Natural Alternatives For Insomnia
Many people with insomnia choose herbal remedies for treatment. Some remedies, such as lemon balm or chamomile tea are generally harmless. However, others can have more serious side effects and interactions. It is hard to know if you are getting a consistent dosage of herbs and supplements since they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, the effectiveness of herbal remedies has not been evaluated by the FDA. Check with your healthcare professional if you are trying a herbal remedy. They may interfere with some prescribed medications. St. John’s Wort, for example, can limit the effectiveness of many prescribed medications such as blood thinners, birth control pills and some anticancer medications.
Herbs. There are several herbs thought to help sleep. Examples include chamomile, valerian root, kava kava, lemon balm, passionflower, lavender, and St. John’s Wort. Many people drink chamomile tea for its gentle sedative properties. Although it is generally safe, it may cause allergic reactions in people who have plant or pollen allergies. There is some data showing valerian to be useful for insomnia, but the overall evidence is still inconclusive as to its effectiveness. At high doses, valerian can cause vivid dreams, blurred vision, changes in heart rhythm, and excitability.
Melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone whose levels peak at night. It is triggered by dark and levels remain elevated throughout the night until light decreases it. However, most study results have not found melatonin use to be beneficial when compared to a sugar pill (placebo). Some positive results have been shown in helping jet lag and night shift workers, but simple exposure to light at the right time might be just as effective. Long term effects of melatonin are unknown.
Tryptophan, L-tryptophan. Tryptophan is a basic amino acid used in the formation of the chemical messenger serotonin, a substance in the brain that helps tell your body to sleep. L-tryptophan is a common byproduct of tryptophan, which the body then can change into serotonin. Some studies have shown that L-tryptophan can help you fall asleep faster in both normal sleepers and those with insomnia. These results, however, have not been consistent.
Alternatives to sleep aid medications? Most of the time, changing your sleep environment and bedtime behaviors is recommended either to start with a sleep aid medication or as a first line to try before medication. Why? Behavioral and environmental changes can have as much of an impact if not more than sleep aid medications, without the risk of side effects or dependence.