Lack of sleep, or insomnia, is very common but the reasons why people do not sleep are unique to their bodies and their lives. The mind-body connection is very much alive when sleeping is not occurring; either our minds have taken over and are unable to shut down to allow us the rest we need, or our bodies cannot get us to sleep as they should know how to do. Sleep deprivation contributes to higher incidences of aggression, depression, suicide attempts, as well as increased numbers of automobile accidents. If not sleeping is actually harmful to one’s health, then why are we not sleeping?
- We are completely stressed out and cannot quiet our minds
- We have too much light and electronics in our bedrooms (and thus melatonin, our hormone produced in the pineal gland when our eyes perceive darkness, is not properly released
- Our significant-other snores, or we have noise outside our bedrooms that prevents us from sleeping
So, you are desperate to sleep. You turn to pharmacological supports.
Pharmacological Sleep supports: the Pros and Cons
- You can sleep, and you won’t go crazy
- You can sleep, but you wake up feeling inebriated (i.e. after one too many alcoholic beverages…)
- You can sleep, but you have become addicted to your sleep supports and cannot sleep without them
- You can’t sleep but if you don’t take the sleep supports, you have withdrawal
Current pharmacological support for insomnia involves sedatives such as benzodiazepines (i.e. Valium) which do induce sleep, however their addictive properties induce dependency within weeks, as well as contributing to memory loss and a feeling of fatigue throughout the day following. While sleeping, disturbing nightmares occur when using benzodiazepines, which can often be more troubling than not sleeping.
Herbal Sleep Supports: Pros and Cons
- They help to support the systems actively involved in sleep and re-establish normal rhythms
- They are not addictive
- They can be taken indefinitely
- There are a range of doses to get a person back to sleep
- Knowing the reason for why you are sleeping makes these sleep supports more effective. If you don’t know why you are not sleeping, then you will inevitably pick the wrong one and won’t see benefit (i.e. GABA helps with a more anxious and busy mind and melatonin is a better choice when the sleep rhythm is completely out of balance).
- It takes awhile to restore sleep patterns, and without some patience, it will be difficult to get these back to normal
- If you are trying to wean off pharmacological sleep medications and substitute with herbal and/or nutritional supports, you MUST seek the support of a physician (conventional or integrative) as the dosages are complex
- If you are really stressed out in general, then it will take longer to re-establish sleep.
There are many possibilities to help you get back to sleep – choosing the right one for you may involve a relationship with a naturopathic doctor, but it is possible!