Jana Barber, a teacher in San Francisco, has had insomnia off and on for 20
years. She's learned to function on just a few hours a night, but sometimes,
she says, lack of sleep catches up with her. "I get really ragged sometimes,"
she admits. "When you haven't slept, it's tough to keep your sense of humor --
and your patience -- and you need both when you work with kids."
What are the options for people like Barber, who don't want to take
prescription sleep medications but crave a good night's sleep? WebMD consulted
some sleep experts about "natural" sleep aids to learn more about how -- and
how well -- they really work.
Anna and her husband go to bed at the same time. That’s the only part of their sleep routine that they have in common.
"We have very distinct sleep patterns and sleep issues," says Anna, 42, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy. “My husband tends to fall asleep easily but he wakes up incredibly early. I have trouble falling asleep."
The couple, who teach at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, have learned various coping strategies so that they can both get enough sleep...
Valerian is a dietary supplement that has been used since ancient
times to combat insomnia and nervousness. Although many people use valerian as
a sleep aid, its effectiveness in treating insomnia has not been proven in
well-designed scientific studies. Jawad Miran, DO, a sleep medicine
specialist at Somerset Medical Center's Sleep For Life program in Hillsborough,
N.J., cautions that that there is little consistency in the quality or
ingredients of valerian preparations on the market today: "There is no one
compound which is valerian, rather there are numerous compounds in varying
amounts," says Miran. He says most doctors he knows don't recommend valerian to
their patients with insomnia.
Chamomile, like valerian, is a traditional herbal remedy that has
been used since ancient times to fight insomnia and a wide range of other
health complaints. Chamomile is sold in the form of tea, extract, and topical
ointment. Chamomile is widely available in health food stores and supermarkets.
Chamomile's effectiveness as a sleep aid has not been widely researched in
humans, but in animal studies it has been shown to be a mild sleep
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the
brain. Melatonin is believed to play a central role in regulating sleep and
circadian rhythms. Synthetic melatonin is a popular dietary supplement that is
sold as a sleeping aid and antioxidant. According to Miran, there is evidence
that melatonin eases circadian rhythm disorders like jet lag and delayed sleep
phase disorders, but it hasn't been proven effective in treating insomnia or
improving sleep quality.
While scientific research has not proven the effectiveness of many natural
sleep aids, that doesn’t mean they won’t help you sleep, says sleep specialist
Lisa Shives, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "The
research has not been robust," she says, still, some of her patients find these
dietary supplements effective. "People like to feel they are taking something,"
she points out. "Research shows that even prescription sleep medications
aren't that effective in treating sleep problems, so if my patients find herbal
sleep aids helpful, I don't discourage them."