Of course, there's also the scary, addictive nature of sleeping drugs that makes even the most hardened skeptic seek alternative therapies, such as the ones listed below.
What I'm suggesting is a combination of many different sleep therapies that have worked for my family. I'd love it if you would leave a comment letting us know what has worked for your family, as well.
After the death of my mother-in-law, I went through a period of depression. Sleep was elusive and unsatisfying at the time, which probably fed the depression even more. Eventually, I learned that to keep depression at bay and to provide restful sleep at night it was important to exercise. In particular, it was important to walk outside. Walking outside provides fresh air, vitamin D, a wider variety of colors, and time to reflect on the stresses of life, in addition to providing weight-bearing exercise. (Remember, that weight-bearing means that your body bears it's own weight, not that you're lifting iron.)
Red light at night
Our sleep schedules are supposed to be regulated by the sun. Sunlight is filled with a full spectrum of light, including blue light to keep us alert throughout the day. The longer we're exposed to blue light, the smaller the amount of melatonin that our body manufactures. The problem is that newfangled inventions like light bulbs, some alarm clocks, televisions, and computers also produce blue light, but they are capable of doing so for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With so much blue light, the body stores of melatonin waste away to practically nothing.
An interesting twist is that red light doesn't interfere at all with the production of melatonin. Back in the day, the hunters and gatherers only hope for artificial light came from the red light of a fire.
Turn off the TV, computer, and any errant light bulb that you come across off after dark--or at the very minimum, an hour before bed. Instead, light candles or set some fires to get your evening's work done. (Note: setting your homework on fire does not get it done any faster.)
Secondly, buy a sleep mask for deeper sleep. (I got mine at a big box discount chain for only $10.) Be prepared to sleep late in the morning, since the sunrise won't disturb your sleep one iota.
The sounds of sleep
Another easy adjustment to make to the bedroom environment is to condition the sound. White noise generators provide ambient sound to mask the things that go bump in the night.
One of the reasons that I like the idea of white noise generators is that they've tested very well. In fact, studies have shown that white noise generators are as effective at helping people to sleep as over-the-counter sleep aids, but without any side effects. In another study it was found that infants were three times as likely to fall asleep with white noise in the background as they were with normal night noises.
White noise generators can easily run from $50-$100. I prefer the cheap fan that cost me only $10. Those who know anything about engines will tell you that the cheaper engines make the loudest white noise, so feel free to skimp liberally.
Melatonin has become the favorite darling of those looking for a little all-natural mellowing, and with good reason. Since the body manufactures it's own stores of this hormone, it plays nicely with most prescription and over-the-counter medications. Take the smallest dosage that your body responds to about twenty minutes before bedtime, with an optional second dose just as you turn in.
I've never found studies that corroborate this, but in my own experience too much supplementation with artificial melatonin can cause you to fall asleep well only to awaken in the middle of the night. I personally go easy with this one. I use melatonin only when I'm having difficulty falling asleep or when my body doesn't seem to know when bedtime should be, only at the lowest dosage that my body will respond to, and only for a few nights at a time.
Melatonin overdose can have serious side effects. It can mess with the liver, testosterone levels, and neurological systems.
Out cold for hours
While melatonin is helpful for falling asleep or resetting your internal clock, I turn to herbs for difficulty staying asleep. I tend to make my herbal concoctions fluidly, sometimes adding every ingredient and sometimes omitting one or two that don't feel right at the moment. Whenever dealing with herbs, please keep the general rules in mind.
- 1 Tablespoon passionflower
- 4 teaspoons catnip (not for use during pregnancy)
- 4 teaspoons chamomile
- 1-2/3 teaspoons lemon balm
- 1-2/3 teaspoons oatstraw
- 3/8 teaspoons valerian (adults only)
- 3/8 teaspoons lobelia
I add just a little bit of water to partially rehydrate them before adding either alcohol, to make a tincture, or glycerine.
- 80 ml water
- 120 ml vodka or vegetable glycerine
Choose a glycerite if you're concerned about giving alcohol to a child or if you need something prepared in a hurry.
To make a tincture, put your herbs, water, and alcohol into a 1/2 pint Mason jar. Screw the lid on tightly. Alcohol tinctures need to be stored in a cool, dark location for three weeks before they're ready. Some recommend giving the bottle a good shake every few days or so. When the time is complete, strain off the herbs and discard. Store the alcohol in a 4 ounce amber bottle in a cool, dark location. The healing properties will stay in the alcohol for at least a year.
Glycerites are similar in manufacture. Put your herbs, water, and glycerine into a 1/2 pint Mason jar. Fill a small saucepan with water. Put a dishcloth in the bottom of the saucepan and set the Mason jar on top. Simmer the herbs for 3 hours. Strain off the herbs and compost them. Store in a 4 ounce amber bottle in a cool, dark location. The healing properties will stay in the glycerine for months.
Keep in mind that the herbal brew above is a neurological depressant. Do not use it continuously. Some recommend taking it on the weekdays, and leaving the weekends au naturalle. I prefer to take them for only 2-3 days before taking a night off.
Actually, I go through long periods of time anymore where I don't need any herbal help at all. I pray that you find deep, healing sleep, as well.
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