What is best to take for sleep?
Every chronic insomniac has their favorite go-to aid for sleep. For my Mom, it is Tylenol PM. Anyone struggling with sleep in the VinZant household? Tylenol PM to the rescue.
Other’s take a more natural route – melatonin, chamomile, or valerian root may be your go-to for those sleepless nights. Sounds like it comes from the Earth – must be better right?
Many turn to alcohol or marijuana for sleep. Believe it or not, I actually told a patient to “wean your excessive marijuana use” for sleep in the exam room this week. We both looked at each other and laughed. It is illegal in my state. I followed with, “Of course, my official stance is it is illegal and you shouldn’t be using it.” Then we both laughed again.
Not Sleeping Stinks
The truth of the matter is that insomnia stinks. It does. As the mother of a newborn with a husband who refused to address his sleep apnea and snored like a freight train who had literal freight trains going by her house at night, I get you sleep sufferers completely. What’s a girl to do?
And no one wants the potential chronic daily headache, substance abuse issues, or sleep-walking that can stem from self-treating this problem.
The good news is that the safest and most beneficial remedy for sleep is also free, effective, has no side effects, and is easier than you think. Don’t write it off without trying it.
Sleep Hygiene to the Rescue
Studies have shown over and over that sleep hygiene truly is the best treatment for most insomniacs. And it’s easy and free.
It’s easy if you think of what you would naturally do for your overly tired child:
- Put yourself a sleep schedule – start by setting a bedtime for yourself. I know, it sounds boring and lame but it works. If you struggle with falling asleep and expect your body to spontaneously decompress at different times every day, you will continue to struggle. And get up at the same time every day as well. That includes weekends. Don’t over sleep to adjust. Get your body used to that traditional schedule for sleep.
- Make your bedroom boring – for those of us married for some time, that one should be easy. If you struggle with sleep, you need to avoid doing things like work, playing on your phone, and anything else exciting in the bedroom. Your body needs to associate it as a place for rest and rest only. Take any bright lights, noises, and TVs out of the room as well.
- Avoid stimulating activities and foods before bed – See #2. I kid. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tea, smoking, and foods rich in sugar before bedtime. Don’t start a big work project or home project before bed. Give your body and your mind some time to relax before hitting the sack.
- Don’t force it – If you are struggling to get to sleep, lying there will typically just worsen anxiety and frustration at lack of sleep. Get up, leave the bedroom for at least 20 minutes, and read a book or meditate for a bit before trying to sleep again.
- Resist the urge to nap – If you struggle with sleep, a daytime nap may sound like just the right solution. It is not. It typically just worsens night-time insomnia.
What If Sleep Hygiene is Not Enough?
Most people who have been CONSISTENTLY practicing sleep hygiene and continue to struggle with sleep, report that they lie in bed and their mind just races. They cannot stop the thoughts, the worry, or the ever running to-do list in their brain.
Believe it or not, cognitive behavioral therapy is your best bet to correct that. That involves individualized appointments with a therapist to strategize your sleep patterns, approaches to improve sleep, and plans for continued improvements. Those visits should continue for 6 to 8 weeks. Alternatives would be exercise and mindfulness meditation not Ambien, melatonin, or Tylenol PM.
When Should You Take Sleep Aids?
Sleep aids have been shown to be more effective than placebo treatments for SHORT-TERM insomnia. That would include times like travel, illness, or short-term anxiety after a life event. Unfortunately, the data from long-term use shows increased risks that may outweigh the benefits.
Herbal remedies, such as valerian root, chamomile, and kava have little conclusive research to support their use. As herbal remedies are not FDA-approved, the research is scarce. The studies that have been done show no benefit over placebo. Valerian root specifically does have potential for drug interactions and toxicity to the liver.
Melatonin is a synthetic version of our own sleep hormone. It is considered safe with little potential side effects. Benefits have been shown in those who have a circadian rhythm disturbance (night work or jet lag) and those who have lower levels of melatonin from aging.
Other options, such as my mother’s beloved Tylenol PM use the sedative properties of some antihistamines to induce sleep. They can make you groggy the next day and become less effective if used routinely over time.
When Should You See Your Doctor?
Insomnia itself is associated with increased risk of suicide. Not only can depression itself contribute to insomnia, but insomnia can cause depression. Individuals at risk should head to their physician for prescription medication, likely with an antidepressant, for any concerns.
Simple Solution: If you struggle with insomnia, start by going simple and starting a routine similar to that you would give your kids. If that doesn’t work, behavioral therapy is your best bet. And remember, medications are more useful for short-term than long-term use.
For More Blog posts on Sleep, check out: https://doctormome.com/post/is-it-sleep-apnea-or-just-exhaustion/
For More expert opinion on sleep aids, check out: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep-aids