Conditions & Ailments

Sleeping disorders and the herbal medicines used for treatment



Many people do not realize that they suffer from sleeping disorders and therefore do not seek help.  A night"s restful sleep is important for your body to recover from the stress and difficulties that you have experienced during the day and to refresh your brain.  Sleep is also a way for your body to renew itself, making sure that it functions properly the next day.  Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, but this varies from person to person. People who are well rested feel alert and are able to cope with normal daily functions.

Long term sleep deprivation can lead to many different problems, including depression, anxiety, a decrease in social activities and an inability to cope with even the simplest of tasks.  Serious health problems can result from sleep deprivation, such as high blood pressure, diabetes (the body is unable to process sugar properly), a weakened immune system and even obesity.

Normal sleep consists of two main stages, rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep.  Dreaming occurs during REM sleep.  The stages of sleep can further be broken down as follows:
  • Stage 1:  Light sleep - light eye movement occurs and muscle activity slows down.  You drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily.
  • Stage 2:  Light sleep - eye movement stops and brain waves become slower with occasional rapid burst of brain waves
  • Stage 3:  Deep sleep - delta waves, which are extremely slow brain waves appear that are interspersed with smaller, faster waves.
  • Stage 4:  Deep sleep - there are no eye movements and no muscle activity.  Mostly delta waves are produced by the brain.
  • Stage 5:  REM sleep - breathing becomes irregular, shallow and rapid.  Limb muscles are temporarily paralyzed and the eyes jerk rapidly.  Dreaming can occur.


Symptoms of sleeping disorders

  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Difficulty returning to sleep once awake
  • Waking up too early
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • A racing mind that is difficult to "switch off"
  • Daytime tiredness and a difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Irritability

Some of the most common sleeping disorders are:

  • Insomnia:  Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
  • Hypopnea syndrome:  An abnormally slow respiratory rate whilst sleeping.
  • Narcolepsy:  Excessive daytime sleepiness that often results in a person falling asleep spontaneously at inappropriate times.
  • Bruxism: Involuntarily grinding or clenching of the teeth while sleeping.
  • Rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD): Acting out violent or dramatic dreams while in REM sleep, people have reported a spouse punching them whilst still asleep.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS): An irresistible urge to move your legs, often to relieve a "crawling" feeling in the lower limbs.
  • Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS):  An inability to awaken and fall asleep at socially acceptable times. There is however no problem with sleep maintenance.  
  • Sleepwalking or somnambulism: The performing of activities that are normally associated with wakefulness such as eating or walking, without the conscious knowledge of the subject.
  • Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD): A sudden involuntary movement of arms and/or legs during sleep.


How can supplements help me?


Herbal supplements can assist you in falling asleep and maintaining sleep.  Try different herbal supplements to see which one works the best for you.  Use these herbal medicines only as needed so that your body does not become too tolerant of one specific herbal supplement.

 

Supplement Recommendations

Supplement

Dosage

Valerian 250-500 mg standardized extract before bedtime
GABA 500 mg before bedtime
Calcium / Magnesium 600 mg calcium and 600 mg magnesium before bedtime
Vitamin B6 / Niacinamide 50 mg vitamin B6 and 500 mg niacinamide before bedtime
Camomile 1 cup of tea in the evening
Kava 250 mg before bedtime

Valerian has the ability to assist in relaxing the central nervous system, promoting better sleep, lowering anxiety levels and promoting a feeling of calmness.  One of the common benefits of Valerian is that the morning after using it, there is no morning drowsiness or grogginess.

GABA is an abbreviation for Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. It is a chemical found naturally in the human body. This natural supplement has been used in the treatment of depression, manic-depressive  disorder, seizures (uncontrollable shaking), premenstrual syndrome, and anxiety.  People who suffer from a deficiency in GABA often experience anxiety, irritability, high blood pressure and headaches.

Camomile promotes general relaxation and relieves anxiety.  This herbal medicine has anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties as well, which is helpful in relieving pain that can cause sleep problems.

Kava root contains a number of compounds that have a wide range of therapeutic uses.  In many European countries, doctors are prescribing Kava as an herbal medicine for treating anxiety, stress and insomnia.  This herbal medicine has been successfully used in treating panic attacks as well as preventing this often debilitating condition.  

Other recommendations

In the evening eat foods that are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep.  These foods include bananas, milk, tuna, turkey, whole grain crackers and yoghurt.

Do not eat large meals at least two hours before bedtime and avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine four to six hours before bedtime.

Do not nap during the day if you do not need to.  Try and go to bed at the same time every night and set an alarm clock for the same time every morning.  This establishes regular sleeping habits.

Make sure that the temperature in your bedroom is comfortable and not too hot or cold.

Do not take prescription sleeping medications with herbal medicines for insomnia as this will cause excessive drowsiness and lead to a lack of concentration.

Studies have shown that regular exercise helped people suffering from sleeping disorders to sleep more soundly through the night.

Certain herbal medications such as ginseng, guarana and kola nut have stimulating effects that can keep you from falling asleep.  Avoid taking these herbal supplements at least two hours before bedtime.

Reminder

Please consult your medical practitioner prior to using any herbal medications should you be under their care.  Suggestions offered are not intended to replace appropriate medical investigation and treatment.

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