Sleep is kind of freaky when you think about it. Science folks don’t really know what goes on in our brains when we’re conked. But, like, try going without it for a while and see what happens.
Anyone who’s ever suffered toss-and-turn torment knows how debilitating it can be.
I usually fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow, but a few times a year I’ll go through four or five nights of inexplicable insomnia.
And, boy, do I dread those periods.
That’s when I start to feel like I’m losing it and wonder if this time it’s going to last the rest of my life.
Treatments are many – but not every nighty-night remedy works for everyone.
What the experts say
“In a comprehensive review of over-the-counter supplements, only one showed even a modicum of evidence it might be helpful. That was valerian. There is no evidence of any benefit from Relora at the moment. Melatonin is somewhat effective in helping people fall asleep. It’s not very potent. The major causes of insomnia are stress, emotional difficulties and defying the principles of good sleep regulation: spending too much time in bed, drinking too much caffeine, etc. The most effective non-drug treatment is cognitive behaviour therapy, which includes stimulus control and sleep restriction therapy.”
ART SPIELMAN, associate director, Center for Sleep Medicine at Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York City
“Relora is generally used to help people deal with stress. It keeps the stress hormone, cortisol, from getting too high and thereby also fights weight gain. Indirectly, it may work for insomnia. Other beneficial remedies are melatonin, 5-hydroxy-tryptophan, L-theanine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), L-tryptophan and niacinamide.”
ZOLTAN RONA, MD, Toronto
“Causes of insomnia can be physical, psychological, psychiatric or the result of using substances like alcohol or marijuana, which can sometimes disrupt sleep as well as promote it. Medications can also disrupt sleep. Shift workers might have terrible problems. Sleeping pills help people get to sleep, not stay asleep, and one of the major problems sleep clinics see today is failure to stay asleep. Some people take a music therapy approach or do acupuncture. There’s evidence that people who exercise a lot sleep more deeply.’’
COLIN SHAPIRO, director, Youthdale Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic, Toronto
“Herbal remedies can help, but it’s also important to attend to the underlying causes of sleeplessness. Effective herbal remedies vary from person to person. I tend to personalize formulas to meet each individual’s needs. Some reliable herbal helpers include valerian and passion flower. These two are often taken together as needed at bedtime. Studies and experience have shown that they are mild sedatives. At appropriate doses, there is no hangover effect. Hops is another favourite remedy. Lemon balm is calming and can be taken either alone or with withania. The latter works best if taken daily over time.”
DANETTE STEELE, registered clinical herbalist, Toronto