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A Natural Sleep Cocktail

By Natasha Turner, ND

If you think you’re the only one lying awake at night staring at the ceiling, think again. Millions of people have what can be described as chronic insomnia. There are several reasons for insomnia, otherwise described as an inability to fall asleep within an hour of bedtime. Mental stress, anxiety and persistent thoughts of work or family causes many of us to lay awake. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or other stimulants in medications may also affect sleeping patterns. As with any effective approach to a health concern, determining the cause of your insomnia and devising a plan of attack is the key. This typically means a trial and error approach may be necessary before success is achieved and your sleep becomes restful and rejuvenating.

Your lifestyle should include exercise, a healthy balanced diet and supplements to meet your basic nutritional needs as part of your healthy sleep plan. And to be sure you are making the most of your sleep, I suggest that you use our sleep tips for a period of at least two weeks before deciding to use supplements or natural sleep aids if you are having difficulty sleeping.

Still not getting the rest you require after using our sleep tips? Try this vitamin cocktail to obtain your shuteye: 

  • Valerian has been studied for its sedative effects and for its ability to improve sleep quality without the side effects commonly associated with conventional sedatives. It is believed that valerian mildly sedates the central nervous system and relaxes the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal system. Studies also indicate that valerian may be involved in modulating brain activity. For treatment of stress, take 200 mg (standardized extract) three times per day. For treatment of insomnia, take 200 to 400 mg (standardized extract) at bedtime.
  • GABA is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that has a calming effect. It is well suited to an individual who is anxious or who has muscle tension and pain. Typical dosage is 500–1,000 mg before bed.
  • 5-HTP is a derivative of tryptophan, one step closer to becoming serotonin. It has been found to be more effective than tryptophan for sleep loss related to depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia. 5-HTP seems to help increase the amount of REM sleep, which is vital to health. It also helps decrease the amount of time required to fall asleep as well as the number of nighttime awakenings. 50–200 mg may be taken at dinnertime or before bed.

  • Vitamin B12 in the methylcobalamine form acts directly on the pineal gland to cause a quicker release of melatonin at night, which resets the sleep-wake cycle. In the early morning hours, it causes melatonin to drop off faster. Overall, B12 helps you get to sleep and awaken earlier. B12 also sensitizes you to morning light, which helps you wake up. Taking 3 mg daily may help correct your circadian rhythms.
  • Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant. It is very useful if you have muscle cramps or spasms at night that keep you awake or disrupt your sleep. Try 200–300 mg at bedtime. 
  • Phosphatidylserine is ideal for nighttime worrying as it influences the inappropriate release of stress hormones. Take 100 mg at bedtime. 
  • Passionflower is the herb of choice for insomnia; it aids the transition into a restful sleep without any narcotic hangover. It is an antispasmodic helpful in treating tension and stress. It can also be effective in the treatment of nerve pain such as neuralgia and shingles. Passionflower extracts have been studied for their potential ability to decrease anxiety and prolong sleep time. Passionflower has also been tested in combination with other sedative and anti-anxiety herbs like valerian; findings suggest that passionflower may enhance the effectiveness of these other treatments. Take 100 mg (standardized extract) two times per day for anxiety. Take 200 mg (standardized extract) at bedtime for insomnia.
If you have not had success with these lifestyle measures and natural sleep aids, you may want to consider seeing a cognitive therapist to assist you in learning how to sleep again. You may also purchase a relaxation CD, such as the one by Dr. Gregg Jacobs, our sleep expert.
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