Q: Are there any natural sleep remedies that really work?
–Denise Rogan, Oreland, PA
A: If I had a dollar for every time a patient asked me that, I’d be on the Forbes Richest People in America list. Happily, I can tell you the answer is yes. Here’s my integrative approach to getting you to dreamland.
Avoid sleep killers. Women metabolize caffeine slowly, so your morning tea or coffee or afternoon soda will still be with you at bedtime. Limit caffeinated-drink intake to less than 4 ounces total early in the day, and avoid caffeine after 3 PM. Likewise, limit alcohol to two to three drinks a week. That glass of wine may help you fall asleep, but it can wake you up at 2 AM.
Eat to help you sleep. Your best bedtime snack is peanut butter on toast or a small serving of yogurt and fruit. The protein helps produce the amino acid tryptophan, and the carbohydrates make the tryptophan more available to your brain—and that leads to production of serotonin, a relaxation chemical. (Get more low-calorie, late-night snacks, here.)
Wear yourself out. A recent Sleep Foundation survey of 1,000 people found that those who sat for less than 8 hours a day reported better sleep than those who were more sedentary. In the same survey, exercisers, especially those who did vigorous activity, got the best sleep. If you’re a nonexerciser, adding just 10 minutes of movement a day can lead to better rest.
Supplement. Taken an hour before bedtime, melatonin can help you drop off like a baby. The average starting dose is 0.5 to 1 mg (slow release). Also consider trying 5-HTP (a precursor of serotonin), which helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. I start my patients at 100 mg, taken about 30 minutes before going to bed. Valerian root (dosage: 2 g at bedtime) and jujube seed (250 mg) are two herbs I recommend specifically for staying asleep. Bhringraj, an Ayurvedic herb, also promotes sleep. Take 3 to 5 g at night.
TASNEEM BHATIA, MD, is medical director and founder of the Atlanta Center for Holistic & Integrative Medicine.