Natural Methods for Restful Sleep

by Mark Hoch, M.D.

Sleep is an important part of healthy life.


During sleep our bodies use the healthy nutrition we have taken in throughout the day to rebuild themselves; injured tissues are repaired, bones, tendons and connective tissues are remodeled and strengthened, and our organs get a chance to rest or do their jobs of detoxification and balance and protect us such as through the hormone and immune systems.

Our minds also get a chance to rest and our brains remake neurotransmitters and repair and remodel themselves.


Why do we need good sleep? 

Most persons need about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.  When we have adequate good-quality sleep we generally feel stronger, have clearer minds, greater emotional resilience, healthier bodies, and feel more vital and less stressed.

Therefore it is very important to plan our days to ensure that we have adequate time and a good environment for sleep.  This includes a quiet bedroom with a comfortable bed and time to wind down before it is time to sleep.  Please see the section on good sleep hygiene for more details on this.


Sleep Problems

When persons have a difficult time sleeping despite good sleep hygiene it is important to figure out why this is a problem.

It may be from:

  • unresolved stress,
  • pain in our bodies,
  • over stimulating medications,
  • caffeine,
  • alcohol or from another health/medical reason.

Some medical problems that interfere with sleep include:

  • sleep apnea (when the nose or throat close and stop us from breathing),
  • menopausal hormone issues,
  • restless legs (often due to a deficiency of minerals such as iron, zinc, or magnesium),
  • bladder or prostate problems making us get up frequently to urinate, or
  • low blood sugar at night that might cause us to wake up feeling anxious and with a fast heartbeat similar to a panic attack.

If you are having frequent problems with sleep it is important to make sure that any pain is adequately controlled and that you do not have a medical condition such as the ones listed above that might be interfering with your ability to sleep healthfully.


Sleep Supplements

If the above issues are not a problem or are adequately treated there are some nutritional supplements and herbs and medications that can help with sleep.

It is recommended that you speak with your doctor or other qualified health professional to see which of these sleep aids may be appropriate for you and what the proper dose might be for your particular situation.

Possible options include:

  • 5 HTP (5 hydroxy tryptophan),
  • GABA,
  • melatonin,
  • valerian,
  • passion flower,
  • hops,
  • chamomile or
  • peppermint tea,
  • theanine, or
  • various pharmaceutical medications.


Sleep Medications

Medications are sometimes more effective or may work more quickly than over-the-counter supplements, however, they are more likely to have major side effects, to cost more, and some carry a risk of being habit-forming.

It is also important to note that not all sleep medications give us the highest quality of sleep even though they might help us get to sleep.  Examples of this are medications like diphenhydramine (Benadryl or Tylenol PM).


Simple tips on “good sleep hygiene.”

  • No stimulants later in the day.  Avoid caffeine after lunch time, limit chocolate later in the day.
  • Eat dinner on the early side (definitely before 8pm) and have modest portions of food.
  • Have some wind down time before bed.  No internet, stimulating media including action or crime based TV shows or new shows for at least 60 minutes before bed time.
  • Avoid charged topics in conversation in the evening.
  • Consider a hot bath, or meditation or prayer time or a devotional reading before bed.
  • Make your bedroom a quiet and safe haven.  Leave computers, TV’s, clutter and such someplace else.
  • Keep the bedroom a dark place and especially avoid clocks and other electronics that have blue lights on them.
  • Make sure your bed is far away from electric lines and smart meters (the box on the outside of your house where the electricity comes into the building) and wifi signal senders.  Electromagnetic radiations are disturbing to body functioning including sleep.
  • Get to bed by 10pm.  Sleep time in the late evening is more restorative than sleep time in the morning.
  • Plan you day to get 8 hours of sleep.  Plan it so it can happen.  Do not let the day get away from you or try to fit too many things in a 24 hour period.

Wishing you the best of health and regular nights of refreshing sleep,

Mark L. Hoch ,M.D.

Co-Chair Past Presidents Council,  Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine

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