Natural Sleep Aids Follow Up

After more than one month of experimentation the results of our informal sleep study are inconclusive.

After trying various remedies for insomnia such as over-the-counter (OTC) pills, so-called natural remedies and prescription aids, there does not appear to be much difference.

pills in a hand

Each of the medications or herbal supplements we tried did have an effect on the time it took to fall asleep but middle of the night waking continued in each case. On some occasions it was possible to fall back to sleep unaided, in others another dose or partial dose was taken to fall back to sleep.

Over the course of the last 30 days, however, we did add time-release melatonin to the mix and it did seem to have longer-lasting effects than it’s immediate-release counterpart.

Out of the three remedies, (prescription, OTC and herbals) the prescription (flurazepam) and herbals (valerian root and time-release melatonin) acted about the same. The amount of sleep “hangover” was considerably less than the OTC medication (doxylamine) although the OTC hangover tended to wear off throughout the day.

The OTC pills were more effective in affecting sleep onset than the herbals to a certain degree, though. Also, it did not seem to matter whether a “full” dose of doxylamine (25mg) was taken or a portion of that (e.g., 12.5mg). Waking still occurred during the middle of the night and sleep hangover was greater when a full dose was taken.

It’s not clear if the vitamin B-6 included in the time-release melatonin had any effect on waking. There are anecdotal stories about this occurring for some, but we noticed no difference between the “natural” supplements and other medications.

We do note, however, that the time-release melatonin did seem to promote longer sleep and did not produce the drowsiness associated with the doxylamine.

Are So Called Natural Sleep Aids Effective?

You spend the first part of the night trying to get to sleep, but can’t. Or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. You toss and turn and agonize over not sleeping, making the whole thing worse. You’re in the company of thousands of us who suffer from insomnia.

alarm clock

There are many causes for insomnia. Anxiety or depression are two. Physical ailments like restless leg syndrome can contribute to sleeplessness too. In many cases we don’t care what’s causing it (although we should). We just want to get to sleep.

You doctor may prescribe medicine to help you sleep but many, like benzodiazepines, can be habit forming. Tranquilizers (e.g., Xanax) can and do work for some, but as with benzodiazepines a tolerance can build over time, requiring higher doses.

Over the counter sleeping pills like diphenhydramine are not recommended for extended use and again here too, tolerances can build over time.

To be sure, some of us don’t care. We just covet our sleep. But are there natural alternatives? Yes. Your results may vary but here’s what we’ve tried. And we’re dealing with daily insomnia and all the stressors you can imagine. No restless leg syndrome, but a lot of worry and a lot of worry now about how we’ll sleep. Disclaimer: We’re not recommending you use any of these or at the doses we did. Some professionals warn against overuse of even these natural “remedies” and we’ve seen some experts contradict others as to whether these are safe or effective. Sleep.org

Our doctor actually did recommend valerian root and melatonin together as an alternative to prescription drugs so with that advice we tried these two.

Our goal was to try to avoid prescription medications if possible or over the counter pills which seem to leave a sleep hangover (grogginess throughout the next day). But, we wanted to sleep.

Teas

Some teas such as Yogi or Sleepytime ® can provide a feeling of relaxation and sleepiness. Taken a couple hours before bed, these have seemed to work (Yogi). Downside? Waking up to pee in the middle of the night. We stopped drinking teas for this reason and because we still woke up in the middle of the night.

Valerian Root (pill form)

This ancient root has been used for millenia to help calm nerves and promote sleep. Some take it in a tea or tincture. Others may grind the root themselves or brew a tea from them. We used the pill form. Doses vary but for us we used the recommended dosage of 4 pills of about 500mg each. Experts say it takes about a month for the root to be effective. It does seem to contribute to falling asleep. We’ve used in combination with melatonin.

Melatonin

It’s a hormone produced by the body when it gets dark. Some people may not produce enough naturally and may want to take a supplement. It comes in varying dosages and some experts and regular folks say to start with minute amounts and work up to larger ones if needed. We didn’t. We merely bought a bottle of melatonin at the supermarket. Turns out it the does was 10mg. Some say to start with 1mg or less, but we jumped right in! Our experience was that despite the higher dose (and in combination with the valerian root) we woke up in the middle of the night. The melatonin does seem to have a short half life.

We got some 5mg gelcaps of melatonin and had similar experiences. Taking one 5mg pill to help fall asleep (along with the valerian) and one more just before actually falling asleep seemed to help sleep longer. Time release melatonin is available and some swear by it, but we haven’t tried it yet.

As of this writing we’ve approached 7 hours sleep total and 6 consecutive hours of sleep which is a lot better than 3 or 4 hours. It’s been inconsistent though and we’ll continue to monitor how the valerian/melatonin combination works. On some nights we have had to resort to a small dose of the benzodiazepines. Working on the stressors is an issue, but in general these “natural” sleep aids did seem to work to some extent. They may work for you, but it’s best to talk to your doctor first.

Do you really need another reason to quit smoking?

Possible Lower Rehire Rates for Smokers

woman on smoke break

Smoking cigarettes contributes to six million deaths annually and statistic show smokers die ten years earlier than their nonsmoking counterparts on average. Smoking is known to cause heart disease, stroke and cancer. Smoking also contributes to early death in children, makes it more likely to develop diabetes and can decrease blood flow necessary for an erection thereby being a cause of erectile dysfunction.

Employed smokers can cost their employers money in the form of sick days, less productivity and increased costs for health care.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine also proposes that smokers are less likely to be hired than nonsmokers and earn less than nonsmokers. It’s not clear whether smoking is the reason for not being hired in a shorter period of time or whether it’s an effect of being unemployed.

Distilled to the essential findings the research found that of the total number of participants—smokers and nonsmokers—over 55 percent of the nonsmokers were reemployed within one year, whereas only 26 percent of smokers were.

Some limitations of the research are that it was limited to a specific geographic area (San Francisco Bay area) and because the size of the sample researchers were dealing with it was not possible to corollate the rehire numbers to any specific job type.

Regardless, the study suggests yet one more reason that smoking is detrimental, not only to health but perhaps also to wealth.
For additional resources on quitting smoking you can check out smokefree.gov

Zika Virus Potentially in the United States

Currently a worldwide concern, and wreaking havoc in South and Central America, the Aedes aegypti mosquito could find its way northward to the Continental United States. It is the female of this species that passes the virus to humans. It’s also responsible for other diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya. Officials in Florida are currently investigating what could be the first cast of the virus in the U.S. not attributable to travel from another country.

avoid being bitten by mosquitos

According to studies, the U.S. cities with closest proximity to the Caribbean and Mexico are most susceptible to the spread of the Zika virus. Those cities from southern Texas to Florida are included. The potential for a spread in the activity of the Zika-carrying mosquito would be greatest in the warmer months of May to October and the reach could be as far as California to the West and the Mid Atlantic States to the North. In the cooler months of November to April, the activity would tend to recede.

Aside from returning travelers, local poverty levels are also a factor in the spread as those with lower incomes may not have air conditioning or window screens. Should the Zika virus find a foothold in the U.S., those in low-income urban areas could be at greatest risk.

Although research to combat the virus is underway and steps are being taken in infected countries, the mosquito may appear in our country and take root in Southern states, possibly moving out and thriving in more northerly states.

The Centers for Disease Control offers advice and tips for avoiding exposure to the virus, the first of which is not getting bitten in the first place. Repellants and netting among other things add a layer of protection especially when traveling to countries with a Zika outbreak. Transmission has occurred during sex so women who are pregnant are advised to take steps to prevent this. The CDC also recommends travelers avoid getting bitten by mosquitos (even when in this country) for three week after returning to the U.S. to be safe.

Lyme Disease on the Rise

The CDC is warning us about an uptick (pardon the pun) in Lyme Disease cases and with summer on the way, this season could prove worse then previous years. Traditionally a Northeastern U.S. problem, the black-legged tick (cause of the disease) has been found in new areas from Florida to Canada.

Symptoms can be similar to flu–chills, fever, fatigue, headache, and achiness. The appearance of a “bullseye” rash (smaller circle inside a larger one) on the skin is a dead giveaway.

Experts ascribe the increase in cases to proximity to deer (which carry the tick) and more people are living in areas with large populations of deer.

Some reports show around 30,000 cases a year but experts believe it may number up to ten times as much. May through July are the most active months for the ticks.

Most cases are still located in the Northeast, but the ticks have been seen in more than half of U.S. states.  The tick population has increase about 45% since 1999 according to the CDC.

Most cases are successfully treated with antibiotics, but the best bet is to avoid getting bitten in the first place.

If hiking in wooded areas, wear socks and long pants. Tick repellents with DEET, eucalyptus or lemon oil should be applied to skin and clothing.

Permethrin is another chemical that can be used on your clothes or camping gear.

A shower up to two hours after returning from the woods can help, especially with ticks that may be in your hair, but it’s also a good way to examine your body for ticks hitching a ride. Putting exposed clothes in a hot dryer can kill ticks too.

So You’re a Baby Boomer. Now What?

The population of the U.S. is getting older. That’s due to so many of us from the Baby Boomer generation (part of all the new babies entering the world after a long and bloody World War 2).

And, we’re living longer thanks to advances in medicine.

Our grandparents used to settle for a rocking chair and steady decline after retirement, but not us! Back when Medicare was created they thought we wouldn’t live much beyond the enrollment age of 65. Not so today!

But the key is to keep active. The old phrase “use it or lose it” applies well. And it is NEVER too late to get started. Regular activity has many benefits including reduction in the risks of chronic diseases. If you’re going to be living longer, make the commitment to keep healthy. Take a walk. Use those muscles (even if it’s a stroll around your neighborhood). Start small if you have to but do it.

We fought a war and won it because we had the resolve to. Compared to that, this is a piece of cake! Get moving!