Insomnia or sleeplessness is a sleep-related disorder in which there is difficulty or an inability to fall asleep or to remain asleep as long as desired. How do you know if you are suffering from insomnia? Just answer few questions
- Do you have difficulty sleeping at least 3 nights per week? Is this difficulty persistent for at least 3 months? You cannot sleep despite adequate opportunity for sleep?
- Are you a frequent flight traveler? Jet lag is common reason for sleeplessness.
- Are you undergoing any medications or consuming drugs? Interaction of drugs or medicines can result in sleeplessness.
- Have you been suffering from narcolepsy, a breathing-related sleep disorder, circadian rhythm, parasomnia earlier? These are other sleep disorders similar to insomnia.
- Are you suffering from other mental illness or medical condition? Coexisting mental disorders and medical conditions do not adequately explain the predominant complaint of insomnia.
- Are you under physical or mental stress? Stress is a prime cause of insomnia.
- Are you suffering from menopause? One of common causes of insomnia in women.
Insomnia can present both a medical sign and a symptom. It is a disorder itself and can accompany any other medical and psychiatric disorder. Even while you are not sleeping, Insomnia causes impaired mental functions and feeling of persistent fatigue. Though common in elderly people or people with busy schedule and stress, it can occur at any age. Prolonged insomnia leads to memory problems, depression, irritability and an increased risk of heart disease and automobile related accidents, among others. Sleeping pills are easy cure as prescribed by doctors, however prolong use has its side effects. Moreover these drugs are addictive, more you take lesser is the effectiveness of medicines.
What dietary factors are important in Insomnia?
As sleep is an integral part of a normal human life cycle, so is eating, and one may easily affect the other. There are many food-related remedies and nutritional changes that might impair or improve sleep quality.
Tryptophan – Essential to normal sleep regulation
Tryptophan is one of standard 22 amino-acids required by body. It plays important role in serotonin synthesis. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters in the brain, which is further synthesized into melatonin, which is a neurohormone (a hormone active in the brain). Melatonin controls the states of wakefulness and sleep, and its daily variations allow the circadian rhythm (day-night sleep cycle). Therefore, tryptophan is essential in the diet and something that should be upped if you are having sleep issues. Research has shown that combining high protein content (especially rich in tryptophan) with carbohydrate rich meal has positive effects on melatonin levels.
Calcium rich food to treat insomnia
Calcium has been directly linked to our cycles of sleep. One study, published in the European Neurology Journal, states that researchers found that calcium levels in the body are higher during some of the deepest levels of sleep. The study concluded that calcium deficiencies are one of the causes for disturbances in sleep. Restoration to the normal cycle of sleep happened after the normalization of the blood calcium level. Calcium helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to manufacture the sleep-inducing substance melatonin. Chronic insomnia is one of the main symptoms of calcium deficiency.
Magnesium – important ingredient to falling asleep
Magnesium is one of the key regulators of sleep. Marginal misbalances in magnesium levels can have strong effects on the brain settling down and initiating sleep. The healthiest way to have good magnesium levels is through diet, though. It is easily absorbed and only small amounts are enough for a balanced level. Some of the biggest sources of magnesium in nutrition are green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds and most nuts, especially almonds.
Copper impacts sleep time
Copper deficiency can reduce sleep time. Alternately, high copper food ensures that you sleep well for longer time.
Vitamin B deficiency can cause sleep disorders
Vitamin B6 – pyridoxine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B5 and folic acid are important to prevent insomnia. They assist in development of serotonin in body which triggers sleep. These vitamins help in reduction of stress and deficiency often causes sleep disorders.
Avoid drop in blood sugar levels at night
Ever noticed lack of sleep when fasting or sleeping empty stomach? Studies have found that drop in nighttime blood sugar (nocturnal hypoglycemia) is an important cause of sleep-maintenance insomnia. Drop in blood sugar results in release of hormones that regulate glucose levels like adrenaline or glucagon which stimulate brain to eat rather sleep. Ensure blood sugar levels by timely dinner or even bedtime snacks.
Food to avoid if you have insomnia
Caffeine is popular stimulant and increases blood circulation and alertness. It helps keep you awake, rather when you want to sleep. Avoid drinking coffee or tea 4-5 hours before going to bed. People believe that alcohol can help you fall asleep, however it works other way round. Its best to avoid drinking alcohol before sleeping. High fats diet takes more time to digest and can impair quality of your sleep. Studies have found that fish oil or other omega 3 supplements can cause insomnia. So if you are insomniac, better avoid them.
Natural food for insomnia
Below are some foods which are considered to be effective over insomnia.
Drinking a glass of lukewarm milk is one of the oldest practices to treat insomnia. Milk is rich in tryptophan and Calcium, which helps regulate melatonin production in brain and induces sleep.
Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium which acts as natural muscle relaxant. Banana also contains Tryptophan much needed to release melatonin. It is a good bedtime snack.
Eggs are high in protein content and tryptophan.
Almonds offer strong dose of magnesium which plays important role in sleep hormone synthesis. IT also relaxes your muscles. Almond milk before sleep is good way to promote sleep.
Cherries have been considered natural source of melatonin. Eating fresh cherries before bed time helps sound sleep.
African Bush Tea
African bush tea like Rooibos tea or Honeybush tea is absolutely caffeine free and rich in flavonoids. African tribe were first to use rooibos to treat sleep disorders. Drinking rooibos tea or honeybush tea before going to sleep keeps your body clam, relives body stress and promotes sleep.
Oatmeal is packed with calcium, magnesium, potassium and other complex carbohydrates which all are sleep promoting nutrients. It helps clam brain and promotes serotonin secretion.
How many times you feel asleep after enjoying the Thanksgiving turkey? Like the traditional understanding, turkey is rich in tryptophan and helps in production of sleep inducing hormone.
Valerian is considered nature’s sedative. Purified valerian extract has undergone multiple studies over the years and appears to be modestly effective. Valerian is a well-known medicinal herb used throughout Europe, it’s usage in medicine dating back thousands of years. And, unlike benzodiazepines (the most commonly prescribed sedatives), using valerian to treat insomnia. Valerian contains chemicals which have muscle-relaxant and sedative properties called valepotriates. All parts of the plant contain these chemicals, but they are most concentrated in the roots, which when dried are excellent for making tea. If you are having trouble sleeping, and none of the diet changes seem to be working, you might consider trying valerian root tea before bed as a natural remedy for insomnia.
Depending on the country and its laws, you might be able to obtain poppy seeds. Poppy seeds contain fair amounts of opioids, natural sedatives and relaxants that can help you relax your muscles and fall asleep. Enjoying poppy seed tea is good way to treat insomnia.
Fish are rich in protein. Certain fish like tuna, shrimp offer body with tryptophan. It also contains other vitamins which are helpful in stimulating sleep. Tuna is good source of Vitamin B6, deficiency of which may cause sleep disorder.
Lavender essential oil induces sleep which has made it a common recommendation for an alternative treatment of insomnia. Placing few drops of lavender oil on pillow induces sleep. It has a relaxing effect and can replace modern medicine for insomnia.
Not much scientific evidence is available, but drinking chamomile tea is considered home remedy for insomnia. It is relaxing and sleep inducing.
Passiflora or Passion flower
Leaves and roots have been long used by Native Americans to make tea that can treat insomnia caused by stress and anxiety. Flower and fruits of this tree contains flavonoids and other phytochemicals which has sedative and muscle relaxant effect. Eating passion fruit is also good alternative as it contains alkaloid – Harman which induces sleep.Fluid extract of pasiflora is also available. 10-15 drops of pasiflora tincture in water, drank 2-3 times a day can help treat insomnia.
St John’s wort
St John’s wort is medicinal herb which has been used in treatment of depression. Like valerian, it has been used as herbal remedy for insomnia for long time.
Grapes offer body much needed melatonin to induce sleep. Eating grapes before bedtime is good way to enjoy sleep.
Lettuce contains compound hyoscyarnine which has properties similar to opium. It relieves muscle cramps. Lettuce leaf juice along with lemon is considered sleep inducing drink.
Mandarin juice contains vitamin C which is stress reliver. It also supplies bromine which is calming and sleep inducing. Bromine content is higher in mandarins than any other citrus fruit.
Pumpkin seeds offer body with good supply of tryptophan and thus helps sleep.
Evening primrose seed
Evening primrose capsules contain oil extracted from seeds is helpful in treating insomnia. It contains tryptophan and other phytochemicals which helps sleep.
They are another food which is rich in tryptophan and minerals essential for stimulating sleep. Munching hazelnuts in evening is good for sleep.
Peanuts are very common food with tryptophan content. Peanut butter sandwich is considered good bedtimes snack.
Seasame seed are good in tryptophan content. Seasame oil is also good massaging oil. Massaging body with sesame oil can help relax and induce sleep.
Sunflower seeds also contain tryptophan. Including sunflower seed oil in diet provides you regular source of tryptophan in diet.
Cabbage is considered a tryptophan food and supplies body with magnesium which helps relax muscles.
Spinach offers body with Vitamin B, tryptophan and calcium which are all necessary for good sleep.
High typtophan and mineral content in Durian makes it good choice for sleep inducing fruit. Including durian fruits in diet is helpful for sleep.
Cumin is considered stimulant as well as relaxant. It acts as carminative and helps digestion. It also provides body with rich dose of vitamin V. All this combined with other phytochemicals induces sound sleep and treat insomnia and stress.
Drinking grapefruit juice before bedtime reduces stress. It offers dose of tryptophan which helsp in generating sleep.
Nutmeg has been traditionally recommended as a home remedy for sleeplessness and insomnia. Adding pinch of nutmeg to milk before going to bed makes you sleep well. It also contains high content of magnesium which reduces nervous tension and stimulates serotonin secretion. Trace quantities of narcotics can be associated with nutmeg, which acts as sleep inducers.
Chlorophyll is the green matter found in plant leaves. As nutraceutical, it helps in calming nerves and treat insomnia symptoms.
Lemongrass is natural relaxant. Research has shown that lemon grass tea has sedative and hypnotic properties. Thus drinking Lemongrass tea before bed time provides many health benefits along with good sleep.
Hemp is part of plant family which also includes marijuana. Thus some phytochemcials it offers have sedative effect. It also offers good mineral content of magnesium.
Dill seed oil
This herbal essential oil has powerful stimulating, sedative and hypnotic properties. Along with flavonoids and Vitamin B complex it offers it activates brain hormones providing stress relief and sleep.
Including Brown rice in diet is good for insomniacs. It is natural source of melotonin and enhances sleep quality and time.
This Mexican cactus plant offers essential minerals helpful to reduce anxiety and treat insomnia. Drinking Prickly pear juice is long considered helpful in reducing hangover. It supplies good quantity of calcium, potassium, magnesium and Vitamin B which are sleep promoting nutrients.
Kiwifruit is natural source of serotonin. Enjoy eating fresh kiwi before bedtime for sound sleep. Peel of Kiwi contains certain flavonoids which modulates sleep inducing brain parts.
Graviola / Sour sop
In West Indies, Graviola leaves are believed to induce sleep. In Netherlands, Soursop leaves are kept under pillow to treat insomnia. Soursop is believed to contain Tryptophan which relaxes body tissues and induces sleep. It is also helpful in treating depression. Studies have found that ripe Graviola fruits have sedative properties.
Cayenne pepper has neuropeptide which acts as brain stimulator and modulates pain. Capsicum have sleep promoting action by activating the hypothalamus in brain.
Vanilla induces sleep. Hogging vanilla ice cream is just another excuse for enjoying sleep. Vanilla oil is also helpful for nervous system and lowering blood pressure.
Moringa is rich source of protein, calcium and magnesium. It is helpful in treating and regulating sleep cycles. It is believed to contain nebedaye, a sleep aiding compound and relaxant. Moring leaves tea is good way to induce sleep.
Honey is popular superfood and also contains sleep inducing tryptophan which helps overcome insomina. Herbal tea or milk with some honey is our home remedy for treating insomnia.
Figs are rich in Calcium and Tryptophan and helps get rid of sleeping disorders.
Soyabean are rich in magnesium and helps calm nerves while it aids secretion of sleep hormone. Include healthy dose of soyabean in your diet as protein source as well treat insomnia.
Dates are good source of in sleep inducing Trypthotan, calcium and magnesium. Munching dates as bedtime snacks is good for sleep.
This herb is found to stimulate adrenal glands, treat depression and fatigue. Rhodiola extract modulates brain activity and promotes sleep.
Alfalfa has been long considered tonic for treating insomnia and nervous exhaustion.
Wheat germ is high source of magnesium and copper. It is also high in Thiamin, folate and Vitamin B6, together they help provide you sound sleep and is a natural food for insomnia.
Last but not the least, sleep tips shall be incomplete without water. Drinking water is good way to remain hydrated and keeping body at balance. It also nullifies effect of alcohol, caffeine or other sleep disturbing substances.
Other home remedies for insomnia
Sexual activity – Engaging in sexual activity like sex or masturbation induces sleep. It helps release ehdorphins in body which are relaxant, stress relieving and helps sleep.
Yoga and Meditation – Yoga practices and meditation helps relax and maintain body balance. They offer positive energy which can treat insomnia.
Pranayam or breathing exercises – Controlled breathing is great help in inducing sleep. Lie on your bed, take deep breaths and hold as much as you can. Repeat these breathing steps. Carbon dioxide accumulates in body induces natural sleep.
Music therapy – You may consider listening to alpha-wave-inducing music while in bed which have hypnotic effect.
Mental Stimulation – Counting sheeps treats insomnia? If not sheep, at least stimulating your mind before sleep with good discussion, good reading increases brain activity and helps release of sleep hormones.
Acupuncture – Debate continues whether accupunture can treat insomnia continues. Accupunture considers various way of treating insomnia.
Hot Baths – Hot salt baths are considered in naturopathy to induce sleep and relax body.
Aromatherapy – Aromatherapy is widely used in treating insomnia. Inhalation of aromatic essential herbal oil stimulates hormonal activity in body. They act as stimulant and relaxant while offering good sleep. Some essential oils believed to treat insomnia are – Lemon oil, lavender oil, Wormwood Essential Oil, Cedarwood Essential Oil, Allspice Essential Oil, Ylang-Ylang Essential Oil, Clove oil, bergamot essential oil.
Laughter therapy – Laughing is complex body response. Research has found that it reduces stress causing hormones and in psychosomatic way treats stress. Laughter releases Endorphin in body which has sedative effect. Engaging in laughter therapy has its side effects – peaceful sleep!Image Credits: Flickr - Alyssa L. Miller