By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Wellness
There are plenty of natural remedies for insomnia but many people have problems getting to sleep – and staying that way. Maybe a dream wakes you up in the middle of the night and you have trouble drifting off again. Or you might find that your brain is still running hours after you’ve said goodnight.
Yep, insomnia has become an epidemic in America all right. In fact, more than half of us experience some sort of problem sleeping at least several nights a week.
But, while a sleepless night can be frustrating, it’s the next day that’s the real killer. All of that tossing and turning can leave you dragging, mentally dull and longing for a little shut-eye. Yet, even though sleeplessness can make you feel like a zombie, it turns out that it isn’t as detrimental as we’ve been led to believe.
Even though we’ve had it drilled into our heads that eight hours of sleep is ideal, it turns out that folks who sleep between six and seven hours actually live longer – and getting more than seven hours of sleep can actually boost your risk of death, especially from heart disease. In one study by Albanian researchers, men who sleep more than eight hours a night had twice the risk of overall death and about three times the risk of dying of heart disease.
Closer to home, scientists at UC San Diego investigated the sleep habits of more than a million people ranging in age from 30 to 102 as part of the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Cancer Prevention Study II. Each of the participants filled out a questionnaire that asked, among other things, about the number of hours they slept each night, how many times a month they experienced insomnia and how often they had used prescription sleeping pills in the last month. The researchers then checked in with the participants six years later to see how they were doing health wise.
What they found was indeed surprising. In fact, it flew in the face of convention. The people who reported sleeping eight hours or more had a “significantly increased mortality hazard.” And those who reported sleeping more than eight-and-a-half hours a night were 15 percent more likely to have died during follow up than those who slept less.
But what about those of us who get too few hours of shut-eye? Surprisingly, being chronically sleep-deprived wasn’t dangerous until the average number of hours got down to very low numbers – women who sleep an average of three-and-a-half hours and men who sleep less than four-and-a-half hours. And those who used sleeping pills to help them drift off were also at a significantly higher risk of dying from all causes.
Of course, this hasn’t stopped Big Pharma from trying to cash in on our sleep-deprived society. Pick up a magazine or flip on the TV. No doubt you’ll find one of the seductively soothing ads for either Ambien or Lunesta – two blockbuster sleeping pills. But no matter how warm and fuzzy the ads are, you can’t mask the fact that these drugs act directly on the central nervous system and may cause hallucinations, depression, muscle aches and even amnesia – and that’s just after one dose! If that isn’t enough to cause second thoughts, these drugs can also bring on suicidal tendencies. And if you’re over the age 65, you’re much more likely to experience these side effects.
But selling these drugs to consumers goes well beyond the blatant advertisements and into areas of deceptive marketing. It’s no secret that the pharmaceutical industry creates and funds organizations to provide legitimacy for their products – and to boost their sales. One such organization is the National Sleep Foundation.
This industry front claims to be an independent nonprofit organization and a source of valuable information on sleep, sleep disorders and the consequences of sleep deprivation. But the truth is that this organization does its best to convince you that insomnia is unhealthy and you’d best see a doctor before it becomes a chronic condition. Never mind that the drugs prescribed to lull you to sleep are habit-forming Schedule IV controlled substances. You can simply trade in your chronic sleep deprivation for a chronic drug problem.
Natural Sleep Solutions
Fortunately, you don’t need drugs that knock you out and possibly get you hooked. There are a number of gentle, natural ways to fall asleep that actually relax and replenish your body and your mind.
If anxiety is keeping you up at night, try passionflower. Not only will this herb induce sleep and calm anxiety just as well as anti-anxiety drugs, a double-blind randomized trial of 36 patients found that passionflower soothes tense muscles and restlessness. Best of all, you aren’t left feeling loopy the next day.
If you’re sleepless due to an out-of-whack schedule, you can also try some melatonin. Normally, melatonin regulates our internal wake-sleep cycles. But the older we get, the less efficiently we produce this important hormone. If you’re over 40, the standard recommendation is one to three mg. of melatonin thirty minutes before bedtime. But, even though this is a hormone our own body makes, check with a doctor before taking melatonin if you’re pregnant, have an autoimmune disorder, suffer from depression or have diabetes.
One Last Thing …
Training your body by adopting a regular “sleep schedule” can also help to thwart insomnia. Try to get to bed by 10 o’clock. This helps regulate and align your body to its natural sleep cycle. If noise is a problem, invest in a white noise or sound machine, or simply play tapes of soft, soothing music and nature sounds to mask offensive noises. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and only used for sleep – don’t prop yourself up in bed to read, work or watch TV since stimulating your mind right before nodding off can result in a poor night’s sleep.
This Just In …
Thanksgiving dinner just wouldn’t be the same without the cranberry sauce. It’s too bad that it’s the only time of year most of us indulge in this antioxidant-rich side dish.
A new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth has found that the compounds in cranberries can block the growth and spread of lung and colon cancer, as well as leukemia. The findings were the result of lab tests which isolated a proantocyanidin-rich fraction from a cranberry extract and tested it on several types of tumor cells. What the researchers found was nothing short of amazing. The cranberry compounds completely halted the development and proliferation of the cancerous cells!
Can eating cranberries or taking a cranberry supplement have the same effect? The Dartmouth group seems to think so, especially since there are so many phytochemicals in cranberries with anti-cancer potential. So don’t just think of cranberries as one of the traditional trimmings surrounding your Thanksgiving turkey. Add them to smoothies, trade in your O.J. for some unsweetened cranberry juice or take a daily supplement. Most naturopaths recommend taking 400 mg. twice a day.
Akhondzadeh S, et al. “Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam.” Journal of Clinical Pharmacological Therapy. 2001; 26: 363-367.
Burazeri G, Gofin J, Kark JD. “Over 8 hours of sleep–marker of increased mortality in Mediterranean population: follow-up population study.” Croatian Medical Journal. 2003;44:193-198.
“Cranberry compound found to block cancer.” NutraIngredients.com. 17 Oct. 2005.
Kripke DF; Garfinkel L; Wingard DL, et al. “Mortality associated with sleep duration and insomnia.” Archives of General Psychiatry. 2002;59:131-136