I'm a sleep-a-holic. I sleep at least 8 hours every night and on weekends I turn in for around 10. I am a total crank pot when I don't get a good night of sleep, and I have an absolute fear of insomnia. So you can imagine that finding natural sleep remedies for my family has been a passion. I've additionally covered the topic of sleep in 2 previous posts, 5 Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep, and 5 Reasons to Give up Coffee. Caffeine is my personal anti-Christ when it comes to sleeping, and I avoid it religiously.
I have instigated a culture of sleep in our house, and it seems to be sticking. We all brag about how early we go to bed, and how late we sleep in the morning. Sleep is worshiped here by the entire family!
I've taken many practical steps to ensure that we sleep well. First, all of the bedrooms have analog alarm clocks rather than digital, i.e., electronic alarm clocks. Did you know that the glow from an electronic clock can fool your body into thinking it's daytime, disrupt circadian rhythms, and interfere with a woman's menstrual cycle by tricking the body into thinking it's always a full moon?! To prevent this I have purchased “old fashioned alarm clocks.”
Additionally all of our bedrooms have floor to ceiling black out curtains covering the windows. I prefer curtains to shades, as shades can let light through around the edges.
My cell phone policy is another cornerstone of our sleeping regimen. The boys and I do not bring our cell phones into our bedrooms after dark, as cell phone screens disrupt sleep with their blue light. Some people use f.lux, on their phones, an app that blocks out blue light, however I have found that any light inhibits deep sleep, so have instituted the no phone policy.
I have created a cell phone charging station at our mail desk, so that I can easily see that phones are plugged in at bedtime. I park my phone in my cubby in our mudroom.
As the boys have gotten older and their stress has increased from the intensity of academics and the competitiveness of sports, so have their pressure levels. When one is under pressure the adrenals fire more. When the adrenals fire more, sleep can be elusive, and insomnia can set in. That's why I have a shelf in my pantry devoted to natural sleep remedies.
The following supplements are the natural sleep remedies I keep on hand and take along with us when we travel.
I use the Pure Encapsulations brand of l-Theanine, so that is what I know best. This product contains 200 mg of l-Theanine, an amino acid (a building block for proteins) found in green tea. In green tea, l-Theanine neutralizes the stimulating effects of caffeine. l-Theanine is used for for treating anxiety as well as high blood pressure and has a chemical structure that is quite similar to glutamate. Glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body that helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain, can also be quite stimulating. Oddly, some of the effects of l-Theanine appear to be similar to glutamate, and some of its effects seem to block glutamate, which would explain why l-Theanine has a neuro-inhibitory effect, thereby helping with relaxation and sleep.
One of the GABA products we use is pharmaGABA from Thorne, which contains 250mg of GABA, however, I believe other brands may be effective as well. GABA, a chemical made in the brain, is one of four main neurotransmitters (the other three consist of dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin). According to Dr. Eric Braverman, if your brain is a car, GABA would be the brakes. While GABA is fantastic for sleeping, I often take it during the day if I find myself in a stressful situation. In addition to the PharmaGABA product, which is a capsule, we also use the Quicksilver product which is a sub-lingual product dispensed in a base of sunflower oil.
The only company I've found that makes kavinace is Neuroscience. According to its manufacturer, kavinace is a proprietary blend of taurine, 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid, and Vitamin B-6 and is a precursor to GABA. Of all of the physicians I've spoken to regarding Kavinace, none were completely certain as to how it functions. Kavinace is the strongest of the three main sleeping remedies we use. If I do take it, I have one pill at 6pm, as it stays in my system for 19 hours –I can tell because I feel groggy for this time period after consuming it.
I find the above natural sleep remedies to be the most effective for my family. I also keep the following combination formula sleep remedies on hand:
The Best Rest Formula by Pure Encapsulations is a combination formula, meaning it contains a number of ingredients that support sleep and restfulness, and aid in the reduction of anxiety. The primary ingredient in the Best Rest Formula is GABA, it contains 300mg in its blend. This potent formula also contains 1 mg of melatonin, plus l-Theanine, valerian (an incredible herb from which Valium was originally derived), lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and chamomile. While this is a fabulous blend, I find that more often we use the single formula products mentioned above and take those in combination to pack a very powerful punch. Still, I keep the Best Rest Formula on hand in case we don't want to use the other products (i.e., just in case any of us were to build up a tolerance to them, which has not happened as of yet).
Herbal Sleep is formulated by Nature's Sunshine. This proprietary herbal blend contains valerian, passion flower, and hops. I don't take it for sleeping, I actually use it when I get a headache.
When the boys were younger, they would ask me to give them their sleeping supplements. Now that they are in high school I believe it is important for them to learn self-care, so I keep these supplements on a shelf in our pantry and they take them as needed and use different doses of the above products during different times of the week. On weekends we all tend to sleep more and take more of these supplements. Not so during the week as we know if we need to wake up bright and early for school or work a smaller dose is more optimal.
Sleep is critical, in fact it is the most critical component of my healing plan. I highly recommend seeing a doctor and looking into getting a medical prescription if none of the natural sleep remedies above work for you. Human growth hormone is released, and heals our bodies while we sleep. If we can't sleep we can't produce this incredible substance and we can't heal. If you aren't sleeping, you simply aren't healing, and getting well.
Numerous emerging studies demonstrate a link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer's in the elderly. For the young, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teenagers sleep 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night and that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30am. Unfortunately, less than 20% of schools in the US begin at 8:30 or later.
There are many resources you can use to get a better night of sleep and to avoid the dreaded insomnia! What are your favorite methods, natural or otherwise, for sleeping? Which natural sleep remedies do you use? Leave a comment and let us know so we can all get to sleep!