Good Sleep: Can It Still Be Simple?
All's quiet, yet you still can't sleep. Do you really need a NASA-designed pillow or a computerized bed to fix your sleep problems?
A Nod to Sleep Drugs
Medications can provide relief from insomnia, to get your biological clock back on track, says Lorenzo. "Sleeping pills should be a short-term answer -- five to 10 days max. But there are lots of patients who take them constantly, who depend on them year-round."
"Doctor and patient need to sort out the underlying cause of any sleep problem," Twery adds. "However, for some people, these medications may be something to get them back to their daily routine."
One class of drugs, the benzodiazepines, includes Klonopin, Valium, and Restoril. A relatively new class of sleep drugs called the non-benzodiazepine hypnotics (Lunesta, Ambien, Sonata) does not have the habit-forming risks of benzodiazepines, says Lorenzo. "But if you're using those pills for a long time, it makes better sense to see if anything else can treat the insomnia... to change some bad habits," she notes.
Natural Sleep Remedies
One simple sleep potion: A glass of warm milk. Milk contains the sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan, Lorenzo says.
Many people try herbal supplements to tame their insomnia. "My patients come to me after they've tried valerian and chamomile tea," says Lorenzo. Some studies have suggested that valerian can help promote sleep, but it is not FDA-approved. Chamomile is commonly used and considered safe by the FDA.
Melatonin has shown great promise, Lorenzo says. Melatonin is a hormone the body naturally produces at night and is thought to help initiate sleep. Melatonin supplements have been available in health food stores for quite awhile, but they are not FDA-approved, so their purity and safety are not known, she notes.
A medication which works on the melatonin system, called Rozerem, was FDA-approved last year, Lorenzo tells WebMD. Rozerem works by stimulating the body's melatonin receptors. "Clinical studies have shown that it helps with insomnia. Since it doesn't work at all like sleeping pills, we won't have any dependency issues."
Research has shown that melatonin prompts brain neurons to regulate the biological clock, Twery says. "The advantage of melatonin is that it comes from natural sources. Synthetic melatonin brings purity and better safety in terms of accurate dosage. That's a nice step forward. However, the research hasn't fully worked out details about long-term use of synthetic melatonin."
What else can lull you to sleep? Getting regular exercise (no more than three or four hours before bedtime, so your body temperature has time to come back down, says Lorenzo). Relaxation and meditation can tame intrusive thoughts and tension. Acupuncture is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat insomnia.
But if you think you have a chronic sleep problem, go to your doctor, Twery tells WebMD. "Discuss the nature of your condition. A doctor can look at your overall health and offer solutions that might work more completely. It can be very hard to sort these issues out and may take several visits to come up with the solutions."
Published March 6, 2006.