Sleeping is one of the most fundamental needs of humans (much like breathing and eating). And although it should come naturally and effortlessly at the end of the average person’s day, for millions all over the world, sleeplessness and sleep deprivation are the norm rather than the exception.
According to an NPR article, nearly 60 million people worldwide suffer from insomnia. This number is significant considering sleep is an innate action necessary for survival. The severity of insomnia fluctuates from case-to-case. In some cases insomnia is temporary, and for some, it occurs only during bouts of stress.
However, chronic sleeplessness, sleep apnea, and night terrors can occur in severe cases. If you are one of the millions of Americans who have trouble sleeping, it is important to reach out to your doctor as they may be able to diagnose the underlying issues surrounding your insomnia.
Nonetheless, it is not always necessary to take a prescription pill to remedy the problem. Additionally, it is important to remember there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to curing insomnia. Sleep professionals suggest practicing good sleep “hygiene” before bed, avoiding caffeine, limiting the use of technology, and using meditative breathing techniques.
Nevertheless, these rituals don’t always help, and sometimes a supplement is needed to lull us into a slumber. For those who hate the idea of taking a prescription sleeping pill (and its attendant side effect), there are natural alternatives that have been shown to be effective.
Here are the top five over-the-counter, natural remedies to help you get some shut-eye.
Valerian root has been used to treat anxiety, stress, nervousness, and insomnia for centuries. Usually consumed in tea form, the root has a calming effect that many people swear help pacify their nerves and stimulates a more restful night of sleep. Interestingly, one in-depth study showed that when two controlled groups, one that would take valerian root nightly and the other that would take a placebo, had no discrepancies in how they felt or how they slept in the beginning. However, by the third week, the group taking the herb showed substantial benefits in comparison to the controlled group. Thus, the scientists concluded that valerian root probably needs to be consumed for a few weeks before an individual can benefit from its sleep-inducing properties.
Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body and is directly affected by light. At night time, the pineal gland is responsible for the release of the hormone. Melatonin has a sedative effect, and it’s the body’s natural way of regulating sleep schedules and ensuring your circadian cycle isn’t jeopardized. Unfortunately, some of us don’t naturally produce efficient levels of melatonin. So if you are having difficulty sleeping, taking a melatonin supplement may be helpful.
You probably have heard of the adage that you’ll need a nap after Thanksgiving dinner because you ate so much turkey? Well, there is a tiny bit of truth to that. Turkey, as well as many other common foods, contain tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin which helps monitor your sleep schedule. Known over the counter as 5-HTP, taking 50 – 100 mg of this supplement with a carbohydrate can help induce sleep.
Kava is a beverage or extract that is made from Piper methysticum, a plant indigenous to the Pacific islands. The tea has grown in popularity around the world. You may have seen Kava popping up across the country. Drinking kava induces feelings of relaxation, which is why it is often used as a cure for anxiety and restlessness. Many people swear by Kava’s almost hypnotic effects. It even leaves a slight tingling sensation on your tongue, once consumed. You can buy Kava tea at most grocery stores or vitamin shops. However, overconsumption of the tea can potentially have adverse effects. Some studies show that the plant can be hard on the liver and it has been banned from a few countries.
Theanine is an amino acid that promotes a calming sensation. It has anti-anxiety properties and is almost immediately effective. The best source of L-theanine is green tea, which has a significant amount of the amino acid in it. That being said, green tea has traces of caffeine, so it might be in your best interest to buy it as a supplement. As a bonus, L-theanine has also been proven to help ward off cancer and reduce inflammation in the body.
While these natural supplements can be helpful, adopting sleep-inducing bedtime routines is paramount, as are other natural sleep aids, such as meditative practices, which can help calm the mind and promote deep sleep.