Lack of sleep is related to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, accelerated aging, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and depression.
What’s more, chronic lack of sleep feeds on itself: as you become more exhausted, it’s ever harder to fall asleep. But the good news is that there are safe, natural ways to stop this cycle of exhaustion and get the rest you need.
If you’re battling insomnia, there’s hope. First, get a checkup to rule out sleep apnea or serious vitamin deficiencies, and consult with a holistic practitioner to address hormonal imbalances. Then practice good sleep hygiene: avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption, as well as screen time before bedtime; keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet; and limit nighttime snacking to small amounts of high-protein food.
Chronic lack of sleep feeds on itself. As you become more exhausted, it becomes harder and harder to fall asleep.
7 Best Sleep Supplements
Is most commonly used for jet lag and adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people working night shifts, and to treat insomnia. Some studies suggest it’s also effective in treating insomnia related to attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Melatonin is best used as a liquid or in tablets that dissolve in your mouth, so the hormone is absorbed directly into the body.
A compound found in green tea, has a calming effect on the brain; studies suggest that it’s readily absorbed in large quantities, crosses the blood-brain barrier, gets into the brain quickly, and impacts levels of the amino acids affecting serotonin and other neurotransmitters. You’ll find it in single formula tablets and capsules, and in combination with other sleep-inducing nutrients.
3. 5-HTP (5-hydroxy- tryptophan)
Is made by the body from tryptophan as an intermediate step in making serotonin. It’s most commonly used to treat depression and may be effective in treating insomnia that’s secondary to mood disorders.
Is known to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and is also thought to improve sleep by decreasing the body's release of cortisol. Magnesium also works with calcium, to help muscles contract and then relax. To help you sleep, try magnesium powder, tablets or capsules, alone or in formulas that also include an assortment of soothing herbs.
5. Flower essences
Made by infusing spring water with various flowers, are safe, gentle, and excellent for children. The most common remedies are cherry plum (for relaxing and letting go), impatiens (for releasing tension), and white chestnut (for relaxing the mind). Use them individually or in combination formulas.
6. Homeopathic remedies
Like flower essences, are safe and gentle enough for children. Some common homeopathics for sleeplessness are Aconitum napellus (for worry or fear), belladonna (for restlessness), Coffea cruda (for nervousness and excitability), Hyoscyamus niger (for difficulty falling asleep), and passiflora (for wakefulness). They’re best taken in formulas that combine a number of different remedies.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a safe, mild herbal sedative that excels in relieving anxiety, neuralgia, and insomnia. Human research is sparse, but in one study, 15 women and four men, aged 20–70 years, were asked to rate their energy, cognition, and anxiety after taking a skullcap preparation. The researchers concluded that the herb “demonstrated noteworthy anxiety-relieving effects.”
Much of skullcap’s calming action is likely due to its antispasmodic constituent scutellarin, a flavonoid glycoside. Other flavonoids in skullcap bind to GABA receptors, as valerian does. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports that a flavonoid in the herb helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
The Sleep-Weight Connection
Put the brakes on overeating simply by getting more sleep by W. Chris Winter, MD
There have been many studies over the last several years that demonstrate how poor sleeping leads to weight gain, and the evidence is reaching the “overwhelming” level. Here are some research highlights:
- Numerous studies have shown that sleeping fewer than six hours and staying up past midnight are linked to obesity. In a 2015 study that examined the habits of more than 1 million Chinese subjects, public health researcher Jinwen Zhang found higher levels of obesity in people who slept fewer than seven hours per night.
- School-age children who sleep inadequately (fewer than nine hours per night) and/or erratically were more likely to be obese, according to a 2008 study by circadian rhythm/endocrine system investigator Eve Van Cauter.
- Ghrelin, a hormone produced in our gut that promotes hunger, may play a key role in the pleasure associated with eating and make us crave all of those processed junk foods we like so much. Clinical investigator Shahrad Taheri’s 2004 study showed that as sleep duration goes down, ghrelin production goes up, increasing the likelihood of overeating and obesity.
- Poor sleep quality can affect our levels of the chemical leptin. Produced by fat cells, leptin induces a feeling of fullness and puts the brakes on appetite. When we sleep poorly, leptin levels are reduced, which makes us want to eat more, according to a 2015 study by sleep researcher Fahed Hakim.
- Researchers Alyssa Lundahl and Timothy Nelson’s 2015 study demonstrated that after a poor night of sleep, our energy levels are reduced. One compensatory mechanism is to eat more in an effort to boost energy.
- Poor sleep can contribute to decreased impulse control and greater risk-taking behaviors. These factors could lead to eating poorly during periods of disturbed or inadequate sleep, according to Harvard researcher William Killgore in a 2006 study.
Excerpted with permission from The Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter, MD.