Insomnia can be very difficult to live with. Beside the anxiety of not being able to get to sleep or to stay sleep, there is the problem of sleep deprivation, which affects your ability to function during the daytime hours and can have serious consequences for health and wellbeing. Sleep deprivation can happen to anyone who gets less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep at night but tend to be worse among people who sleep by day and work by night.
Chronic insomnia can result in many sleepless nights, which is the most precarious situation for physical, emotional, and mental health. Living without sleep can lead to depression, heart disease, increased risk of accidents and other serious problems not the least of which are negative effects on one's mood and relationships.
Prescription and Non-prescription Medication
Some people naturally assume that a modern sleep medication prescribed by their doctor is the best ticket out of the problems of insomnia; Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. Barbiturates, which were used in the 1950s and 1960s, were highly addictive and some people died even when they were taking adequate dose of the medications.
The newer medications for insomnia, such as Sonata®, Ambien®, and Restoril® are a different class of medicines than barbiturates but they are not much safer. These medications will help you sleep better but there are side effects of morning grogginess, nighttime amnesia, and respiratory depression during sleep. These medications are almost as addictive as barbiturates.
A dependency on medication can occur so that you can not sleep unless you are continuously taking the medication. There is also the problem of tolerance, which means that you need more and more of the medication to have the same effect when taken over the long term.
There are over the counter sleep preparations that some people buy to help them sleep. Nearly all of these sleep preparations contain diphenhydramine as its major ingredient, which carries the brand name of Benadryl®. This is not addicting but has many anti-cholinergic side effects, such as restless legs syndrome, constipation, and dry mouth.
Unfortunately, we are a pill popping society, and modern medicine often reaches for the prescription pad in treating many health conditions. The lack of less risky viable medical options for sleep, and the risk of addictions have made many people to turn to alternative and complementary measures that can help them sleep without side effects and adverse consequences. Some of these are as follows:
- Valerian root – This herbal remedy can be taken in dried, capsule form as well as in the form of a tea brewed with valerian root. Several studies have shown that this herbal treatment induces a relaxed state of mind, concurring to getting a good night's sleep.
- Chamomile tea – The flowers from chamomile plants make for a good relaxing tea. Follow an herbalist's directions for creating a tea that you can drink before bedtime in order to promote good sleep.
- Passionflower – This is also a good tea or capsule form of an herbal sleep aid. It is weaker than some of the other herbal remedies so it is often used in combination with valerian root or chamomile as an effective sleep aid.
- Hops – Hops are an herbal ingredient used in herbal sleep formulas. It is often combined with the ingredients above as a good all-purpose sleep aid.
- Melatonin – This is not an herb but is an organic hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It seems to fluctuate with the body's natural circadian rhythm, telling the body when it is time to sleep. You can try taking over the counter melatonin for sleep or you can take tryptophan, found in sleep-inducing foods like turkey, milk, and cherries. Tryptophan metabolizes into serotonin, which in turn, turns into melatonin in the body. This is partly why foods containing tryptophan make you sleepy after eating them.
- Yoga – Certain forms of exercise have been found to bring a restful sleep, in particular yoga can be very effective. Yoga is a centuries' old practice involving cases done under a deep state of relaxation. The poses help get the uncomfortable kinks out of your body enough so you can relax into sleep. During yoga, you practice mindful breathing, which also helps induce sleep.
- Qi gong us another form of East Asian exercise that can help you sleep. Rather than striking poses, you go through a series of relaxing body movements combined with breathing and meditation. Qi gong can be done by people at any fitness level and is known to clear the mind in preparation for sleep.
Chronic insomnia has serious health consequences and requires assessment and treatment from a trained medical professional or a sleep specialist whenever possible. This does not mean however that you can not also seek and evaluate the effectiveness of various natural remedies that may be great complementary or possibly alternative therapies to conventional medical care that is focused on prescription drugs.