Quality sleep is absolutely essential for optimal health. Unfortunately, for various reasons, too many of us just don’t get enough of it.
When people have difficulty sleeping, they often turn to sleeping pills. If these drugs were benign, that would be one thing. But sleeping pills are riddled with side effects. In addition to increasing risk of falls, daytime sleepiness and cognitive impairment, they’re highly addictive.
There’s simply no need to use risky medications for better sleep when we have an arsenal of safe, natural ways to sleep better.
Supplemental Melatonin for Better Sleep
Sound sleep doesn’t come as easily for many people as they get older.
One reason is that the amount of time spent in the deepest, most restful stage of sleep (called rapid eye movement or REM), diminishes with age. After age 60, you’re more easily awakened and your sleep is more likely to be interrupted. Second, levels of melatonin—the hormone that regulates the sleep and wake cycles—start to decline around age 40.
That’s why my top recommendation for insomnia and other sleep disorders is supplemental melatonin.
More About Melatonin
Melatonin is synthesized in the pineal gland, a tiny structure embedded in the center of the brain. In addition to governing sleep and wake cycles, melatonin influences daily fluctuations in your body temperature, sense of hunger, energy and mood. But melatonin is most intimately involved with sleep.
Darkness signals melatonin’s gradual release, and as levels build up, you begin to feel drowsy. Production peaks during the middle of the night and then begins to fall, tapering off as the sun rises.
But sunset no longer means darkness as it did for most of human history. These days, as soon as night falls we turn on the lights, and we don’t turn them off until we go to bed. Problem is, these bright lights dramatically reduce melatonin output. This is just one example of how your lifestyle habits may be contributing to your poor sleep.
How to Get Better Sleep
Fortunately, you don’t have to wander around in the dark or go to bed at dusk to get your melatonin cycle back on track and improve your sleep and overall health. Taking melatonin in supplement form is an equally effective solution for better sleep.
Research has shown that taking 1–3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. And at least one study has demonstrated that 3 mg significantly increased the amount of time spent in REM sleep. Supplemental melatonin can also improve sleep efficiency—a measure of the actual amount of sleep enjoyed between going to bed and waking the next day.
I recommend taking 1–3 mg of melatonin, 30–60 minutes before bedtime, preferably on an empty stomach. Melatonin should not be used by anyone who is pregnant or nursing, or before driving. Note: Melatonin causes vivid dreams in some people.
Other Safe, Effective and Natural Ways to Sleep Better
Two other targeted supplements I recommend for better sleep are:
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb native to North America, Asia and Europe. It has been used since at least the mid-1800s for promoting better sleep. The root of the plant is considered to be the most potent. The suggested dose is 250– 500 mg, 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
L-theanine is an amino acid derived from green tea. Renowned for its calming effects, research suggests that L-theanine works by enhancing alpha-wave activity in the brain, which results in relaxation. The suggested dose for better sleep is 200 mg, 30–60 minutes before bedtime.
More Dr. Whitaker Advice on Optimal Health