A sound night’s sleep is essential to maintaining good physical and mental health. Lack of sleep can contribute directly to numerous medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, breathing difficulties, kidney disease, diabetes and obesity. Insufficient sleep can also adversely affect mood, memory and rational thinking. Prescription drugs and over the counter sleep aids often have undesirable side effects, and can be dangerous. There are, however, some healthy natural alternatives.
Known to promote relaxation, valerian root has been used to treat insomnia and anxiety for centuries. It works by increasing the gamma aminobutryic acid, or GABA, level in the brain, which results in a calming effect that promotes sound sleep. Valerian root can be taken brewed as a tea, and is also available in capsule form at health food stores.
Produced naturally by the pineal gland, melatonin regulates the human body’s circadian rhythms, including the sleeping/waking cycle. As people age, however, the body’s production of melatonin may slow, which can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia. Taken in small doses as a dietary supplement, Melatonin can help promote restful sleep.
The same substance found in turkey that makes us ready for a nap after Thanksgiving Dinner, tryptophan is often used as a treatment for insomnia. Tryptophan produces serotonin, which in turn makes melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles. Available as a dietary supplement at health food stores, tryptophan is also found naturally in legumes, nuts and dairy products.
Also called “sleep tea”, chamomile has long been recognized for its sleep-inducing effects. Chamomile is also considered by many to be a mild tranquilizer. In addition to being a natural sleep aid, chamomile helps reduce anxiety and relieve depression.
Research by the National Sleep Foundation shows that even as little as 10 minutes of cycling, walking or similar aerobic exercise on a regular basis can significantly improve sleep quality. The studies also indicate exercise can reduce the risk of sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders.
The Right Mattress
Something as simple as replacing that old, sagging mattress in many instances can result in immediate relief from insomnia and other sleep ailments.
As with any physical disorder, it is advisable to consult with your health care provider before taking sleep inducing supplements or beginning an exercise regime.