In our 24/7 society, far too many Americans see sleep as a luxury rather than a necessity. We have no problem spending long hours at work and then adding other activities that can turn a busy day into a positively grinding experience. Something's got to give, so we delay our mental and physical recharge and skimp on sleep. When we finally do lie down, our busy minds aren’t always so willing to rest.
“Insomnia is a complex condition often caused by a number of factors,” says Qanta Ahmed, MD, a sleep specialist at the Winthrop-University Hospital Sleep Disorders Center in Mineola, N.Y. “Addressing those factors often requires lifestyle and environmental changes.”
No matter what its cause, insomnia is the most common sleep complaint among Americans. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 30% to 40% of adults say they suffer from occasional insomnia. And 10% to 15% of Americans say they have trouble sleeping all the time.
When insomnia strikes, one option is to try prescription sleep aids. But there are a number of other effective natural sleep remedies available to you. Lifestyle changes, as well as foods, supplements, and herbal supplements may help you get restful sleep.
Here are a few to try when you’ve counted your last sheep:
Natural Insomnia Remedies: Foods, Herbs, and Supplements
Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulates the sleep/wake cycle, an internal pacemaker that regulates the timing and our drive for sleep in humans. It causes drowsiness, lowers body temperature, slows metabolic functions, and puts the body into sleep mode.
Research on melatonin in people with insomnia is mixed. One study showed that taking melatonin restored and improved sleep in people with insomnia. Other studies show that melatonin does not help people with insomnia stay asleep. Melatonin is not regulated by the FDA and can have problems with purity. It is only advised for people with circadian rhythm issues, and it should never be given to children or taken by someone on other medications. You should only use melatonin under close supervision by a doctor.
Warm milk. You can put a tasty spin on your grandmother’s natural insomnia remedy by sipping warm milk before bed. Almond milk is an excellent source of calcium, which helps the brain produce melatonin. Plus, warm milk may spark pleasant and relaxing memories of your mother helping you fall asleep.
Sleepy-time snacks. Harris says the best sleep-inducing foods include a combination of protein and carbohydrates. She suggests a light snack of half a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter or a whole wheat cracker with some cheese. Eat one of these snacks about 30 minutes before hitting the hay.
Magnesium. Magnesium apparently plays a key role in the regulation of sleep. Research has shown that even marginal magnesium deficiency can prevent the brain from settling down at night. One of the most absorbable forms of magnesium is magnesium citrate powder, available in health food stores. Try taking two doses, following label directions, a day, with the second dose right before bed. You can also get magnesium from food. Good sources include green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and almonds.