Natural Remedies for Insomnia and Sleep Disorder
Long before we had sleeping pills, herbal remedies were routinely used in the treatment of sleep disorders. Herbs are currently used for the treatment of insomnia not only in alternative practices, but some conventional ones as well.
Valerian-Also known as vandalroot and garden heliotrope, finds its primary application in the treatment of insomnia, nervousness and improvement of sleep quality. A number of clinical trials have shown valerian to be an effective sedative for many people, with an efficacy comparable to standard prescription medications such as benzodiazepines (Valium). Valerian extracts generally display fewer side-effects than standard sleep medications, are better tolerated, and present a lower risk of dependency. Chronic use may result in headache, excitability, insomnia and irregularities in heart beat.
Kava Kava– Used as a muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety herb, Kava has a significant sedative component. It has been used safely in Polynesian society for centuries. In European phytomedicine it is recommended for the treatment of mild insomnia, anxiety and muscular tension. Some clinical studies have demonstrated that Kava Kava induces a state of relaxation and calm without interfering with cognition, memory, or alertness. Side-effects are rare and associated with excess use. They include skin rashes and a syndrome- a collection of symptoms- similar to Parkinsonism. After discontinuation of the medication, the symptoms eventually disappear.
Melatonin– A normal secretion of the pineal gland, melatonin has captured the public’s attention because of its alleged effects on mood, sleep and jet-lag. Promoted as a miracle, this supplement was the number one over the counter sleeping pill a couple of years ago. Unfortunately its track record has not been so glorious. Study after study has failed to substantiate the claims it made as the ultimate natural sleeping remedy. Scientific and public health concerns over the dissonance between its wide use and evidence of benefit led to the convening of a workshop on melatonin by the National Institutes of Health in 1996. The workshop’s general conclusions were that, while there have been no medical catastrophes caused by melatonin, no long term positive effects have been identified either. It might be of short term benefit for insomniacs or travelers crossing multiple time-zones, but that seems to be an individual opinion rather than a scientifically supported fact.