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Really Restful, Really Relaxing


In this age of massive noise pollution and increased levels of stress, sleep disorders have become rampant. Many people are chronically sleep deprived.

In this age of massive noise pollution and increased levels of stress, sleep disorders have become rampant. Many people are chronically sleep deprived.

How Much Sleep is Enough?

Sleeping more than eight hours or less than six hours each night appears to be associated with an increased death rate. In April 2003 a large Japanese study of 104,010 subjects followed for an average of 9.9 years was published in the journal Sleep. Sleeping more than seven hours or less than seven hours was again shown to be associated with a significantly increased death rate from all causes.

Insomnia, especially early morning awakening, can be a symptom of serious depression. Other severe sleep disorders deserve a full workup in a specialized sleep lab. However, mild to moderate insomnia can be safely helped with a variety of natural remedies.

Valerian: The Herbal Valium

One of the most important of these remedies is a herb known as valerian, which has been studied in several well-designed clinical trials. A placebo-controlled study of 128 patients showed that giving 400 to 900 mg of valerian root at bedtime resulted in a decrease in sleep latency (time required to fall asleep at night) and a reduction in night awakenings, as well as in increase in dream recall. All this was accomplished with no hangover effect. The lower dosages of valerian were shown to be as effective as the higher dosages in this study. A German study found that the combined effect of valerian root and lemon balm on the sleep patterns of 20 volunteers compared favourably with triazolam, a tranquilizer in the valium family.

Seattle naturopathic physician Dr. Donald Brown uses valerian root in combination with lemon balm and passion flower for the treatment of insomnia.

Valerian has been called the herbal valium. It normalizes the nervous system. It acts as a sedative in cases of agitation and as a stimulant in cases of extreme fatigue. It also has a minor action of lowering blood pressure, enhancing the flow of bile, and relaxing the intestinal muscles. However, its prime pharmacological effect is that of a sedative.

Although considered to be safe during pregnancy and lactation, its use at these times is not recommended.


Important supplements that help induce a better sleep include niacinamide, inositol, and combined calcium-magnesium supplements.

The amino acid tryptophan, in doses of 2000 mg taken at bedtime, is also an excellent sleep aid. It is available only by prescription.

As protein competes with tryptophan for absorption, take tryptophan with juice rather than milk. For an enhanced effect, combine it with vitamin B6 and magnesium.

An alternative to tryptophan, known as 5-hydroxy-tryptophan or 5-HTP (50 mg of 5-hydroxy-tryptophan equals 500 mg of tryptophan), is available without a prescription from any health food store.

Hops and Skullcap

Other herbs traditionally combined with valerian root include hops and skullcap. Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a plant native to Britain that is well known for its use in making beer. In the herbal world, hops is also used as a sedative and for its sleep-inducing effects.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) grows in Europe and North America, and was traditionally used to treat epilepsy. It has a sedative effect on the nervous system.

Getting a good night's sleep may be greatly aided through use of a rich repertoire of plant medicines and supplements.



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Joshua Duvauchelle

Joshua Duvauchelle