Three out of every five Americans have sleep problems, especially those who are stressed out and those over 50 with hormone depletion. But the inability to sleep deeply can affect anyone for a variety of reasons. Here are a few things to do that might bring back natural sleep without medication.
Natural Supplements Shown to Induce Sleep
An effective natural supplement for inducing sleep and relaxation is l-tryptophan, an amino acid present in red meat and turkey. Anyone who has finished their second helping of Thanksgiving dinner and felt that snooze coming on understands this. Just like Prozac, tryptophan, a calming neurotransmitter, and melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone released by the pineal gland in response to darkness, have the ability to increase brain levels of serotonin. Doctors know they work, but don't expect them to suggest such options.
L-tryptophan (also referred to just as tryptophan) was well-known and in such common use about 30 years ago, many vitamin stores had trouble keeping it on their shelves. That is, until an underhanded political scheme was cooked up to get it banned in late 1989 with the full cooperation of the FDA, coincidentally, exactly when Prozac was released on the market. The FDA blamed it for causing Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS).
Tryptophan is a natural supplement that does what Prozac can do, only better, safer, and cheaper, and unlike prescription sleep medications, it has no side effects. The CDC traced down alleged problems with the supplement to contaminants found in isolated batches of tryptophan made by Japanese company Showa Denko, yet the FDA would not lift the ban. An article entitled The FDA Ban of L-Tryptophan: Politics, Profits and Prozac was published on the Life Extension Foundation web site on
Back to the hormone melatonin, this substance is another that has been used successfully to calm and induce sleep, as well as to treat jet lag for travelers. Because melatonin is made in the pineal gland in response to the onset of darkness, until the late 1990's it was thought that light entering the eyes was what motivated its production. Sleep researchers placed study subjects in settings of complete darkness using sleep masks, room-darkening shades, and curtains lined with light-blocking materials. This induced easier sleep, but didn't provide exactly all the information.
A Science Magazine article [98:279(5349):333-4,396-9] reported on a Cornell University sleep study showing that just shining a light on the skin behind the knee in an otherwise dark room altered both the body temperature and melatonin levels of the subjects. When this discovery was pursued further, it was found that using this same light exposure technique just before dawn would actually advance the subject's circadian rhythm in the same way as if the subject's eyes were exposed to daylight. This proved that nighttime skin exposure to even a small amount of light during the sleep cycle resulted in an earlier release of melatonin and a consequent drop in body temperature the following day, triggering the subject's need for sleep proportionately earlier.
In real life, such a disruption in light exposure (possibly to skin on any/many locations of the body) even by a TV in the next room, can alter the release time and amount of, or completely shut down, melatonin production. This can set off an unwanted cycle of insomnia and resultant fatigue. A light left on while someone is sleeping that shuts off their melatonin production can have many effects over time; not only does it disrupt prostaglandin production, but it suppresses the immune system, lowering intracellular calcium levels which should increase during sleep, and can raise the risk of depression and disease in later life.
When getting up to walk to the bathroom at night, if safety allows, do not turn on the light. Just a few seconds of room light shuts down melatonin production making it difficult or impossible to return to deep sleep. Also keep this in mind before deciding to raid the refrigerator at night. While there is little research confirming this, common sense would suggest that having dim nightlights in halls and the bathroom to minimize light exposure would probably be less disruptive to sleep when returning to bed.
Magnetic Fields Can Impede Natural Sleep
Another thing that affects melatonin production is magnetic fields, which are constantly increasing in modern civilization. Use of a relatively inexpensive Tri-field Gauss meter can be used to check a sleeping area to assure that no such fields that the body can sense will affect sound sleep. Previous studies have shown that electromagnetic fields (EMF) not only suppress melatonin production, they may stimulate the growth of breast tumors in animals. Scott Davis, PhD., of
At the American Cancer Society Science Writers Seminar in the late 1990's, Dr. Davis explained how his research linked increased EMFs in bedrooms to this hormone imbalance resulting in similar phenomenon in women. He found that doubling the nighttime EMF exposure resulted in approximately an eight percent decrease in normal melatonin production. Tripling the exposure dropped production by 15 percent.
What To Do When You Need to Sleep
Additional options include wrist accupressure and taking other stronger natural substances, some of which may interact with some prescription drugs. For this reason they are not mentioned. No one should arbitrarily use any supplements for sleep, even natural ones, along with prescription medications. Nor is it wise to take anything, especially prescription medications, without looking up their side effects in the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR), a copy of which can be found in most libraries and drug stores, hospitals, and doctor's offices.
More people than have any idea, are taking prescription medications whose actual side effects include insomnia. Check this - if you find out that some drug you are taking is actually the reason for your sleeplessness, ask your doctor to change it. Doctors are trained to use prescription medications, and know little about natural substances so they don't even like to talk about them. But if you have a good relationship with your doctor, you may get his cooperation. These natural substances have no side effects other than natural sleepiness.
While some people swear by them, others say they do little for them. Since tests would be more expensive than simple experimentation, most doctors would not perform tests to find out who would be helped by what. If you are having problems sleeping, there are some simple steps that can be taken to protect yourself from light and magnetic intrusions that can ruin your sleep and your health, in addition to increasing your body's levels of either tryptophan or melatonin, available at many drugstores and most health food stores.
1. Supplements of tryptophan, or even 5-HTP, another supplement which is the next step in tryptophan metabolism, about an hour before bedtime when having problems getting to sleep or when traveling across time zones, can often provide natural safe sleep. Also found to be helpful, were eating primarily protein foods such as beef and turkey, and avoiding high carbohydrate foods like sugary desserts, mashed potatoes, cereals, and grains for 4-6 hours before bedtime.
2. A melatonin supplement of 2-3 mgs about an hour before bedtime may help. Over 20 years ago, this supplement was sold only in 3 mg tablets, but it is now available in 10 mgs after studies showed that this amount works for some when lower levels did not.
3. Take a hot shower or bath before going to bed. Normal body temperature tends to drop about 1 degree just about an hour before we get tired. This signals the body and the brain to slow down and prepare to sleep. Your body will attempt to lower your body temperature when you get into a tub of hot water, making you naturally sleepy.
4. A Tri-field Gauss meter can be purchased in hobby stores or over the Internet to perform basic tests in your sleeping area. The EMF level at the level of your bed should be 1mG or less.
5. If the EMF level is still high near the bed, move all electrical and electronic appliances such as TVs, clocks, phones, VCRs,
DVDplayers, radios, answering machines, and cell phones more than six feet away from the bed. If the EMF level still exceeds 1mG, the current may be being generated by the house wiring. An electrician can usually check the wiring for code compliance and fix any problems.
6 Remove any electrical appliance or extension cords that run in the vicinity of or under the bed.
7. Don't use a waterbed heater or an electric blanket. (Electric blanket EMFs have been shown to penetrate through up to six inches of body tissue.)
8 Beginning a consistent exercise program, not necessarily a strenuous one, can make normal sleep return. Something as simple as walking daily, Pilates exercises, or using a rebounder (small trampoline) or a treadmill can increase falling off to sleep naturally.
9. On awakening, open the blinds or curtains to imprint daylight on your brain and reset your body clock. This will keep your melatonin levels on "awake" until evening when you should be naturally sleepy.
Getting enough sleep is often overlooked or put on a back burner, but it should be a priority. With proper sleep everything works better. Without proper sleep, neither the brain nor the immune system can do their job. Naturally increasing your melatonin levels staves off depression and fatigue, protects against cancer, slows the aging process, and can increase life span by slightly lowering the body's core temperature. Even if you work the night shift, adhering to as many of these tips as you can, can give you a longer healthier life.