Tips on beating insomnia naturally without medication

Ask the Expert

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) — According to the National Institute of Health, over 50 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleeping disorder. Research also shows that older women with insomnia have an increased risk of falling.

For those turning to medication for relief, The FDA recently issued a strong warning against certain kinds of sleeping pills including Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata, saying they could cause sleepwalking behavior. In dozens of cases, that has led to injuries or death.

Kendrick Hooks, clinical manager at the Bon Secours sleep lab, believes sleep medications often do more harm than good in the long run. “Every pill you take for sleep has some adverse reaction for sleep and your sleep architecture,” he says.

Hooks uses sleep studies to identify and correct 11 types of insomnia, stemming from things like racing thoughts, stressors or time perception:

-Adjustment (Acute) Insomnia

-Behavioral Insomnia of Childhood

-Psychophysiological Insomnia

-Paradoxical Insomnia

-Idiopathic Insomnia

-Insomnia Due to Mental Disorder

-Insomnia Due to Medical Condition

-Insomnia Due to Drug or Substance

-Insomnia Not Due to Substance or Known Physiological Condition

-Unspecified Physiological (Organic) Insomnia, Unspecified

Hooks says that insomnia can usually be cured with behavioral changes.

He suggests naturally increasing melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles, by setting the thermostat to 68 degrees and taking a cold shower at night.

“The temperature drop increases melatonin,” he says.

Hooks also suggests exercising in the day and avoiding alcohol, substances with caffeine, phone and TV screens 2 hours before bedtime. A book is a good alternative he says, or a low-energy activity or task that is boring.

“Blue light decreases melatonin production by 50 percent or more,” he says. “You fall into a state where your body actually does not want to go to sleep. It does not produce the chemical that you need to go to sleep. If you have a TV in your room and every night you watch TV, your body’s going to expect that. It’s not going to want to go to sleep.”

Melatonin is also available over the counter, and valerian root is a natural remedy that can help with insomnia, though Hooks says it does have some side effects. He says to talk to your doctor before trying melatonin supplements, but does recommend taking them at sunset, when the hormone naturally has a boost.

“Melatonin is a very potent anti-oxidant,” he says. “Not only does it put you to sleep, its supposed to give you more REM sleep and give you less wake after you go to sleep. It repairs some systems before you go to sleep, so it’s actually preparing your body to have to fix itself less so you get more consolidated, solid sleep.”

If behavioral changes don’t help, he suggests coming in for a sleep study.

“A lot of people get up to go to the bathroom really have a sleep breathing disorder breathing and we can find that out here,” he says.

Hooks says the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-8 hours. He says the R.E.M (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep is directly linked to cognition and that not getting enough sleep could be the reason why you’re not able to lose weight.

“There are so many hormones affected by sleep; leptin and ghrelin are two, [which affect] satiation and hunger. So some people that try to lose weight cannot lose weight…. the more you stay up, those hormones are going all night long,” he explains.

Hooks also explains that processes occurring during sleep are vital to your brain’s health. “There’s a Glymphatic System in the brain that only operates during sleep, and a majority during REM sleep, about 60 percent,” He says. “That gets rid of the harmful proteins in your brain. One of them is beta-amyloid, which causes Alzheimer’s disease. All these proteins are building up and if you don’t have that REM sleep, they’ll just stay there and ruin your brain, so to speak.”

For those with chronic insomnia, which is defined as occurring three times a week for at least a month, the National Health Institute recommends undergoing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to change your thought process and improve your sleep hygiene practices.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has several tips for maintaining healthy sleep hygiene:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  • Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. 
  • If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. 
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. 
  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. 
  • Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature. 
  • Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings.
  • Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack. 
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet. 
  • Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. 
  • Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime. 
  • Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.

To hear more from experts at Bon Secours on this health topic and others, listen every Saturday morning at 10am on 106.3 WORD radio.    

You can submit your health questions for our series by clicking here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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