If you have trouble sleeping but are afraid of developing a dependence on prescription and over-the-counter medicines, you might want to think about using alternative ways to get the rest you need. You wont be alone. Approximately 1.6 million Americans are using alternatives to conventional sleep medicines, according to a recent study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Bethesda, MD, one of the federal National Institutes of Health.Herbal remedies and foods can be especially effective because they work to lessen or eliminate other issues like anxiety or digestive discomfort. Barbara L. Heller, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Binghamton, NY, and author of How to Sleep Soundly Tonight: 250 Simple and Natural Ways to Prevent Sleeplessness offers these suggestions for getting a natural nights rest:Drink milk: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that a protein naturally found in milk may not only improve sleep quality but also boost alertness the following day. Milton Erman, M.D., president of Pacific Sleep Medicine Services in Los Angeles, says, "Milk contains a protein, alpha-lactalbumin, rich in tryptophan, which sends the brain the message to sleep." Love lavender: David Stretch, Ph.D., of the Greenwood Institute of Child Health at the University of Leicester in England and his colleagues found lavender oil could replace drug treatment for insomnia because it encouraged drowsiness. Heller says, Relax in a warm tub with a couple of dollops of lavender or put a lavender sachet between your pillow and pillowcase.
Cool off with black cohosh: If your sleep is disrupted by night sweats, this Native American herb (available in capsule form) is not only relaxing but may ease pain and neurological discomfort. This perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family has also been used to treat hot flashes and provide relief from other menopausal symptoms, Heller says. Check with your doctor before trying this; the NCAM says its not for women with hormone-sensitive conditions like breast cancer.
Sip herbal tea: Many herbal teas contains sleep-inducing chamomile, catnip, oat tops and mint. Other effective ingredients include passionflower and hops. Look in your local health-food store or even your supermarket. Many stores now carry herbal tea.
Try valerian: This is the premier herb to combat stress and insomnia, says Heller. Its best taken in capsule or liquid form. The NCAM recommends using the remedy for only four to six weeks. Again, check with your doctor if this herb is right for you.
Robin Westen is ThirdAges medical reporter. Check for her daily updates. She is the author of Ten Days to Detox: How to Look and Feel a Decade Younger.
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