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Tired of Counting Sheep?
Brought to you from the NEEDS Wellness Team

A Gallup survey of 1000 Americans found that one in two adults suffers from sleep problems. The National Sleep Foundation has estimated that insomniarelated absenteeism costs the national economy as much as $150 billion annually, and the National Highway Safety Administration estimates that more than 200,000 auto accidents every year are directly related to fatigue. In addition, we know that prolonged sleep deprivation decreases our immune system's ability to fight infectious disease and increases our propensities to develop psychiatric illness.

People with insomnia experience one or more of the following sleeprelated issues: difficulty falling asleep (defined as greater than 30 minutes), difficulty maintaining sleep, early morning wakening, and unrefreshing sleep. The causes are numerous: anxiety, depression, shift-changes at work, jet lag, medical conditions (such as pain, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, etc.), alcohol, drugs, caffeine, side-effects of pharmaceuticals, intellectual pursuits, nighttime exercise, and low blood sugar, to name a few.

As always, the goal is to get to the root of the problem. Practicing proper "sleep hygiene" is necessary: eliminating stimulating substances and activities three hours before bed, reserving time in bed only for sex and sleep (not reading, sewing, watching TV, etc), and going to bed and getting up at the same time (plus or minus an hour) every day. If you wake unrefreshed and you snore, you should consider having a sleep study done to determine whether or not you have sleep apnea, or brief periods of not breathing while sleeping. If you wake feeling hungry, your blood sugar may drop too low during the course of the night. Try eating half an avocado or taking one-to-two tablespoons of coconut oil before going to bed.

There are several natural products that can help a person fall asleep more quickly and obtain a deeper and more restful sleep. Melatonin is a hormone normally produced by our bodies which helps us fall asleep. It is especially useful for those who experience jet lag or shift changes. Production of melatonin often decreases as we age, so seniors may particularly benefit from this form of supplementation. Doctors have recommended 0.5–5 mg taken one hour prior to going to bed.

A lowered level of the serotonin within the brain for many is a result of today's hectic and stressful lifestyle and in some cases poor dietary practices. Reduced serotonin levels often lead to maladies such as depression, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and insomnia. 5-HTP is a precursor to the hormone serotonin and has been shown to improve sleep quality at doses of 50-100 mg per day.

GABA is another amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain to help induce relaxation. It is very safe and can be taken orally or sublingually. It is found either alone or in many sleep and anxiety-relieving formulas.

Some herbs, such as Valerian and Passionflower, can be quite strong sleep-inducers. Other herbs, such as Kava Kava, Skullcap, and Hops can be very calming and are excellent choices to help relieve anxiety and promote the onset of sleep. It is important to note that Kava should not be taken with alcohol or any other potential liver-injuring drugs; also note that Kava can be stimulating in a very small percentage of people.

Chamomile is mildly calming and an excellent choice to soothe digestion. This makes it an ideal choice for children; for very young children, it may be easiest to open the capsule and place its contents into applesauce or other similar foods.

Panax Ginseng is an herb that, when taken two or three times a day, for at least a few days or weeks, has been shown to promote a more restful nighttime sleep as well as increased energy during the day.

Last, but certainly not least, some homeopathics have shown positive results in promoting sleep. Combination homeopathic formulas have been designed to specifically help a person sleep better.

In addition to supplementation, you may also want to utilize exercise and relaxation techniques as a method of improving your sleeping patterns. Meditation, guided imagery, and slow, easy breathing are just a few ways in which to relax your body and your mind.

Restful sleep provides the foundation for our mental and physical well-being. It is as crucial to you as food, air, and water, yet so many of us, at one time or another, experience difficulty in sleeping. If you do have trouble sleeping, several changes in lifestyle can help you regain an acceptable sleep pattern.

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