Everyone’s familiar with the image of a person counting sheep just so they can fall asleep. It’s a funny image often used in cartoons. But when you’re the one tossing and turning, counting sheep to fall asleep, it becomes no laughing matter.
A study from Harvard revealed that one in four adults suffer from mild insomnia. When a person fails at falling and staying asleep, they could be suffering from a short episode of insomnia or a lifetime issue due to poor sleeping habits. Either way, it’s a problem most people want to resolve immediately.
Most people turn to sleep pills to address their insomnia. However, relying on these pills does not guarantee better sleep or better health in the long run.
Why You Should Avoid Sleeping Pills or Medication
Sleeping pills and other sleep-promoting medicines offer a short-term resolution to temporary episodes of insomnia. However, most of the time, prescription sleep medication comes with side effects, like daytime fatigue, dry mouth, constipation, sore muscles, headaches and dizziness. If you add all of these side effects up, they’re just as bad as your sleep deprivation.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who don’t experience side effects, you’re not exactly off the hook. Most people easily build up a tolerance to sleeping pills and their sedative effects. This means two things: you either have to take higher doses to experience the same effect or your pills have stopped working for you.
Either way, you’re not benefitting from the prolonged use of pills. Think of it this way: taking sleeping medication is like undergoing a crash diet. You’ll lose weight in the short run, but if you want to achieve long-term results, you need pro-weight (or pro-sleep) habits.
Fortunately, there are alternative therapies and lifestyle changes you can do to cure your insomnia without depending on sleeping pills.
Alternative Therapies for Insomnia
There isn’t enough evidence to prove that herbal remedies work in treating insomnia, but people who prefer natural alternatives to “chemical pills” swear by these natural sleep medications. Since herbal supplements can react with certain medications, consult with your doctor first before you take any of the following:
- Chamomile. This dried tea herb is often used to treat insomnia. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers chamomile as a safe ingredient free from any side effects. However, avoid taking chamomile if you are sensitive to chrysanthemums or ragweed to avoid allergies.
- Valerian root. Some studies have suggested that valerian root can help people fall asleep. It has no side effects and is safe for pregnant women or children. Before you take valerian root, consult with your doctor since it can interfere with some medications.
- Ashwagandha. A study revealed that the leaf of ashwagandha contained triethylene glycol (TEG), which had a positive impact on REM sleep.
Other herbs that promote sleep include lemon balm, hops, passionflower and kava. These, however, require more studies to determine their effectiveness and safety.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in animals, plants and humans. Although the effects of melatonin require more study, it is proven to play a role in the regulation of sleep cycle. Many researchers consider melatonin as a treatment for sleep disorders and sleep disturbances due to jet lag.
You must take melatonin at the right time of the day to get the full effect. The right dose matters too. So talk with your doctor first before taking melatonin.
This traditional Chinese treatment is also used to address insomnia. This alternative treatment uses fine needles, which are inserted into specific acupuncture points. Sometimes, acupuncturists will also use the needles in combination with herbs or an electrical stimulus.
Some studies show the acupuncture can help improve the sleep quality of people with insomnia. However, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving insomnia.
Cannabis and CBD
CBD (short for “cannabidiol”) is a compound of cannabis (marijuana) that is free from psychoactive effects (aka the high feeling that comes with THC). Both cannabis and CBD can help you fall asleep faster, but like the other treatments above, there is more research required to determine how they affect sleep quality.
Considerations With Alternative Sleep Therapies
Alternative medicines are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Although most alternative therapies are not harmless, you still need to proceed with caution when replacing your sleeping pills with these medications.
- Always consult with your doctor first before trying an alternative approach.
- If you experience side effects, stop taking alternative treatments and talk to your doctor immediately.
- Beware of commercial claims of what alternative medicine can do.
- Choose brands carefully.
Sleep is important and we’ll do anything that takes to get a good night’s sleep. If you no longer want to depend on pills, talk to your doctor first before making the switch to alternative medicine.