Combining a wide range of drug-free therapeutic approaches, Sleep Better With Natural Therapies (Singing Dragons, 2014) offers unique, natural sleep remedies. Author Peter Smith, a holistic medical consultant at the Hale Clinic in London, explains how sleep "works" and the physical and psychological causes of insomnia. Excerpted from "Step One: Increasing Your Natural Melatonin and Gathering the Supplies You'll Need," this selection details eight sleep remedies that can help fight insomnia.
Best Sleep Remedies
In this insomnia programme, to enhance the power of the behavioural therapy, the hypnotherapy, the bright light and darkness techniques, you will combine the sleep-inducing remedies below to kick-start good sleeping.
Tryptophan is converted in the brain into serotonin, which has a natural antidepressant effect; serotonin is in turn converted into melatonin, our primary sleep-inducing hormone.
There is evidence that a dose of 1000 mg of L-tryptophan reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. I’ve seen studies that suggest there is no evidence that tryptophan helps you to stay asleep, however other studies show blood levels of tryptophan are low in people with primary insomnia and that tryptophan significantly increases the depth of the deep sleep phase we have in the beginning of the night. My personal experience is that tryptophan gives you a deeper and more refreshing sleep.
Studies suggest that even when tryptophan is prevented from being converted into serotonin (and therefore melatonin) it still improves sleep, which I find interesting because I have often found it beneficial to combine tryptophan and melatonin supplements.
Just in case you’re wondering, it is perfectly safe to take both tryptophan and melatonin together at the same time; the combination doesn’t produce some kind of dangerous excess melatonin syndrome. Before I understood how to use B-12, low dose lithium, along with bright light and darkness therapy, I would regularly combine tryptophan, melatonin and zinc to fight my sleep phase disorder; there are no contra-interactions between these remedies discussed in the literature.
Dosage: 1000–2000 mg one hour before you go to bed at least 2-1/2 to 3 hours after eating any protein. You may get results with 500 mg but I doubt you reach a therapeutic threshold.
Caution: Do not take tryptophan at the same time as antidepressants; see my website for more details.
As already discussed B-12 speeds up the rate at which melatonin is produced at night, which precipitates a more intense desire to fall asleep.
B-12 is not only completely safe to take at high doses but it is in fact very good for you because it reduces homocysteine, a harmful chemical that causes damaging inflammation throughout our body.
Dosage: 1000–5000 mcg held under the tongue for several minutes. You must choose the right form of B-12 (methylcobalamin not cyanocobalamin) and also the right type of sublingual preparation to bypass the intestines. If you don’t get these two things right you will not get the benefits.
As already discussed lithium improves the healthy functioning of our biological clock to establish healthy sleep cycles; when functioning well and combined with adequate bright light during the day and darkness during the night your biological clock will change your internal physiology so that you are fully awake during the day and fully asleep during the night.
Dosage: Lithinase from Progressive Laboratories (available from iHerb): 1 capsule with breakfast, 1–2 capsules with dinner.
Zinc is an excellent and safe sleep aid; it can also have a calming and antidepressant effect. It can be difficult to absorb from the intestines so always buy good quality zinc chelated supplements. Amino acid chelates were the best but have now been superseded by the Food State technology sold in the UK by Nature’s Own or Cytoplan, and the True Food technology sold by Higher Nature. Unfortunately I am not familiar with the brands of Food State supplements in other countries. Look for brands with the name Food State in their information and you will see they are blended with S. cerevisiae in the ingredients. In the USA I recommend Mega Food (available from iHerb).
These supplements have been processed through live (safe) yeasts so that they end up as a true concentrate of how the mineral actually occurs in nature in real foods. Another great advantage these types of supplement give us is that you can take Food State zinc on an empty stomach last thing at night without problems; if you take a non-Food State regular zinc supplement on an empty stomach it can make you feel nauseous. Single doses over 60 mg in almost any format can induce nausea.
Dosage: To help your sleep try a dose of 40–50 mg last thing at night if you’re using a regular zinc amino acid chelate or half that dose if you can get Food State supplements. To metabolise zinc you need B-6 but the problem with taking much B-6 late at night is that it can induce such vivid dreams that it will disturb your sleep. The solution is to take a small dose of B-6, about 5–10 mg combined with your zinc works well. I recommend half a Nature’s Own Food State B-6 tablet or a Food State B complex. If you can’t get the Food State supplements, taking a regular B complex with dinner should provide sufficient B-6.
On the issue of safety, regular zinc supplementation can suppress your iron and copper levels; this is easily prevented by supplementing a low dose of iron and copper. For this reason most manufacturers add iron or at least copper to their zinc supplements. Supplementing 80 mg in total every day can cause health problems but only after several years. A single dose of more than 550 mg can be poisonous but you would probably vomit most of it up fairly quickly.
Zinc in general boosts the immune system, especially with regard to fighting viruses; however, high doses of zinc supplements, above say 30 mg, may actually diminish your immune system when fighting a heavy bacterial infection such as a chest infection. See my Natural Antibiotics and Immune Boost Doc, which are available free from my self-help pages on my website.
Numerous studies have demonstrated magnesium to possess a hypnotic or sleep-benefiting effect. Compared to the above remedies this effect is mild yet still valuable. Several studies have also shown that that the diet in western developed countries is often magnesium deficient.
Take 400–600 mg with dinner as a sleep (and general health) aid.
Magnesium oxide is cheap but very poorly absorbed; don’t use it. Magnesium citrate is a good value, well-absorbed, general purpose version. Magnesium malate would be the version to choose if you suffer from neurological or muscular pain such as fibromyalgia.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter; it puts the brakes on anxious, worrying thoughts going around and around in the mind and has a general calming effect. If anxiety, racing thoughts or stress are causing insomnia try GABA, or theanine which boosts GABA levels, as sleep aids.
Dosage: The therapeutic dose of GABA for insomnia may need to be fairly high, from 1000 to 3000 mg. Theanine 100–200 mg taken shortly before retiring.
Higher doses of omega-3 oils can make one feel very sleepy and can be used as an occasional sleep aid. The sleepinducing effect comes on within several hours after dosing. Since omega-3 oils also have mood-stabilising (anti-mania) effects they are a potentially useful option to help quickly shut your system down during a manic episode.
There can be a downside to doing this, however; if you suffer from depression or bipolar syndrome, exceeding the dose which you have established helps your mental health problem may slightly intensify or induce a mild depression the following day. This negative effect is temporary however, only lasting a few days at most, and may be worth putting up with for the sleep benefits.
You could try the heavy-handed dose of fish oils at a time when your depression is in remission so you gain an understanding of the effects of this sleep-inducing technique.
Research has shown that omega-3 oils have a similar mood-stabilising mechanism of action as lithium on bipolar, albeit not as powerful. However omega-3 oils do not regulate our 24-hour biological clock the same way lithium does. So fish oil may benefit insomnia (sleep quality and quantity) but not sleep rhythm disorders. With bipolar syndrome always pre-load omega-3 oils into your brain for a week or so before starting bright light treatment to minimise the small but potentially serious risk of mania.
Being physically active increases the body’s production of adenosine, which increases sleep pressure, helping you to fall asleep at the end of the day. Have you ever noticed that you slept like a log on days when you were very physically active (long hikes, moving house and carrying lots of boxes, etc.) This is because a by-product of the body metabolising energy is to produce adenosine and the more energy you expend the more adenosine you build up.
Even more moderate amounts of exercise, say 20 minutes vigorous walking, have been shown to significantly improve the sleep of people with chronic insomnia, shortening the length of time it took to fall asleep and increasing the length of time people stayed asleep.
You probably just have to fit in exercise whenever you can, however if you have the choice try a strenuous workout session of at least 20 minutes, or sufficient to make you feel hot, about three hours before you want to sleep. As your body temperature cools down it acts as an additional signal telling the body to sleep. Raising your core temperature through exercise immediately before trying to sleep will probably increase the time it takes you to fall asleep.
Why not try and use this insomnia curing programme as an opportunity (or excuse) to kick-start a healthy exercise programme at the same time?
Sleep Better With Natural Therapies: A Comprehensive Guide to Overcoming Insomnia, Moving Sleep Cycles and Preventing Jet Lag by Peter Smith (c) 2014 Singing Dragon. Reprinted with permission. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.