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Sleep Better Tonight

Sleep Better



It does no good to have someone TELL you to get some sleep. It does no good to lie down and stay awake, either. Here are some techniques that help you get to sleep more quickly and without drugs. 

 1. Read for a while. This will improve your mind while relaxing your body. 

 2. Get some fresh air. Open a window, walk the dog. 

 3. Try some moderate exercise, such as isometrics, yoga, or stretches.  Couples have found that lovemaking works well, too. 

  4. Get more L-tryptophan in your diet. L-tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids that your body uses to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin. These neurotransmitters are chemical nerve messengers that help your brain to shut down for the night... and be fully awake during the day. Seafood, chicken, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans and cashews are foods that are high in L-tryptophan foods. More of the L-tryptophan in dairy products gets to your brain when you have a carbohydrate along with it. That's why cheese and crackers, or milk and a whole-grain cookie are good bedtime snacks. 

  If L-tryptophan is taken as a nutritional sleep-aid, the target dose is around 1,000 to 1,500 mg, taken a couple of hours before bedtime. I think the supplement is too expensive, and prefer food sources. I mean, you have to eat anyway, right?

  5. Vitamin B-3 as niacin in larger than RDA doses will help induce sleep.  Taking between 100 and 500 milligrams about 20 minutes before bedtime usually works best. The amount required varies considerably from one person to another. Ideally, you take the least amount that makes you the most sleepy. Expect to experience a brief niacin "flush" (like a hot flash or blushing sensation) which goes away in short time. The warm feeling is pleasant to most people, but may be avoided by simply taking less niacin at any one time. A bit of practice will tell you how much you need. 

  6. LECITHIN makes up nearly a third of your brain's dry weight.  This natural food substance is found in soy products and egg yolks and is available as a supplement as well. Two to four tablespoons daily has consistently shortened the time needed for people to go to sleep. 

  7. Prayer or meditation may be very settling and help you sleep sooner and better. Certainly there are other benefits as well. The Transcendental Meditation technique has been shown to produce deep rest, reduced anxiety, and very effective relief from insomnia (Miskiman, D. E. "The Treatment of Insomnia by Transcendental Meditation," Scientific Research on Transcendental Meditation: Collected Papers, Orme-Johnson, Domash and Farrow, Eds., Vol. 1, MIU Press, 1974.) 

The Trappist monastic tradition contains the phrase, "I lie down, and sleep comes at once."  Directly from the Bible, we find: 

 "For he gives to his beloved sleep."  (Psalms 127:2, RSV) 

  8. You may have heard about melatonin, the body’s own natural sleep-promoting hormone. You can increase your body’s melatonin production by keeping your bedroom as dark as humanly possible. You can also try 3 to 6 mg of supplemental melatonin, taken about an hour before bedtime. Melatonin is very safe: studies using over 200 mg/day failed to show harm.

Melatonin: Make your own

How? Go to bed early and keep your bedroom dark, and your body will make plenty for you. Consider lining or doubling your curtains or drapes, adding blinds or a dark-colored window shade, and getting rid of light-up digital clocks. Keep a nightlight in your hallway for those ever-popular trips to the salle de bain, but keep your bedroom door closed. These steps, and others that you think of, will keep your sleeping environment darker, and your melatonin (sleep hormone) production will go up.

That “go to bed early” comment will be quickly discounted by any number of readers, who might say, “I can’t go to bed early. There is too much to do.”  You might be right. My reply?  If you are too busy to sleep, you are too busy. Many people are sacrificing sleep time for family time, for TV, or, increasingly, for work.  In an age of $65 programmable video cassette recorders, I think the TV excuse can be flushed where it belongs without delay.

I can hardly object to family time, but kids should not be up late, either.  Several school nurses have told me that an eight-grader needs TEN TO TWELVE HOURS of sleep a night.  If the school bus comes at 7 AM, that means a pretty early bedtime. Easier said than done? Yes. But do the math: well-rested kid(s) plus well-rested parent(s) has got to equal better quality time at home, and better school performance.  It wouldn’t hurt for your children to make a little melatonin of their own, now, would it?  Back when I was in grammar school, we actually got a grade on our report card that evaluated the extent to which we were “rested and ready for work.” (I cannot help but wonder why they didn’t think a little more deeply about the fact that we also walked three-quarters of a mile each way to school, AND home for lunch, for a total of three miles daily… at age 7?) At day’s end, I was as pooped as a farm boy. I’ll bet your kids are more tired than they let on.  Try it: they’ll hate it.  But you will all sleep better, and that can be a very big payoff.

One of the best things about natural sleep aids is that they are safe and not habit forming.  When your brain and body are well nourished, more restful sleep is a natural result.  You are feeding your body, not drugging it. 

Why avoid sleep medication? 

First of all, we get way too much medication in general.  Enough prescriptions are written in the US to provide each man, woman and child with seven individual medications a year. (Williams, S.: Nutrition and Diet Therapy, 1986, p. 672) "On our American market here are about 54,000 drugs" (ibid). This is true, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that probably no more than 200 drugs would cover all needs. 

Did you know that, according to the National Academy of Sciences, 8.5 MILLION Americans take prescription sleeping pills at least once a year? TWO MILLION Americans take them EVERY NIGHT for at least two months at a time!  51 million Americans (nearly one in four) have taken tranquilizers (Williams, page 687). 

Enough Valium has been sold in ONE year to provide 145 pills for every man, woman and child in the U.S.A. This figure is based on purchases from doctors' prescriptions. Valium was once the most widely prescribed drug in America. It often causes weight gain, nausea, constipation, fetal dependency, and birth defects if taken during the first trimester of a pregnancy. Valium even gets into a woman's breast milk. 

Then why was Valium so very popular? Well, Hoffmann-LaRoche, the manufacturer, spent $200 million in ten years to promote it. The company "commissioned some two hundred doctors a year to produce scientific articles about its properties" according to Ivan Illich, in the book Medical Nemesis (Bantam, 1977). 

Sleep is a natural process, and natural methods are safe and effective.  It is time for everyone to start "just saying no" to excessively prescribed drugs... and those over the counter drugs, too. 


Copyright 2009, 2005 and previous years Andrew W. Saul.

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


AN IMPORTANT NOTE:  This page is not in any way offered as prescription, diagnosis nor treatment for any disease, illness, infirmity or physical condition.  Any form of self-treatment or alternative health program necessarily must involve an individual's acceptance of some risk, and no one should assume otherwise.  Persons needing medical care should obtain it from a physician.  Consult your doctor before making any health decision. 

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