Safe ways to get your ZZZs

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Nearly 7 in 10 women struggle to sleep, which can cause memory problems, depression, weakening of your immune system (which can increase your chance of becoming sick,) and increase your perception of pain. With so many women having challenges with getting enough sleep, it’s no wonder prescription sleep medicines have been on the rise. But with prescription sleep drugs, there comes the risks and side effects, which can be dangerous. Between the years 2005 and 2010, the number of women who ended up in the emergency room rose by 274% after taking zolpidem (sold as Ambien, Edluar, and Zolpimist.) Side effects can include sleepwalking, sleep-eating, and sluggishness the next day. Other side effects from taking sleeping pills, (including Lunesta, Sonata, Rozerem, and Halcion,) can include constipation, gas, headaches and stomach pain. (Just to name a few.)


In General…

  • Infants require 14 to 15 hours of sleep a day.
  • Teens need about 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on average.
  • Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night though some may need as few as 6 or as many as 10.

Experts say if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep.


Sleep-deprived people who were tested by using a driving simulator or by performing hand-eye coordination tasks performed as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 vehicle accidents and 1,550 deaths each year.


Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol’s effects on the body, which means a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well rested.


  • Avoid large meals 2 hours before bedtime.
  • If you exercise in the evening, do it at least 3 hours before going to bed.
  • Don’t drink caffeine 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Drink a glass of milk, warm or cold. The amino acid can work as a mild sedative.
  • Don’t nap late in the afternoon.
  • Stop working on tasks that require a lot of concentration. Solitaire, jigsaw puzzles or relaxing books can help calm your brain.
  • Don’t discuss emotional issues right before bedtime.
  • Make a to-do list before bed. Writing it down can help you relax and avoid you waking up later because you’re worried you forgot something.
  • Dim the lights about an hour before bedtime, which can help prepare your body for sleep.
  • Learn a relaxation technique like meditation, progressive relaxation, or visualization. (For example; inhale and exhale slowly as you picture yourself on a beach. See the birds flying, feel the sun, hear the water lapping. Imagine floating in the water with your body becoming weightless and relaxed.)
  • Eat an evening snack like whole-wheat toast with honey or peanut butter an hour before bed. Honey and peanut butter are high in sleep-inducing tryptophan and carbs in whole grains help rev the production of soothing serotonin.


  • Make your bedroom conducive to sleep: Reduce noise, close the blinds, keep the temperature cool.
  • Use earplugs or an eye mask.
  • Don’t watch TV or eat in bed. (It should be used only for sleep and sex.)
  • Keep regular hours so your body develops a sleep-wake pattern.
  • Try to lie still. Body heat increases when you move, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
  • Sleep on your back? If so, keep your legs bent. A pillow under your knees will help to relax your neck.
  • Turn your thoughts into boring ones. Count sheep, spell long words backward, or imagine writing the numbers 1 to 100 on a chalkboard.


According to WebMD, 4 supplements that may help you get a good night’s sleep include: chamomile tea, melatonin, valerian, and kava. Experts Sharon Plank, MD, with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Center for Integrative Medicine, and Alon Avidan, MD, a sleep researcher at the UCLA School of Medicine offer this advice on the 4 supplements:

According to WebMD…

** Start with low doses, and tell your doctor what you are taking. Some people should not take specific supplements. Also, don’t take any sleep supplement long-term. “Any sleep aid should not be taken for long periods,” Plank says. “You must address lifestyle, too. Make sure something else is not interfering with sleep.” And as always, if you’re pregnant, nursing, or taking medications for an illness or disease, always check with your doctor first.

Chamomile Tea… Chamomile tea has been used for sleep for thousands of years. The FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects. One Japanese study of rats found that chamomile extract helped the rats fall to sleep just as quickly as rats that got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication.) Dr. Plank says, “The trick is to make sure you are brewing it properly. Use two to three tea bags. Then put a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water–so you get the medicinal effects of the tea.” If you are allergic to ragweed, use chamomile cautiously.

Melatonin… Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Studies have shown that melatonin not only helps some people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. “Melatonin comes in two forms–extended release and immediate release,” says Plank. “If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take extended release before you go to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, try immediate release.” Melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use. However, there have been concerns about risks of bleeding (especially in people taking blood-thinners like warfarin. There is also increased risk of seizure, particularly in children with brain disorders.

Valerian… Valerian root has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years. Studies suggest that valerian may help people fall asleep faster and may also help improve the quality of sleep. It becomes more effective over time, so it’s best to take it every night for a short period of time. Some people may experience stomach upset, headache or morning grogginess. Taking valerian with sleeping medications or alcohol can compound its effect so don’t use it with other sleep aids. Start with the lowest dose, then increase over several days. Valerian is considered safe to take for 4 to 6 weeks.

Kava… The kava plant is a member of the pepper family and has been shown to help relieve anxiety. The American Academy of Family Physicians says that short-term use of kava is okay for patients with mild to moderate anxiety, which can help improve sleep in people with stress-related insomnia. Do not use alcohol or take if you take medicines metabolized in the liver, including many cholesterol medicines. The FDA has issued a warning that using kava supplements has been linked to a risk for severe liver damage.

Hopefully, if you have trouble sleeping or falling asleep, these suggestions will help. And remember, sleep-deprivation can be dangerous so use caution when driving if you’ve had some sleepless nights. And again, as always, check with your doctor before introducing new supplements to your body, especially if pregnant, nursing or on other medications.

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