be dangerous, which is why it may be safer to use tryptophan rather than 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). Both of these compounds can be converted to serotonin in the brain, which plays a role in sleep. Patients taking SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac, should consult with their physicians prior to taking these agents because the dose of antidepressant may need to be reduced. This is true for St. John's Wort as well.
Passion flower or valerian extract taken in moderation for short- to medium-term treatment of insomnia in conjunction with the other therapies mentioned may be helpful. A study with mice and an aquaeous extract of passion flower showed sedative properties (Soulimani et al. 1997). It is available as a tea, in capsules, and as a tincture.
Valerian helps to fall asleep. Valerian produces a drug-like hypnotic effect within the central nervous system similar to benzodiazepine drugs, such as Valium and Halcion. Because valerian-containing products often are promoted as natural herbal remedies, the public mistakenly believes they are safe to take on a regular basis. Because a tolerance effect occurs with valerian due to its Valium-like properties, people often need to take greater and greater amounts of it as time goes by in order to continue to obtain the desired hypnotic (sleep-inducing) effect.
Some traditional 'cures' for insomnia involve drinking warm milk before bedtime, taking a warm bath in the evening, exercising vigorously for half an hour in the afternoon, eating a large lunch, then a light evening meal at least three hours before bed, avoiding mentally stimulating activities in the evening hours, and paradoxically, making sure to get up early in the morning and to retire to bed at a reasonable hour.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have been treating insomnia sufferers for thousands of years. A typical approach may utilize acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle analysis, herbology and other techniques, with the goal of rebalancing the body's energies to resolve the problem at a subtle level.
Although they seem unscientific, many of these 'cures' are sufficient to break the insomnia cycle without the need for sedatives and sleeping tablets. Warm milk contains high levels of tryptophan, a natural sedative. Lavender oil and other relaxing essential oils may also be used to help induce a state of restfulness.