With so much going on this time of year, many of you are losing sleep. Perhaps it’s because you have too much going on and your mind is racing once you lie your head down. Or it could be too much caffeine, too little exercise, or late night screen time before finally closing your eyes. Sleep supplements might be a good option for a short-term solution to falling asleep and staying asleep, but before trying sleep supplements, doctors suggest taking these steps to sleep better.
- Keep noise and light to a minimum. Use earplugs, window blinds, heavy curtains, or an eye mask.
- Avoid large meals two hours before bedtime. A light snack is fine.
- Don’t drink caffeine, including tea and soft drinks, four to six hours before bedtime.
- Regular exercise like walking will reduce stress hormones and help you sleep better. But don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime. You may have more difficulty falling asleep.
- Don’t nap late in the afternoon.
- Stop working on any task an hour before bedtime to calm your brain.
- Don’t discuss emotional issues right before bedtime.
- Keep pets outside your sleeping area if you can.
- Make sure your bedroom is well ventilated and at a comfortable temperature.
- Learn a relaxation technique like meditation or progressive relaxation.
Changing habits can help, but if that still isn’t enough, consider taking supplements to get your body and mind in rhythm for a good night’s sleep. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you should take a specific supplement and start with a low dose. Also, don’t take any sleep supplement long-term. It’s important to make other lifestyle changes to make sure other things aren’t interfering with sleep.
What’s been proven to work? What’s safe?
- Chamomile tea
Chamomile Tea for Sleep
People have used chamomile tea for sleep for thousands of years and studies confirm its calming effect. Experts agree that more studies are needed, but the FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects.
However, use chamomile with caution if you are allergic to ragweed. Also, don’t take chamomile tea if you are pregnant or nursing.
Melatonin for Sleep
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle – also known as circadian rhythm. Studies show that melatonin not only helps some people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. There are two forms of melatonin. You can take the extended release capsules if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night. If you have trouble falling asleep, the immediate release form could be right for you.
Melatonin supplements can be effective in treating jet lag, too. Many of us travel quite a bit for work which can disrupt our sleep cycle. But, studies suggest you must time the melatonin you take carefully to help with jet lag. On the day you depart, take melatonin when it is bedtime at your destination. Continue taking it for several days. It works best when traveling eastward — and when crossing four or more time zones.A few cautions: Melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use. However, there have been concerns about risks of bleeding—especially in people taking blood-thinners like warfarin. There also is increased risk of seizure, particularly in children with brain disorders.
Valerian for Sleep
Valerian root has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years.
Studies suggests that valerian may help people fall to sleep faster and may also improve the quality of sleep. Valerian becomes more effective over time, so it’s best to take it every night for a short period of time.
Some people have stomach upset, headache, or morning grogginess with valerian. Taking valerian with sleeping medications or with alcohol can compound its effect, so don’t use it with other sleep aids. Start with the lowest dose, then increase over several days’ time. Valerian is considered safe to take for four to six weeks.
Kava for Sleep
The Kava plant has been shown to help relieve anxiety. One review of six studies showed reduced anxiety among patients who took kava, compared with those who got a placebo. Another small study showed that both kava and valerian improved sleep in people with stress-related insomnia.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says that short-term use of kava is okay for patients with mild to moderate anxiety — but not if you use alcohol or take medicines metabolized in the liver, including many cholesterol medicines. In fact, the FDA has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk for severe liver damage. Before taking kava, ask your doctor if kava is safe for you.
If changing your lifestyle and taking supplements still aren’t providing good sleep results, talk to your doctor about whether or not a prescription medication option if right for you.