Healthy Q & A: Help for Insomnia

Q: I've been having such a awful time sleeping lately.  I can't get to sleep at night, which makes me exhausted in the morning and tired all day long.  When it comes time to go to bed though, I can't seem to sleep though!  I'm getting to my wits end.  Any ideas?


A:  Insomnia is terrible, and can lead to the never ending cycle you’ve described.    The 
sleeplessness you’re experiencing is most likely caused by stress, which can make it difficult to sleep at night, even when you've felt tired all day.  Nearly 50% of Americans deal with insomnia from one time or another.  There are a number of natural supplements which can help however, thankfully.

The first I'd recommend is valerian, an herb with natural sedative properties.  I like valerian 
because it can actually help you to feel tired, while helping to reduce stress and anxiety.  One 
study found that valerian reduced the time it took participants to fall asleep by half.  It's also non habit forming and should not give you a "hangover" like prescription sleep aids can.  I would take it when you have a full six hours to sleep however.  Nature's Plus has a wonderful 
extended release valerian, which works well, particularly for people who wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep.

Hops and passionflower are two other herbs which work synergistically with valerian.   
Passionflower is wonderfully relaxing, and hops has tranquilizing properties.  Many people find 
that it helps with reducing "racing thoughts" at bedtime.  All three herbs work well together. 
 NOW Foods has a product I love called Sleep (imaginative name, right?) which I've used for 
occasional sleeplessness with great results.

Another idea is the amino acid theanine.  Theanine is different in that it does not make you tired (so it can be taken during the day as well), but it does work very effectively for reducing anxiety. Theanine has had impressive results in research studies for improving sleep quality and reducing fatigue the following day.  Theanine is also safe for children to take for occasional insomnia and stress.  The brand Kal has a great chewable supplement for kids called Relax A Saurus.

Finally, I’d recommend trying to get some exercise during the day, though not too close to 
bedtime.  Exercise can help with mood and stress, and give you an extra boost of energy.  It 
seems counterintuitive when you feel so tired during the day, but increasing your activity to 30 
minutes of exercise most days a week can help you to have both more energy during the day 
and to sleep better at night.