By Nicole Johnson
Special to JenniferMargulis.net
I don’t want to brag, but I’ve always been a great sleeper. Sleep was my thing.
Years ago, after the birth of my son, a friend came to stay with me. On the first morning after her arrival, I mentioned how amazing it was that my son was already sleeping through the night.
She looked at me like I was crazy and broke the news: I was sleeping through the night, my son was not.
I would sleep soundly throughout my 30s, but in my 40s I stopped sleeping quite as well. And my husband, who had never been a good sleeper, was now ruining my sleep. He’s a nighttime problem solver, a tosser and turner, a snorer, and sometimes a getter upper.
These days, as I’m closing in on 50, I usually make it to about 3:00 a.m. and then my own tossing and turning (and worrying) begins and my great sleep stops.
Lack of sleep can be dangerous, as can sleeping pills
Drowsy driving, according to the CDC, may be responsible for more than 6,000 car accidents a year. After hearing a horror story of a car accident while sleep-driving, I knew that I needed to fix my sleep.
But I didn’t want to use prescription sleep aids. Commonly used sleeping pills can be addictive and have a variety of negative side effects, including headaches, brain fog, and even heart palpitations.
Gregg D. Jacobs, Ph.D., an insomnia expert and author of Say Good Night to Insomnia, argues that sleeping pills can actually worsen the quality of your sleep.
My grandmother was a pill popper and never very healthy. My parents, on the other hand, never took prescription medications and have both been enjoying long, healthy lives, and my husband, who’s a doctor, insists his oldest healthiest patients are always the people who stay away from meds.
So I wanted to try natural sleep remedies.
And so began my search.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
How I fixed my sleep problems
- Magnesium is an essential mineral that most Americans, even uber health conscious ones, don’t get enough of in our diets. Magnesium has been shown to activate the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps to quiet the nervous system.
It’s confusing because there are many supplemental forms of magnesium: citrate, oxide, glycinate… I decided to try Natural Calm and have been happy with the results. There is definitely an unpleasant side effect of taking too much—I’ll let you research “bowel tolerance…”
- Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle. Darkness signals the body to produce more melatonin which then prompts the body to prepare for sleep. It makes sense that many people swear by its effectiveness as a supplemental sleep aid. I tried taking 10 mg. I have friends who say melatonin really helps them sleep better. Though it didn’t seem to work for me, it might work for you.
- CBD for sleep is all the rage right now. I live in a state where cannabis with THC is not legal—and it’s probably not going to be for a while, so I have only tried CBD products without any significant amounts of THC. It was difficult to know where to start with CBD and I felt a little overwhelmed by all the options. I finally reached out to a naturopath who gave me a recommendation for a product and starting point for dosing. After several weeks of taking around 12mg per day, I have noticed generally reduced anxiety and more restful sleep.
- Valerian is an herbal supplement that I discovered in the sleep section of my local health food store. Valerian root is an herb native to Asia and Europe and flowers from the plant were once used to make perfume. Don’t be fooled, though, the supplement stinks! I chose a product called Valerian Passion Flower because I was told that the added passion flower can help cut out “brain chatter.” My husband tried this one for only a few days and stopped because he felt it caused him to have very real and disturbing dreams. So far, my brain is still chattering some in the evenings, but I am willing to give this supplement a few more tries.
Homeopathy to solve sleep problems
I’m new to the world of homeopathy, so bear with me. I’ve experimented with a few homeopathic products for anxiety and sleep with some success. I started with Rescue Pastilles which come in several flavors (none of which I particularly loved) and did feel some slight relief in stress. Still looking for the perfect homeopathic fix, I compared the ingredients of several products and found several in common. One was Chamomilla, which is a remedy for irritability. Another is Gelsemium, which seems to impact the quality of sleep. I also recently tried Nux Vomica, which is supposed to help the person who has little trouble falling asleep but then wakes up at 3:00 a.m. and worries (that’s me!). I’ve added that to my sleep fixing arsenal.
Mindfulness to solve sleep problems
I’m also new to meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, the practice of calming the mind by focusing on breathing and awareness of the present moment.
My favorite thing about meditation is that failure is expected and considered part of the practice.
Through mindfulness meditation, I have been better able to break the train of thoughts that keep me from sleep in the middle of the night. It’s a beautiful thing.
Essential oils to solve sleep problems
Though many people I know love and swear by essential oils and though I know that I am going to make some people mad when I make this confession, I have to admit that I’ve never seen any significant sleep benefits from using essential oils. That said, I love using essential oils in my homemade cleaning products and I do find the smells relaxing.
My favorite essential oils for bedtime are lavender (in a diffuser or pillow spray) and peppermint or spearmint (in a foot balm).
If nothing else, the routine of applying the minty foot balm is relaxing.
Other oils considered effective for sleep include valerian oil, clary sage, Roman chamomile and vanilla.
Solving my sleep problems is still a work in progress. All the natural sleep remedies I’ve tried to date have helped, if only temporarily.
Send me your best natural sleep remedies in the comments below. I look forward to exploring more options and am eager to again be the great sleeper I once was.
About the Author: Nicole Johnson is a graduate of the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism. She earned her law degree from Samford University and worked as an attorney for ten years. A mother of two, she enjoys writing, trail running, and farm photography.