Sleeping Aids

Sheep run uncounted in my mom's mind. She gave up on that sleep aid long ago. Mom's probably been awake for three-quarters of her life. Most mornings of my childhood, she would inform me over breakfast that she had been awake since 2:00 a.m., had cleaned the bathrooms, pushed through a couple loads of laundry, walked to town, attended Mass, and returned for a cup of tea. All before 8:00 a.m. I could not relate. During summer vacation through my college years, I rose from bed in time for lunch. Sleep was my ready companion. Last week, during our family's reunion, Mom's sleeplessness weighed heavy on her. She was missing out on large portions of the day's activities, too exhausted to join and too spacey to clue into the jovial banter. Afraid of getting addicted to her sleeping drugs, she refused to take them, instead laying awake for large stretches of the night. I returned home determined to find her non-drug alternatives to help her sleep.

First call went out to friend Sarah, who herself suffered through a long period of insomnia. "I was so desperate because a lot of the over-the-counter sleeping drugs contain Benadryl, which helps a lot of people fall asleep, but not me. Benadryl has the opposite effect on me. It makes me excitable yet drowsy and leaves me feeling like I have caffeine in my system. So I turned to natural remedies. I talked with a lot of people who all had different suggestions," she answered. "'Put lavender under your pillow to help you relax,' or 'Turn the clock around so that you can't see the numbers.' The only natural remedy that worked for me was a hot bath and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea [$2.99 for 20 bags at Henry's Marketplace]."

"During my sleepless days," Sarah continued, "I spoke with several doctors and every doctor talked about sleep hygiene. Completely cut out alcohol and caffeine, even chocolate. That was a hard one. Wake up at the same time each morning, no matter how little sleep you had. Go to bed when you are tired, which should be about the same time each evening. If you can't fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something restful, like reading a book. Don't watch television, because it's too stimulating. Don't read in bed or watch television in bed because the mind will start to associate bed with those things instead of sleep. Try to exercise every day, but not too close to bedtime."

"Quietude [$8.79 for 60 tablets at Henry's] by Boiron helped me," said my sister Cathy. "I was on a road trip with my kids up in Wyoming, and I was worn out from getting to bed too late and pushing myself through the day doing all the driving. A friend I was visiting gave me a sleeping pill so I could finally have a good night's sleep. I took it and I had one of my worst nights of sleep. I felt buzzed and I woke up groggy. The next morning I found a natural foods store and the saleslady recommended Quietude. I took it that evening and slept deeply and woke up refreshed. Since then, I always have it available in my medicine cabinet.

"Another remedy I have used," Cathy continued, "is the homeopathic remedy called aconitum napellus [Hyland's brand $7.29 for 250 tablets at Henry's]. My son will come out some evenings saying 'My blood is all stirred up,' which I read as he is restless. After a dose of aconitum, he goes right to sleep."

My chum Nancy's suggestion was, "Don't eat anything within three hours of going to sleep. And I've found that if I sit down with a good book and a cup of chamomile tea, within a half an hour I am ready for sleep."

Next I called Henry's and relayed Mom's sleeping woes to a salesman. "I would recommend she start with melatonin," said the salesman. "Melatonin [Natrol brand $8.49 for 60 tablets at Henry's] is a hormone that helps regulate serotonin. In comes in different potencies: one milligram up to five milligrams. If she is waking up groggy, then she's taking too high of potency, so she should gradually reduce dosage. The other remedy I'd try is valerian [Nature's Way $7.49 for 90 capsules at Henry's], which is an herb that helps the body relax. Some people also find kava [Kava De-Stress for $8.99 for 1 fl. ounce at Henry's], which is an amino acid to help with sleep and relaxation."

"She really needs to start trying some natural remedies," said a saleslady at Whole Foods, "because with sleep aids, it really varies person to person for what works. I find that combination herbs work better than single herbs. We sell Sound Sleep [Gaia Herbs brand $19.99 for 60 capsules at Henry's] and Deep Sleep [Herbs Etc. brand, $21.99 for 60 soft gels at Henry's], which are big sellers. They contain valerian root, passionflower, and skullcap which all help for sleep. We also sell some teas which contain those herbs, if she would rather drink teas."

Henry's sold Nighty Night tea by Traditional Medicinals ($4.29 for 16 tea bags) and also Calm by Tazo ($3.99 for 20 bags).

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