I have suffered from insomnia for the past year and would like to know if you could recommend a natural alternative to over-the-counter sleep aids. I exercise 3 times and I’ve tried progressive relaxation but nothing seems to help unless I take a sleep aid. My problem is not so much in falling asleep but in staying asleep.
Insomnia is very common in our culture. You’re wise to try exercise and progressive relaxation. The syndrome of early morning wakening is one of the hallmarks of depression, so you might consider seeing your doctor or a therapist who is trained in diagnosing and treating depression.
Many of the pharmacological sleep aids, whether prescription or over the counter, may interfere with REM sleep. They may help you get to sleep more easily but you may find yourself waking up early or feeling tired and sluggish when you get up.
You might try some of the more natural approaches that may help you relax and sleep more soundly. Valerian root extract has been shown to reduce sleep latency and increase sleep efficiency. It is often combined with extract of lemon balm for enhanced sedation effects.
Chamomile tea contains an active ingredient known as apigenin, which binds to the same receptors as benzodiazepines such as Valium. Jasmine has been shown in animals to be sedating, although jasmine tea often contains caffeine, which can be stimulating.
When I was on my honeymoon in Fiji a few years ago, I tried a tea made from an extract of kava kava, a plant that grows there. Several studies have shown that kava kava may decrease anxiety and insomnia.
Small doses of melatonin (less than 1 mg) may help you sleep, especially when traveling across time zones to reset your biological clock and avoid jet lag.