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Women's Health

Natural Sleep Aids and Remedies

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Are there risks associated with taking valerian?

Valerian is usually well-tolerated for up to a month to six weeks. Sometimes there may be headache or a "hangover" feeling after using valerian. A few studies indicate valerian impairs thinking for a period of time after it is used.

There are no reports of drug interaction with alcohol with valerian. Also, there are no reports of "valerian addiction," like you might find with some pharmaceutical sleep aids. Some people report a stimulating effect with valerian.

Is chamomile a safe sleep remedy?

Chamomile is a popular herbal sleep remedy that's been used for centuries. This herb also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

German chamomile is best taken as a tea. Roman chamomile has a bitter taste and may be taken as a tincture. Both types cause a calming effect in the body for many people, which may help people feel relaxed and more prepared for sleep.

Is kava a safe natural sleep remedy?

Kava, also known as kava kava, is an herbal remedy that's used for stress and anxiety relief and insomnia. Kava acts by way of a different mechanism. It induces relaxation without hindering memory or motor function.

While kava has some sedative properties, it is now considered unsafe. Reports in Europe of more than 20 cases of cirrhosis, hepatitis, and liver failure suggest the possibility of liver toxicity associated with its use.

What about tryptophan as a natural sleep remedy?

Tryptophan is a precursor in the synthesis of serotonin in the brain. That means it's a biochemical substance that is necessary for the formation of the more stable serotonin.

During the late '60s and early '70s, sleep studies suggested that the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in sleep induction. Later on, research in animals showed that destruction of parts of the brain that housed nerve cells containing serotonin could produce total insomnia. Partial damage to these areas of the brain caused variable decreases in sleep. The percentage of destruction of these particular nerve cells correlated with the amount of slow-wave sleep.

Because tryptophan is present in milk and warm milk helps some people feel drowsy, tryptophan became a much sought-after item for the treatment of insomnia at natural food stores. Yet some people who took tryptophan as a natural supplement developed a syndrome with features of a disease called scleroderma. Those features included skin tightening, pain in the joints, muscle aches, and weakness. These people also developed anxiety, depression, and difficulty learning. Some people died. Scientists later believed the deaths were the result of taking the amino acid tryptophan. Not everyone who took tryptophan, however, experienced these side effects. In addition, not everyone who took tryptophan received help for insomnia.

The influence of tryptophan on sleep continues to be studied in major sleep laboratories across the nation. While this amino acid is not available as a natural dietary supplement or sleep remedy, you can easily include tryptophan in your diet through food sources such as turkey, cheese, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk. You can also boost serotonin levels in the brain -- helping you to feel calm and sleepy -- by eating foods rich in carbohydrates.

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