A Good Night’s Sleep: Easing Insomnia The Natural Way
Posted by Kate W on Monday, May 28th, 2012
When you have a new baby, sleep becomes such a precious commodity. In the first several weeks, they need to eat every few hours, and since they’re not exactly tall enough or mobile enough to open the fridge, at least one parent needs to be awake to facilitate the eating process. I’m lucky enough that at the age of 7 months, my daughter is now sleeping pretty regularly through the night, which does not happen for all parents; unfortunately, her idea of for the night means 5:30pm to about 4am. Four in the morning is not a great time for me; it’s too late to still be awake, but too early to get up. I am finally ready to sleep, but she just wants to party.
It’s easy to say, “Hey, if you know when she’s going to sleep, why don’t you just go to bed when she does?” I only wish I could make that happen. For starters, I’m at my most productive when she sleeps, as she’s too young yet to help. I can do the dishes, fold the laundry, cook dinner, make lunch for my husband to take to work the next day, and do a little freelance work much faster without wrangling her. Also, my husband doesn’t get home until 6pm most nights; if I went to bed with her at 5:30pm, we’d never see each other! But the biggest obstacle is my lifelong insomnia.
Ever since I was a child, it’s taken me hours to fall asleep every night. My brain starts racing, thinking of all the things I need to get done, and I work myself into a state of anxiety. Or, I think about a horror movie I saw ten years ago, and become convinced that if I open my eyes, there will be a man with a chainsaw standing by the bed. Anything my brain can throw at me to keep me awake, it does. I’ve tried sleep aids in the past, but over-the-counter meds are impervious to my insomnia’s strength, and the only prescription stuff that will actually help me fall asleep knocks me out so soundly that I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to hear the baby if she cried. So I’ve turned to more natural remedies, like melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body’s pineal gland, a small gland in the brain. Its function is to help control your sleep and wake cycles. Every person has their own natural sleep cycle, and that body clock helps regulate how much melatonin your body makes. Typically, melatonin levels rise in the evening, remain throughout the night, and fall off in the early morning hours. Because melatonin is affected by light levels, you may notice that your sleep cycle changes in the winter months, when the day is much shorter. This disruption to your natural schedule can contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Melatonin levels also drop with age, which may be why nearly half of older adults report sleeping issues.
While melatonin can be found in small amounts in food sources (including radicchio), it works best when taken as a supplement. Whether your sleep issues are from jet lag, working night shifts, or just run-of-the-mill insomnia, melatonin can make a huge difference in helping you get the rest you need to thrive during the day.
One day my daughter will be self-sufficient enough that I can fall asleep at my own pace, and hopefully sleep past 5am. On the plus side, unlike most parents, I won’t be exhausted from waiting up all night for her when she’s a rebellious teenager; I’ll be up anyway.
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