KUSA - Trying to get a good night's sleep can be a nightmare for some.
There are those who hit the pillow and fall asleep. But, for millions of Americans, that's not the case.
If you have insomnia you've probably heard of the good sleep hygiene principles -like banning electronics from the bedroom, avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day, exercising and avoiding daytime naps .
Been there, done that.
But, some natural supplements you may not have heard of, could offer hope.
"They're not going to put you to sleep when you're having other issues," 9NEWS expert Dr. John Torres said. "But, they might help out a little bit."
Valerian is said to help relax the nervous system. Some studies show it improves overall sleep quality.
"What we need is we need for our body to begin to relax," Dani Banner, with Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. "If our muscles can relax a lot that helps a lot. But, we also need our brain to relax. And sometimes that's a problem for people - getting their brain to turn off.
"You don't always have to take it in supplements. There's also teas that include valerian. It's kind of our hard-hitter when it comes to sleep help herbs," Banner said.
"It has been shown to work to a certain extent," Dr. John said. "'[It is] not a magic pill."
Passionflower and Lemon Balm are two herbs that can also help prepare you for sleep.
"Both of them help to calm the nervous system down again," Banner said. "Passionflower helps settle down the brain so that you can relax into sleep. And both lemon balm and passionflower have some studies that show that they can be supportive healthy sleep quality."
L-Theanine is an amino acid, naturally occurring in green tea, and can help with mind relaxation.
"It helps our brain get into alpha waves," Banner said. "This is the state where you are relaxed and focused. It's like a calm, concentrated state and it is one of the preludes to the first stage of sleep. So, without getting into those alpha waves you're going to have a hard time falling asleep."
Banner says L-Theanine works in tandem with another amino acid called 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), which can help your body build more serotonin. Serotonin encourages feelings of well being.
"Then the brain cells take serotonin back up and they turn it into melatonin," Banner said.
The 5-HTP amino acid can also provide the building blocks for melatonin, which helps make people feel tired.
"Melatonin helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle," Banner said. "So, at a certain time of night it should be dark enough outside that our brain gets the signal to turn on melatonin production."
That's when melatonin starts to be released. She says we start to feel sleepy when melatonin reaches its peak.
"If we can have 5-HTP it can provide more of the building blocks for melatonin," Banner said.
Melatonin is also one of the more popular sleep supplements. However, extra caution should be used when taking it because it is a hormone.
"I always encourage caution when supplementing with a hormone," Banner said.
"Melatonin is a hormone that our body puts out and it puts it out in conjunction with our Circadian rhythm to try and go ahead and get us to sleep," Dr. John said.
"It has the potential to cause some imbalance in other areas. So I would use it only sparingly and only occasionally," Banner said.
She says it is included in some supplement blends.
"As a part of the blend I think it helps to support those natural feelings of sleepiness at night," Banner said.
"Short term use is safe," Dr. John added. "But you do want to be a little cautious with it."
"Taking breaks from melatonin is important," Banner said.
For some, taking melatonin will have no effect.
"If you have adequate amounts of melatonin in your brain and you take melatonin nothing will happen," Banner said. "If you try it and it doesn't work, it's not the supplement for you."
According to Banner, magnolia and oshwagandha may also offer relief by moderating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
When we are continually in a state of stress, as I think most people are,we're continually releasing cortisol," Banner said. "Cortisol will disrupt our sleep patterns. So, if we can help moderate the levels of cortisol in our body we can support healthy sleep patterns."
Doctor John says most people get less than seven hours of sleep a night, when we should get seven to nine.
"As a nation we're pretty much sleep deprived," Dr. John said. "The problem is that takes its toll on your heart. It takes its toll on your blood pressure [and can cause] earlier."
So, those who live by the motto 'I'll sleep when I'm dead,' should rethink it.
"If you're not getting enough sleep now, that death's going to come earlier," Dr. John said. "And you don't want that to happen.
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