When Sleep Won't Come
By Nancy Ouhib, MBA, RD, LD / July, 2011

June is Better Sleep Month. For most people, going to sleep isn't a problem. But an estimated two out of ten people suffer from sleeplessness or insomnia at some point in their lifetimes. These are tough situations to remedy. Aggravated by aging, stress, menopause, lack of sleep and jet lag, among other reasons, insomnia is frustrating, as those who suffer from the condition pass the night away in complete consciousness and the hours tick by.

While there are conventional drug therapies available for the treatment of acute or chronic insomnia, many adults are searching for attractive alternatives that aid in curing sleeplessness, yet do not have the side effects of prescription medications.

Melatonin is a natural chemical, a hormone manufactured by the pineal gland in the middle portion of the brain, that will help lull you to sleep. It helps to regulate people's internal clocks. It is responsible for maintaining the circadian rhythm within our bodies. The amount of light hitting the eyes determines the amount of melatonin that is secreted by the pineal gland.

Darkness triggers the release of melatonin, causing drowsiness, a drop in body temperature and eventually a state of sleep. By age forty, the level of melatonin production starts to decline and some adults often begin experiencing acute insomnia.

At peak efficiency, our internal clocks readjust at the rate of one hour per day. Many external factors affect our internal clock. Melatonin taken as a supplement may help you cope with decline in melatonin production by providing the extra signal needed to go to sleep. Or consider that melatonin is naturally present in many foods including rice, barley, corn, tomatoes, bananas and lemon verbena, an herbal tea. In the U.S., melatonin is regarded as a dietary supplement and marketed according to the guidelines in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.

Tryptophan is also a natural remedy for insomnia. It is responsible for making people sleepy after consuming a Thanksgiving dinner that provides ample portions of turkey, which contains very high amounts of the amino acid tryptophan.

Not only is tryptophan one of the twenty amino acids that are the building blocks of protein, it is also one of the eight essential amino acids. The body is not able to produce them, so we must obtain them from a food source, such as turkey. Tryptophan helps people to sleep better. It also improves mood, since the body naturally converts tryptophan into both melatonin and serotonin.

A snack before bedtime combined with either a melatonin or tryptophan supplement taken an hour before bedtime can also help to lull you off to sleep. Some suggestions include oatmeal with milk and walnuts, yogurt, pita and hummus, bananas with peanut butter and toast, almonds, tart cherries (the type for pie), or tea -- chamomile, mint or lemon verbena. Milk has a high tryptophan content.

Other suggestions include establishing a regular sleep routine, avoiding a heavy meal close to bedtime, and omitting alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and nicotine. Try not to watch the clock. Make your bedroom a soothing, harmonious place that is pleasing and clutter-free. Are the bed and pillows comfortable? If not, maybe it's time to change the mattress and buy new pillows.

Adjust the elements such as light, temperature and noise. Use blackout drapes and an air purifier. Exercise in the late afternoon is especially sleep-promoting. Whatever makes you feel relaxed and comfortable are the things you may want to try such as a warm bath, soothing music, reading a book, dimming the lights, and turning off the television. Adhering to a nightly routine may make getting to sleep a bit easier.

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