A dose of sleep

Your guide to the right herbal supplements to help you get some quality shut-eye.

A long, leisurely and deep night’s sleep is one of the finest pleasures in life that anyone can enjoy – better than pizza on a cheat day, taking the last cupcake at a shared lunch and the smell of fresh rain and newly mown grass combined. Yet so many of us are unable to enjoy this simple bliss (ask any shift worker or new mum). And it’s not always about insufficient hours curled up under the duvet; some people sleep the whole night through, but if the quality isn’t good, you will still wake up feeling exhausted.
No one likes to start their day tired, so here’s some expert advice on how to sleep right.
What are some of the most common sleeping aid supplements? And how do we determine which is right for us?
Stress leads to tension; tension leads to lack of sleep. Kerry Locatelli, naturopath at Holistic Performance Nutrition, recommends starting with a good-quality magnesium supplement, as often this is the simplest solution to day-time tension. Choosing a suitable treatment will depend on the nature of the sleep complaint; for low mood or issues with appetite, Locatelli says try 5HTP (an amino acid used to treat depression).
“If you’ve been travelling, or doing shift work, tart cherry could be useful to help get that circadian rhythm back in sync,” says Locatelli.
Other common supplements prescribed to help the body wind down include valerian, lemon balm, passionflower and lavender. Sandra Clair, founder of natural healthcare company Artemis, says these are clinically proven and can help the body enter “deep recovery mode”.
In what ways do herbal methods differ from pharmaceutical sleeping pills?
Locatelli and Clair both emphasise the safety of herbal remedies, stating they do not present the same risk of addiction that over-the-counter pharmaceuticals can. Plus, you’re less likely to feel groggy or experience memory loss with plant-based medicine. Herbal supplements may take longer to become effective, however, so Locatelli says it’s important to give them time to work. Clair adds plant remedies are usually more cost-effective, help to rebalance the body long-term, are less likely to cause “rebound insomnia” and generally result in better quality sleep, too.
Are there any risks certain people should keep in mind when taking supplements to improve their sleep?
“We need to watch out for drug-herb interactions,” says Locatelli. Always check in with your doctor if you’re taking medication and plan to start taking herbal remedies, or if you’re pregnant, or thinking about it. Clair says traditional plant-based remedies pose no risk when taken as directed. For those who want to wean themselves off sleeping medication, Clair suggests consulting a qualified medical herbalist and taking things slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to note drug withdrawal can cause “rebound effects” and that these are “not side-effects from the use of a plant-based remedy,” says Clair.
Our supplement picks:
Left: Clinicians Sleep Science, 30 capsules, $39.90. Right: Gaia Herbs Sleep Thru, 30 capsules, $32.85
How do herbal remedies work to help someone enjoy a good night’s sleep?
Locatelli explains how they helped a woman in her 20s with a demanding job, whose efforts to manage her fatigue were multiple coffees every day. “We got her to drop the coffee down to one a day in the morning, started her on magnesium and a herbal combination with valerian, hops and passionflower an hour before bed, and after a week her ability to fall asleep improved greatly.” Clair says using plant-based sleeping aids not only improve sleep quality, but, “when taken every night they regenerate the nervous system long-term so we can cope with daytime stress and pressure better.”
Would they help with sleeping conditions Such as insomnia, teeth-grinding and restless leg syndrome?
Clair explains it is vital to look for the root cause of such conditions, because poor sleep is the symptom, rather than the disease itself. “Things to look at include pain, digestive disorders, [the] heart and circulation, blood sugar irregularities, breathing problems, ie apnoea, hormonal disturbances, and stress.” Bruxism (teeth-grinding) can benefit from tea or supplements that reduce stress and anxiety. St John’s Wort stands out as an effective treatment for restless leg syndrome, as well as magnesium to relax the muscles.
Our supplement picks:
From left to right: GO Magnesium Sleep, 60 capsules, $32.90. Lifestream Natural Magnesium powder, $39.90. SleepDrops for Adults, $39.90.
How can dietary or lifestyle changes improve sleep habits?
  • Don’t treat alcohol as a sleep remedy
  • Eat a balanced diet of fresh, wholesome foods
  • Exercise daily
  • Sleep in complete darkness or use an eye mask
  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm
  • To de-stress, try yoga, meditation, massage and catching up with friends
  • Avoid day-time napping
  • Create a wind-down routine before bed: try a bath, chamomile tea or a good book
  • Allow 2-3 hours to digest dinner before going to bed
  • Avoid electronics
Words by: Rachael Harwood
Photos: Thinkstock and Supplied

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