natural help for insomnia

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If you're only dreaming of a good night's sleep, these natural remedies may help you catch some Z's

There's a Slew of reasons why so many of us are tired and wired — drained of energy, fatigued most of the time, yet unable to sleep soundly through the night: bad food choices, too little exercise, toxic relationships, financial insecurity, medication side effects, depression. The list goes on, to be sure. Whatever the reason, the fact is, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 58 percent of adults report having insomnia at least a few nights a week.

That's serious, folks. An awful lot of good things happen while you're sleeping — replacement of important brain chemicals and the release of important hormones, such as melatonin and human growth hormone, just for openers. Lack of sleep raises other hormones such as cortisol, which, when chronically elevated, can lead to weight gain and even cause some shrinking of the hippocampus, a critical part of the brain involved in memory and thinking. Keep depriving your body of the sleep it needs (and deserves) and eventually — like a house with a faulty foundation — it'll simply collapse.

Even moderate sleep deprivation will impact your stamina, judgment, coordination, mood, and immune system. But before you reach for those widely advertised sleep medications, why not try some easy nontoxic natural alternatives first? They may help you fall asleep and stay asleep, and the benefits to your health will be enormous.

Exercise early and often: People who are in good shape tend to sleep well. Regular exercise can help get/keep you in shape as well as help you sleep. Be sure to finish your workout at least three hours before bedtime.
Clear your mind: An hour or two before sleep, write a list of everything you're worried about or all the things you need to do, then put it away — physically and emotionally.
Skip the nightcap: Alcohol is a depressant, but can also be a stimulant, so while a drink before bed may help you fall asleep, it stimulates your system a few hours later, and your sleep cycles are disrupted. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one or two drinks a day; three hours before bedtime, enforce a prohibition.
Watch out for caffeine: As any double-latte drinker knows, caffeine wakes you up (which is why we love it so much). Coffee, chocolate, colas, teas, and pain relievers will leave you, well, caffeinated. Caffeine disrupts the signals from adenosine, the chemical that helps drive our need for sleep, so ban the stimulant at least six hours before bedtime. It stays in your system longer than you might think.
Set your internal clock: As much as you might hate sticking to a schedule, your body loves it. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day — even on weekends. Sticking to a sleep schedule (that allows you eight hours of sleep) will get you back in the rhythm of your body clock. There's no greater way to reset your clock than waking up at a consistent time each morning.
Get some sun. Daylight is key to regulating sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day.
Prepare properly: Each night, a half hour to one hour before going to bed, follow the same routine. You might take a warm bath, listen to soothing music, or read a book. It doesn't matter what it is — as long as it's not stimulating. By making it a ritual you'll be conditioning your body to become drowsy. Then brush and floss, turn down the heat, shut off the lights, and get under the covers.
Create the right environment: Set the scene for sleep by making sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and well ventilated. Light is your body's wake-up cue, so use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or even a sleep mask to achieve darkness.
Get the LED out: Turn the face of your clock away from you. There's nothing more frustrating than watching the minutes tick away as you try to sleep.
Create a sanctuary: Keeping your bedroom clean and clutter free will help create a soothing environment conducive to sleeping, as will keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet. By banning eating, watching television, working on the laptop, or any other activities not related to sleep (OK, except for that one), you're sending the subconscious message that your bed is for sleeping.
Sleep on it: If you've had the same mattress for more than 10 years, or if you're waking up feeling stiff and sore, it might be time for a new mattress.
Try melatonin: While it isn't a sleeping pill and is far from a panacea for all the things that might be keeping you awake at night, melatonin might help you sleep. Its main function in the body is to control circadian (day-night) rhythms. Turn off the lights and you're sending a signal to the brain to turn on the melatonin production factory and get ready for sleep.
A number of studies have shown that supplemental melatonin (1 to 3 mg) taken about 30 minutes before bedtime can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (called sleep latency by scientists). For some, melatonin works best taken in the late afternoon. There's evidence that it can help with insomnia in the elderly and may help with sleep quality in healthy people in general. Raising blood levels of melatonin (through supplements) to levels that approximate normal nighttime levels can help induce and sustain sleep in many people. And there's evidence that it can help with jet lag too (see my book The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth).

13. Try inositol: Whenever I want to make sure I'm going to get a good night's sleep, I usually reach for a tablespoon of inositol, a member of the B vitamin family that comes in both capsule and powdered form. When you mix the powder into a glass of water and drink it before bed, inositol has a calming and relaxing effect.

Maybe it's a placebo, maybe not. We do know that there's research indicating that inositol is a safe and effective option in the treatment of a number of mood disorders ranging from anxiety to panic disorders. Because of its antianxiety properties, it helps calm you (and your chattering brain), and since you're less anxious and more relaxed, it's easier to sleep. Since there's no solid research on inositol and sleep per se, we're only guessing as to why it works. But plenty of people swear by it. If you're wired to the gills from caffeine and worry, it's probably not going to put you out like a light, but in cases of mild anxiety or when the worries of the day are bouncing around like pinballs, inositol can calm and relax you.

A 2 to 5 g dose of inositol with a chaser of chamomile or valerian tea, a cozy comforter, and a dark room are usually enough to put a mute button on the day's worries.

DID YOU KNOW?
Some foods contain a substance called tryptophan, which can help induce sleep. Tryptophan is found in cheese, milk, nuts, eggs, and turkey.

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By Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, is a board-certified nutritionist and author of The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth and The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. He has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, and ABC as a nutrition expert. His new DVD, The Truth About Weight Loss, as well as a free newsletter are available at www.jonnybowden.com

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