Insomnia can affect people both mentally and physically, and its negative impact on your health can build up over time. Remedies for poor sleep quality or difficulty falling or staying asleep have been around for centuries and are found in the traditional medicines of all cultures around the world. With the arrival of modern medicine, people turn to pharmaceutical treatments to treat these health conditions. Often, it is a personâ€™s intolerance to a medication that introduces them to alternative therapies. Many of us question if these remedies are effective or pure folklore. Did you know herbal remedies can be safe and effective when used at appropriate dose levels?
The practice of using herbs to treat sleep disorders is part of Canadian traditional medicine. This practice in North America ranged from very far south of the border all the way to the First Nations people of Canadaâ€™s boreal forest regions, whose traditional medicine also involved spiritual powers. Native elders would use the herbs to calm the spirit and nerves of the wind. This treatment strategy was similar in other cultures. These herbs are recognized today by practitioners as nervous sedatives or hypnotics.
Herbs traditionally recognized for use in sleep remedies, and still commonly used today, include California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Hops (Humulus lupulus), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and Valerian (Valeriana spp.). These herbs are effective at adequate doses to help relieve nervousness, as a sleep aid for cases of restlessness, mental stress, or for insomnia. All of these herbs are considered safe for use in adults. However, only Hops, Lemon Balm, and Passionflower are considered safe by Health Canada for use in adolescents 13 years and older.
California poppy and Hops are scientifically recognized as having hypnotic activity and therefore can induce sleep. The other herbs are sedatives and help you sleep by inducing the nervous system to calm. One type makes you fall asleep and other relaxes your mind to allow you to fall asleep. For some people, there is no perceivable difference as both allow them to fall asleep. These work by the same mechanisms that action pharmaceutical drugs target.
The traditional use of the majority of these herbs as sleep aids is confirmed by numerous wellÂ controlled (randomized, placebo) clinical trials. The majority of the studies involved the combination of two or more herbs and were performed in adults. This is not the case for adolescents. Despite the fact there are no clinical trials in a population of adolescents, the real issue with this population is related to effective dosages and safety.
The sleep aid benefits of Valerian remain controversial in clinical research. The studies with Valerian suggested progressive benefits are observed over a 4-Âweek period and not following a single-Âdose use. This is not the case with the other herbs where the sleep benefits are obtained on the first day of use.
Common remedies to fall asleep are based on the use of single herbs or the combination of two or more herbs. Effective formulations for people with difficulty falling asleep are based on the hypnotic properties of California poppy and/or Hops. Working hard and late? Lots of adrenaline? Anxiety, nervousness, or stress keeping you up at night? Combinations of Lemon Balm and PassionflowerÂ work very well. These are sedative herbs, so they calm the person allowing them to fall asleep. Many people find the use of the Lemon Balm and Passionflower combination to be quite effective. Another very good remedy for these situations is Scullcap. It is a very good calmative, and at higher doses, it can be a sedative. What about insomnia due to shift work? Some people will be able to fall asleep using the hypnotic herbal remedies and others with the sedatives and/or a combination of both.
The endogenous hormone, known as melatonin, helps to regulate sleep/wake cycles (circadian rhythm). Clinical trials have shown it is effective for jet lag. It helps set a normal sleep pattern and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. According to the body of scientific evidence, melatonin can also be effective in children, elderly with insomnia, and in some other clinical sleep disorders. TheÂ weakest evidence is in the use of melatonin in work shift sleep disorder, which affects many people in our society. That said, it may help some people reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and allow them to set a normal sleep pattern. Other than remedies, modifying nutrition and environmental factors can also help you fall asleep.
Side effects are possible even though these herbs have a very good safety profile. Drowsiness is frequent if you take these before bedtime. This means do not take them if you plan on driving or performing any potentially hazardous task. In some people, some of the herbs may do the opposite and cause insomnia. It is like an excitation. In these situations, you can always try another remedy containing different herbs. Always consult a health care professional if the insomnia persists or worsens.
If you take alcohol at night, the alcohol will amplify the effect of the herbs resulting in a stronger sedation. Alcohol does not improve sleep quality; in fact, it is more disruptive to sleep. Although itÂ may help you to fall asleep, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM), and you are often awake the second part of the night.
We often read about the concerns over combining natural health products and drugs. Herbs used for anxiety and sleep target the same mechanism the drugs for anxiety and sleep do. This translates into the potential for addictive effects. In other words, it amplifies the therapeutic action. Although this can be interpreted as good, amplification of nervous sedation can have serious consequences. Combining these herbs and drugs can result in respiratory depression. Always consult your pharmacist or health care professional before taking any natural health product in combination with drugs.
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