Beating Sleeplessness

Insomnia, the Latin term for “no sleep,” is the inability to fall asleep — or stay asleep — and the problems related to it, such as waking up feeling tired. It's the most common sleep complaint in America, affecting up to 40 percent of adults. A recent nationwide survey found that one in five Americans takes a prescription or OTC sleep aid at least once a week — and 63 percent of them experience side effects.

Insomnia can be triggered by several medications, including cold and allergy meds (antihistamines and decongestants), hypertension and heart disease drugs, birth control pills, thyroid medicines, and asthma medications. Caffeine is an obvious cause for insomnia, but it's found in many places beyond your coffee cup, including some OTC pain relievers.

Herbalism has some gentler remedies to offer:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Chamomile flowers have been used to make bedtime teas for centuries; they contain mildly sedating compounds, as well as chemicals that reduce anxiety.

Kava (Piper methysticum)

Research shows that this herb can be as effective as the drug Valium in creating the changes in brain waves that help you fall-and stay-asleep.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lavender oil is used topically as a sedative and antianxiety agent. Research shows it can promote relaxation and induce sleep in people of all ages. In one study, people who used lavender in aromatherapy (they inhaled it or applied it to their skin) before going to bed reported feeling more refreshed in the morning.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm is a mild sedative and stress reliever. Research shows it can quell anxiety and promote sleep.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passionflower is a mild sedative and sleep aid.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian is a mild sedative and tranquilizer. Studies show that its chemical compounds can have a direct affect on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that controls arousal and sleep. Taking valerian can shorten the time it takes you to fall asleep (sleep latency) and improve your sleep quality.

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