Sleep is a complex physical and mental state of restfulness and rehabilitation. The field of sleep disorders has become increasingly complex with more than 90 disorders of sleep described, each with clear diagnostic criteria. If you are suffering from insomnia or unable to get a good night’s rest, you are not alone. Many people turn to over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping aids and even stronger prescription medication without first considering a more natural alternative. If you are one of those people, consider this:
Antihistamines: over the counter sleeping pills including Benadryl, Aleve PM (aka Diphenhydramine), and Unisom (aka Doxylamine succinate) all contain antihistamines. Unfortunately and among other adverse reactions to antihistamines, our bodies are able to develop a tolerance to the consequent sedative effects quite quickly.
Benzodiazepines – estazolam, flurazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), quazepam (Doral), and triazolam (Halcion) are approved by the FDA and often prescribed to treat chronic insomnia. Benzodiazepines need to be taken with caution to long term side-effects including chemical dependency, Ataxia (balance problems), loss of coordination, memory problems, slurred speech, and more.
Melatonin – Most people’s bodies produce enough melatonin for sleep on their own. The brain begins to release melatonin mid-to-late evening and continues production throughout the night.
Melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is sold over the counter as a “dietary supplement” and is a less invasive sleep aid with fewer harmful side effects. However, studies show that melatonin is really only effective when used for the short-term treatment of insomnia — such as from jet lag or from night shift work.
Tips to help ditch the sleeping aids
- Begin to titrate off of your sleeping pills. Do this slowly and allow the body time to adapt.
- Stick to a regular schedule.
- Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Stay active. Exercise regularly, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
- Don’t eat large meals or sugar before bed.
- Try not to nap. If you really need to nap, try to keep it short, less than 45 minutes.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All of these can add to sleep problems.
- Relax. Try taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading to wind down before going to sleep.
Consider acupuncture. Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) is a centuries-old practice that has proven to be a safe, natural, and effective treatment for insomnia.