Sometimes we think of sleep as a trivial matter. However, a lack of quality sleep, and its consequences (such as daytime sedation),has a great impact on society. It is has been reported that sleepy and/or fatigued drivers are responsible for 4% of the fatal car crashes and about 20% of the non-fatal car crashes. One of the reasons for the Exxon-Valdez oil spill was thought to be the sleepiness of the bridge staff. There are many natural options to help with sleep at your Heart Pharmacy. This month I shall hope to explain why sleep is so complex and find options to help you get some more.

The information available about sleep is extensive because it is very important to our survival. During sleep, the mind and body rests and regenerates. Without it, our bodies and minds are unable to function well. What exactly is sleep? Sleep is divided up into five parts; stages 1-4 and REM sleep. Our bodies move between these five stages of sleep at various times during the night. This is all very interesting, but what is crucial is that the length of time you sleep is important. It is thought that your body needs REM sleep to rejuvenate. Any disruption in your sleep might make you get less REM sleep.

One important part of a good night sleep is sleep hygiene; this has nothing to do with cleanliness. These tips can be very helpful for people who have difficulty sleeping.

  • Try to have a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. This will help your body get into a regular sleep routine.

  • Try to avoid daytime naps. Some people do have a rest in the afternoon. If you must rest, try and limit it to 30-45 minutes.

  • Avoid alcohol in the evening. It is true that alcohol can make you drowsy, but it can also interfere with your sleep as it leaves you body.

  • Get some exercise, but not in the evening. Regular exercise is great for your body and can wear you out. Rigorous exercise in the evening though can have a stimulating effect.

  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment. The bedroom should be dark, cool (not cold) and free of any odd sounds.

  • Clear your mind before bed. Do not engage in activities that activate the mind. Avoid reading thought provoking books before bed.

  • If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and leave the bedroom. Go elsewhere and have a light snack and read a light novel. Do not watch television or use a hand held electronic device. There are growing concerns that the blue light emitted from these devices can suppress melatonin production. Consider turning on the radio. Generally the voices are more relaxing and the programs are less engaging.

Are there any supplements that can help with insomnia/difficulty in falling asleep? Valerian is the most widely recognized herbal product for sleeping problems. Valerian seems to be more effective when used for longer periods of time (2 weeks), rather than for occasional problems. One study demonstrated that people who took a Valerian/Lemon Balm product ½ hour before bed, reported a 33% improvement in sleep quality. The researchers found this point interesting because the volunteers were healthy and did not complain of insomnia at the start of the study. Valerian is generally safe and well tolerated. Mild side effects of headache, morning sedation and stomach upset are sometimes seen. Paradoxically, valerian has been known to cause a slight stimulatory effect in rare occurrences. One complaint about valerian root is its unpleasant odour. I mention to my patients that this odour does not come out on the skin and is thought to be related to the product’s potency. While no drug interactions have been reported, be cautious of using valerian concurrently with products that have a similar action (sedatives, alcohol, narcotics, etc.) It is common to find valerian mixed with other herbs used for sleep; such as passionflower, hops and skullcap.

Another popular and effective natural sleep remedy is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by the pineal gland as the evening approaches. This hormone is produced as light decreases, but is blocked when things become brighter; remember the light emitted from handheld devices? The role of melatonin is to lower body temperature and chemically produce sleepiness. For some people melatonin can be very helpful to produce a good night's rest. Melatonin might not be for everyone. You should talk to your Doctor or Heart Pharmacist before starting melatonin. This medication can interfere with blood thinners, sedatives, antidepressants, and immunosuppressants.

For me the best way to fall asleep is to follow a good nighttime ritual. I brush my teeth, wash my face then sit in bed a read a novel until I become drowsy. This is thought to be helpful because it gives your body cues that it is time to fall asleep. No matter what works for you, it is important to get plenty of rest. Hopefully it is not my articles putting you to sleep.

AuthorMonique de Moor