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What can you do about insomnia?

Change Your Environment

           Your bed - put a board under the mattress if it sags, or try putting your bed in a different position. Make sure your bedding is clean and that you are warm enough.

           Light - if light troubles you use thicker curtains or putting a scarf or a sleep mask over your eyes. If you feel more comfortable with a little light, leave the curtains open a little or use a night light.

           Noise - a common cause of sleeplessness! Use earplugs if it's noise you can't do anything about - or change your attitude towards it. People can sleep through high levels of noise - it's not so much the level of noise but how you feel about it that keeps you awake. Use relaxation exercises to calm yourself and take your mind off it. Take some 'diplomatic action' - e.g. talking to noisy neighbours. Keep a radio/tape player by your bed and use it to mask other noise. And if noise from neighbours continues to be a serious problem - speak to college authorities or the local Environmental Health Officer.

Change Your Lifestyle

           exercise regularly

           go to bed only when you are feeling really tired and sleepy

           if you can't sleep, get up and only go back to bed when you're really sleepy again

           establish a routine that gives you 7-8 hours sleep (though individual needs do vary)

           if you're a late sleeper, force yourself to get up earlier

           relax mentally and physically for an hour before bedtime

           have a warm bath, do some yoga or take a light walk before turning in

Some things to avoid:

           taking stimulants to keep you awake, or sedatives or alcohol to help you sleep

           sleeping during the day no matter how tired you are

           using your bed for working, watching TV, eating, telephoning - i.e. waking activities

           eating, drinking or smoking when you get up during the night

           drinking too much towards the end of the evening

Some nutrients to consume:

The following are specific nutritional supplements known to aid sleep:

Calcium, especially when contained in food such as milk, has a sedative effect on the body. A calcium deficiency in the body causes restlessness and wakefulness. For adults, doses of approximately 600 milligrams of liquid calcium have been shown to have a relaxing effect.

Magnesium, in doses of approximately 250 milligrams, can help induce sleep. Magnesium deficiency is responsible for nervousness that prevents sleep. Magnesium-rich foods include kelp, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, and brewer's yeast.

Note: The lack of calcium and magnesium can cause leg cramps during the night. Calcium and magnesium produce calming effects on the brain. They are essential for normal sleep. Calcium and magnesium taken 45 minutes before bedtime have a tranquilizing effect. Use a 2:1 ratio, such as 500 mg of calcium and 250 mg of magnesium in tablet or capsule form.

B vitamins are known to have a sedative effect on the nerves. 

Vitamin B6 supplements of 50 to 100 milligrams/day can help to prevent insomnia. A tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast is an excellent Source of vitamin B6. Stir it into a glass of juice.

Vitamin B12 is another important supplement for treating insomnia. 25 milligrams of vitamin B12, supplemented with 100 milligrams of pantothenic acid (B5) can serve as an effective anti-insomnia vitamin regimen. The vitamin B5 is good for relieving stress. The best food sources of the B vitamins are liver, whole grains, wheat germ, tuna, walnuts, peanuts, bananas, sunflower seeds, and blackstrap molasses.

Inositol enhances REM sleep. Take 100 mg daily, at bedtime.

Chromium is often effective for someone with a blood sugar problem that is keeping them awake at nights. Brewer's yeast is a good source of Chromium. If you prefer supplements, take 250 to 500 micro- grams twice a day.

Tryptophan (L-tryptophan), which is an amino acid that plays a key role in the repair of protein tissues and in creating new protein. In the brain, tryptophan is converted into serotonin, a natural sleep-inducing chemical. It also enhances the brain's ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates your body's natural inner clock. L-tryptophan is found in foods such as milk and turkey. Tryptophan supplements were banned in the United States by the FDA after a contaminated batch from a Japanese manufacturer was suspected of causing a serious blood disease in several people. There is no risk associated with eating tryptophan-rich foods. It is a key amino acid for sleeping problems.

Clinical studies showed that L-tryptophan produces only modest effects in the treatment of insomnia. Not everyone who takes it for this purpose experiences the results they seek. People have to take relatively high doses of the substance (doses less than 2,000 mg are generally not effective). More importantly, research showed that L-tryptophan can reduce REM sleep while increasing the time spent in non-REM sleep. 

Phosphatidylserine is an amino acid that helps the brain regulate the amount of cortisone produced by the adrenals. It is helpful for those who cannot sleep because of high cortisone levels, usually induced by stress. Cortisone is usually at high levels in the morning, for wakefulness. It is found to be high in people with high stress at night that prevents them from sleeping.

Serotonin is an important initiator of sleep. Our body makes serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. Taking tryptophan will raise serotonin levels and promote sleep. Tryptophan is more effective for cases of sleep-onset insomnia, since its greatest effect is to shorten the time required to get to sleep. There is plenty of tryptophan in milk, which is why a hot milky drink last thing at night is a great nightcap. see, Mother's advice was right all along.

More effective than tryptophan is 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a form of tryptophan that is one step closer to serotonin administration. 5-HTP has also been found, in several double-blind clinical studies, to decrease the time required to get to sleep and to decrease the number of awakenings. To increase the sedative effects of 5-HTP, take it with a food high in carbohydrate such as fruit or fruit juice near bedtime.

5-HTP increases the REM sleep by about twenty-five percent while simultaneously increasing deep-sleep Stages 3 and 4, without increasing total sleep time.

It is important to maintain adequate levels of vitamin B., niacin, and magnesium when using 5-HTP, as these nutrients serve as essential cofactors in the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin.

Melatonin is a hormone secreted naturally by the pineal gland. Melatonin is the sleep hormone. It is said to induce sleep without any negative side effects. Melatonin is secreted mainly at night. Melatonin is found naturally in plants and in algae.

In several studies, supplementation with melatonin has been found helpful in inducing and maintaining sleep in both children and adults, for both people with normal sleep patterns and those suffering from insomnia. It is also useful in banishing jet lag. 

However, it appears that the sleep- promoting effects of melatonin are most apparent only if a person's melatonin levels are low. In other words, taking melatonin is not like taking a sleeping pill or even 5-HTP. It will only produce a sedative effect when melatonin levels are low. Melatonin appears to be most effective in treating insomnia in the elderly, as low melatonin levels are common in this age group.

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