Let’s take a fresh look at some natural bedtime remedies. Of course, not everything is going to work for everyone. I’ll try to help you identify what will work for you – but you may simply need to experiment. Nowadays with both mom and dad working to share the economic burden, people are worrying more and sleeping less. So there have to be some safe sleep remedies that everyone can use.
Where to Begin?
With magnesium, of course! And if that doesn’t work you, it’s often because you’re not taking enough. My experience with patients, clients, and customers is that if you have a magnesium deficiency, then drinking chamomile tea isn’t going to cut it. Also, magnesium makes all the other remedies work better.
A Magnesium Nightcap
I’d like to make this whole article about magnesium and sleep, and I could. I’ve written several books and done many blog posts on magnesium. Just in case you never knew or have forgotten, I’m going to remind you here that magnesium is probably the best sleep aid you can find. And it’s not just magnesium liquid, you can also use magnesium creams and lotions
Magnesium and Sleep
What can magnesium do specifically to help you sleep, you ask? It can…
- Help detoxify sleeping medication, which is really important because after a while sleep medication can paradoxically keep you awake, so you have to wean off it and detoxify from it.
- Regulate melatonin production (your brain’s natural sleep hormone).
- Produce serotonin during the day, the “feel-good” brain chemical (which is necessary to ensure you produce melatonin at night.
- Support stressed adrenal glands so they aren’t active when you want to be sleeping.
- Remove the tension from your muscles to allow you to deeply relax.
- Prevent constipation and intestinal muscle cramping so your bowels can rest at night.
- Relieve symptoms of PMS, perimenopause and menopause (which can keep many women awake).
If you suffer from magnesium deficiency leg and foot cramping, when you stretch out in bed, you can trigger a muscle spasm that wakens you or keeps you awake. As for getting up at night to go to the bathroom, I highly recommend taking 1⁄4 tsp of a good sea salt in every pint of water you drink. With all the minerals in sea salt your cells will hold onto water and not flush it out at every opportunity.
Benefits of Sleep Herbs
Compared to prescription medication for sleep, herbs win hands down! I’m an advocate of whole herbs and not the isolated active ingredient. Such processing makes the herb into a drug without the balancing effect of the other ingredients that neutralize potential toxicity. I also recommend sticking with organic herbs.
Here are three reasons why I recommend whole herb sleep remedies:
1. No side effects. Of course, anything, even water in excess, can have side effects. But with
normal use, whole herbs are very safe.
2. No hangover in the morning.
3. Very inexpensive.
How to Make Whole Herb Tea: Steep 1 tsp in 1 cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drink immediately.
How to Make an Infusion: Steep 1 ounce in 1 quart of water for 4-12 hours. Keep in the fridge
and drink over the next 1-2 days either cold or reheated.
Chamomile originated in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It’s an old standby that even children can safely take. Actually children and parents probably learned about chamomile tea from the children’s classic by Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Peter’s mother gave him chamomile tea before bed, not necessarily for sleep but to settle his upset tummy. Even rabbits know that you can’t sleep if your tummy is upset.
There are many types of chamomile and they all fit into the genus Matricaria with similar taste, smell and benefits. Matricara is Latin for womb and indicates its use for menstrual cramps and PMS in centuries past. These properties may also help to relieve gas, bloating, and intestinal cramps and spasms.
The calming and relaxing properties of chamomile and its mild taste make is a useful tea to drink throughout the day as well as before bed. It won’t knock you out during the day but will calm your nerves and muscles so that sleep doesn’t elude you.
Who benefits from chamomile tea?
Take this tea if you have at night that keeps you awake or on the edge of wakefulness. For daytime nervousness and anxiety; for stomach cramping and spasms drink several cups during the day, as well as at night.
When you purchase chamomile tea, make sure it’s the flowering tops, which have the most potency.
Warning: If you have hay fever, stay away. Chamomile is from the ragweed family and can cause allergic reactions.
Hops originated in Europe. Hops you may know as a basic ingredient in beer making. Who doesn’t feel relaxed and a bit drowsy after a few beers! Actually, not me. I don’t drink, but that’s what I hear. And that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m more interested in the hops flower and its calming properties. There is no alcohol in hops — it’s mainly used for flavoring and to balance the bitterness of beer. You may not be aware that it’s part of the Cannabaceae family that includes Cannabis (hemp). Ah ha! So you ask, will I get the munchies if I drink hops? No, you will not get the munchies. Hops does not contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in Cannabis. No alcohol, no cannabis, just hops.
Who benefits from hops tea? Actually it’s a mild herb, so it’s better taken as an infusion. It can be used by anyone with restlessness, anxiety or insomnia. It can be an excellent remedy for nursing mothers. It’s very calming for the mom and is mild enough for the baby, who receives the benefits through breast milk.
Valerian is a native of Asia and Europe. The best way to take valerian is in capsule form. Trust me. Valerian tea tastes like dirty, damp, woolen socks. You don’t need to go there. Take capsules instead. And according to friends, the smell of spilled valerian tincture was almost impossible to get out of bed sheets. It’s the flowers of chamomile and hops that are prized but the calming properties of valerian come from its roots. Valerian was an herb recommended by Hippocrates and used in ancient Rome and Greece.
Who benefits from valerian? This herb can be used if you have sleep problems that are aggravated by pain and migraines. Take the whole root in capsule form. Begin with half the dosage recommended on the bottle. Don’t take more than twice the recommended dose.
Warning: Do not combine sleeping medication with valerian. Take only the dose prescribed on the bottle or by your doctor. Some people can experience side effects…if too much is taken. These may include daytime drowsiness, dizziness, headache, itchiness, upset stomach, dry mouth and vivid dreams.
I mention skullcap because it’s sometimes found in combination formulas with hops and valerian. Skullcap is native to North America. Like chamomile it’s an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic with sedative properties.
Warning: Not to be used in pregnancy. Overdose can cause confusion, giddiness, stupor, and twitching.
Now let’s look at the key sleep vitamins…
Benefits of A Vitamin B Complex
The Bs are the most important vitamins for relieving stress, helping you sleep and achieve calmness. You may already be using a food-based form of B’s. If you found they helped you get a deeper sleep, let me know. And if you haven’t tried B vitamins yet – especially if you’re twiddling your thumbs in the middle of the night or counting endless sheep – give the B complex a chance to help.
Who benefits from the B Complex? Everyone!
Benefits of Amino Acids for Sleep
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that’s abundant in turkey and makes us all fall asleep after Thanksgiving dinner. Actually, many common foods have much more tryptophan than turkey. These include eggs, spirulina, cod, cheddar cheese and sunflower seeds. The sleeping at Thanksgiving probably has more to do with the vast quantities of food consumed than just the tryptophan!
Back in the 1980’s, it was an incredibly useful supplement for people with anxiety, and trouble sleeping. It naturally increases the brain levels of serotonin and melatonin but it fell out of favor.
Tryptophan has been available in health food stores since 2002. The dosage is 500 mg (about two to four capsules) one hour before bedtime. For better absorption of amino acids into the brain you should take them with a carbohydrate snack (not a protein snack). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. If you take them with protein they are digested as food instead of freely circulating in the blood and getting through the blood-brain-barrier.
L-theanine is a free amino acid that is found mainly in green tea. Green tea is full of L-theanine but it’s also full of caffeine. And if the green tea isn’t organic, it can also be full of pesticides. L-theanine probably neutralizes the stimulatory effects of caffeine but I would recommend L-theanine capsules instead of green tea if you would like to try it as a sleep aid or for anxiety.
Studies on this amino acid show that it can induce a feeling of relaxation within a half hour in two ways. It stimulates alpha brain waves associated with deep relaxation. These are the same brain waves you create during meditation. Even more interesting is its effect on the neurotransmitter GABA, which acts on dopamine and serotonin to produce relaxation. Most of the research on L-theanine is in Japan where it is recognized as a safe treatment for anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. There are no reported side effects. The normal dosage is 50-200 mg. The FDA has set a maximum limit of 1,200 mg per day.
Who benefits from L’theanine? Anyone with stress that leads to anxiety, nervousness and insomnia.
Make It Happen
I don’t suggest you take all of these remedies together. Try one at a time. If you are taking magnesium you can add herbs. If that’s not enough you can try only one of the amino acids at a time not both together.
- First, make sure you are taking enough magnesium.
- If you’re not sleeping well enough, try chamomile tea.
- Then experiment with hops, valerian, and skullcap capsules.
- Lastly, try tryptophan or L-theanine.