Natural Remedies for Insomnia

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A thorough pack of information on insomnia, what may lie behind it, and remedies that have worked for me, for people that I know or have spoken with, and some new emerging research which I found very inspiring and logical. May this help you enjoy good nights again!

Having spoken to a huge number of people with insomnia - it seems an extremely common problem these days - it seems that after trying many things, the solution that works best is often so simple, that many people won't even bother to try. Having regular sleep times is huge in terms of insomnia, especially not sleeping too late in the mornings! Before you try any of the other remedies discussed here, please experiment with waking up at the same time each morning, ideally at sunrise or before.

I will first discuss my personal experience, since I think my findings are a little unusual, and afterwards I will go through various suggestions by different natural and medical professionals.

My Experience with Insomnia

natural remedies for insomnia image

If I go to bed too early, it is guaranteed that I won't be able to sleep for a long time. Typical things like reading, hot bath, transdermal magnesium oil and anything to create a calm atmosphere can help a lot. However, there are nights, and have been longer periods, when I really struggle to get enough zeds - even when I'm feeling exhausted physically and mentally. Having tried many things, I rate the solutions that worked in the list below:

  • Valerian capsules (root). They help me fall asleep but I don't want to take them regularly since there are warnings against long-term use. Some people say they help at first but the effect wears off or even reverses after longer use.
  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), comes in capsules, available in the USA, banned in some countries. I found this extremely helpful in helping me sleep, especially when I felt like my heart was beating too fast or heavy, stopping me from sleeping. The effect of this neurotransmitter is generally calming and can also reduce blushing and other anxiety-related symptoms. However, although I have relied on this supplement for some years now, on and off, in cases when I really needed to sleep, I haven't taken it for a while, and do my best to try to avoid it, since it seems like it could be addictive or otherwise harmful. I never experienced problems or side-effects with it, and it did treat my insomnia effectively, but I also took breaks from it regularly, never taking it for too many days in a row. I have absolutely no idea whether this supplement is safe or not and luckily don't have to use it these days.
  • Exercise in the evening. Whereas some people can't do exercise at night as it will cause insomnia for them, in my case the opposite is true. A little weight-bearing exercise just before bed (using heavy weights) seems to be extremely helpful in making me fall asleep soon after. Perhaps it is because any stress hormones get used up and 'burned out'.
  • Cool sleep environment. If the room is even a little bit too hot or my cover is even slightly too warm, I won't be able to sleep. Sometimes I don't even realise that the cover is too hot but changing to a lighter one will enable me to go to sleep.
  • Sleeping on the floor. Sometimes I sleep better on a camping mattress on the floor than in my bed! Other people also swear by sleeping on a hard surface. This trick is not for everyone but some of you may choose to try it. Whether it works for you or not is likely to be highly individual.
  • Earplugs. I'm very sensitive to noise when trying to sleep, and sleeping with earplugs on is a must most of the time, since there is traffic noise outside of where I live. Even calming music will keep me from falling asleep.
  • Not eating after 6pm. Since I have food intolerances, eating certain things, especially late at night, will stop me from sleeping. The safest way to food-intolerance caused insomnia (more common than you think) is to eat a very basic dinner made of wholefood ingredients, early in the evening, and with digestive enzymes. Almost any packaged food is likely to have preservatives and therefore will be problematic for me.
  • Not taking any B12 vitamin in the evening or late afternoon. This vitamin seems to give me energy but also to stop me from sleeping (I used the sublingual spray).
  • Vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid. I took megadoses of this at some point which seemed to make me feel stronger but definitely also stopped me from sleeping at night, even if I took the vitamin early in the morning or at midday. Therefore I would recommend to be very careful with any 'energizing' supplements or foods if you are having trouble sleeping - ideally cut them all out for test period of time.

The Major Importance of Daylight for Good Sleep

The October 2016 edition of 'What Doctors Don't Tell You' magazine (WDDTY) had many interesting things to say about insomnia, under the headline: "Gut Reactions". The article was adapted from sleep expert Shawn Stevenson's book: "Sleep Smarter". The key to sleeping better, Stevenson says is the circadian rhythm of the body. Sunlight stimulates the body to release certain hormones at certain times of the day: for example, melatonin secretion starts around 9pm and stops around 7am, therefore causing you to get sleepy in the evening. Serotonin production, on the other hand, is influenced by the your diet, your activity levels, and also by the amount of daylight you get.

Note that even on a cloudy day the outdoors has 10x more light than you would get from ordinary indoor lighting - says WDDTY magazine.

However, what most people don't know, is that serotonin is needed for the production of melatonin. Therefore if you get too little sunlight during the day and your activity levels are low, you won't produce enough serotonin, and won't have enough melatonin to make you sleepy in the evening.

Apparently 95% of serotonin is located in your gut, and therefore the health of your gut is crucial to good sleep. Leaky gut syndrome, dysbiosis and other problems will need to be overcome by a specific diet (avoidance of grains and any foods which cause bloating or other stomach and gut problems) and by stress reduction. The gut has also been found to contain much more melatonin than the brain.

"...serotonin, and the health of your digestion, can impact your brain and sleep more powerfully than almost anything you can think of." - WDDTY, Oct 2016, p. 48

I am wondering whether the plant rhodiola, which is considered a serotonin booster by many, would be helpful in eliminating insomnia? I've occasionally taken it in tincture form and it does seem to improve my moods.

Some people do take melatonin in supplement form to help them sleep but others report that it causes blushing/ hot flushes and potentially other problems. One should be very careful with any hormone supplementation. One of the dangers is that the body will get used to it over long-term use and start producing less hormones on its own.

What Doctors Don't Tell You Magazine (WDDTY) also lists the following nutrients which they say potentially help to sleep well: Selenium, vitamin C, tryptophan, potassium, calcium, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, melatonin, vitamin B6, probiotics, prebiotics, magnesium. They recommend to get these nutrients from foods wherever possible.

"One of the central symptoms of magnesium deficiency is chronic insomnia. Simply getting your magnesium levels up can have a huge impact on your sleep quality very quickly." - WDDTY

The ideal form of magnesium, according to WDDTY, is "transdermal from supercritical extracts". Personally, I have found magnesium bath flakes, epsom salts, and transdermal magnesium oil all to be helpful - the last being the most effective over short-term.

More Insomnia Remedies

Ensuring that you do enough physical work to tire yourself during the day, eliminating stimulants as much as possible and overcoming anxiety are all important for sleeping well. Don't do activities that challenge the brain too much late in the evening. Also, don't watch TV or work at the computer because of the bright light off the screen (especially the blue light) will keep many people awake. Some people report that wearing yellow glasses when at the computer blocks out the blue light and allows them to work or watch tv later while not compromising sleep.

"The old raw-food 'cure' for insomnia is fresh lettuce juice. Lettuce contains soporific compounds and natural opiates that in the concentration of a juice have a calming, sedative effect." - David Wolfe, p. 143, Eating for Beauty
"The common causes of insomnia, such as emotional repression, anxiety, and tension, may be relieved by ingesting tryptophan-rich foods." - David Wolfe, p. 143, Eating for Beauty

Ensure that your sleep environment is comfortable, use an eye mask if necessary, block out all the light.

Any parasympathetic nervous system activating activities will be brilliant before bed.

Two drops of angelica essential oil on the forehead also has a calming and sleep-inducing effect. In fact it has occasionally helped me and others I know to overcome insomnia at least on some of the nights. The downside is that it is quite a strong-smelling oil and may cause headaches or other problems for people sensitive to strong smells.

Dr. Lawrence Wilson explains that most people would benefit from good quality calcium supplementation, even though they at the same time often suffer from calcium toxicity. (This seems contradictory but it's not as depending on the type of calcium and how well it is absorbed it may be toxic or not for the body.) Calcium is a sedative and the lack of bioavailable calcium in the body has been linked with insomnia. (Reference: Dr. Lawrence Wilson: 'Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis: A New Science of Energy')

Glycine, an amino acid, 2 grams before bedtime has also been reported by some to help them fall asleep.

Please rule out food intolerances as well because insomnia is one of the reported symptoms of food sensitivities.

The herb marijuana can be used as a natural alternative to sleeping pills in countries where it is legal.

Earthing sheets, a clean diet, and sleeping away from your restless-sleeping partner can help you get a better sleep. Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants in after midday is also necessary for many people to sleep well.

Finally, for optimal health it is a good idea to take a multi-mineral and multi-vitamin supplement, and also make sure you get all the essential fatty acids (EFAs) and essential amino acids, as highlighted by Dr. Joel Wallach. Mineral deficiencies can definitely cause insomnia and the rest of the nutrients won't work (they say) unless you have enough minerals in your system.

Fighting inflammation may also be important in helping you eliminate problematic conditions and mood problems, heal you gut, and sleep better.

If you are able to fall asleep but wake up at night, especially if your heart is racing, it may be that you have just experienced a drop in blood sugar. In that case eating a very small portion of protein and carbohydrate may help you fall asleep again. For some people, having a protein- and carbohydrate snack before bedtime helps them fall asleep easier (e.g. slice of toast with peanut butter) whereas for others it is better to not eat anything after 6pm.

Read also: Not Sleeping? It Could Be Your Gut Health

Conclusions

The information presented in this article has many powerful ways to help those suffering from insomnia. Keep in mind, however, that our bodies, minds, and hormones are unique and different from one individual to the next. The challenge with natural health approaches is to find a balance of remedies and techniques that works for you. Therefore it may take some experimenting before a right combination of remedies is found, but I hope that the tips above will help you as they've helped me and reportedly many others also. It's best to try one thing at a time, and monitor results, as many different things might just overrule each other and/or be too much change at once for your system and its intricate balance. If you would like to share your experience with insomnia with others do get in touch.

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