Q&A: what are some herbal remedies for sleep issues?

Question:

“Of late, I have great difficulty in going to sleep. On completion of my ritual reading, 'signs' indicate that sleep is imminent. But my attempts are interrupted by a sudden 'start', immediately alerting me. I resume reading in the hope that sleep will come, to no avail, and am often kept awake for hours. Resorting to sleeping pills helps, but I am reluctant to make this a habit.

Is there any ˈnon-habitˈ-forming supplement, such as a herbal remedy that might help? When such anxiety strikes I have tried deep breathing, pleasant thoughts, changing my line of thinking etc, etc. None of which works.

I am an octogenarian, so perhaps that has something to do with it?

I look forward to your comments and thank you in anticipation.”

̶ Ron

Answer:

Dr Sarah Jarvis says: “I certainly agree that it is a very bad idea to get into the habit of taking sleeping tablets – a study a few years ago found that taking a variety of sleeping tablets even every three weeks was associated with an increased risk of dying. In any case, a paper in the Lancet in 2012, which reviewed 130 sleep studies, found that non-drug behavioural changes were not only one of the most effective ways of treating insomnia but also helped more in the longer term.

Having said that, if you jerk suddenly when you’re just falling asleep, it sounds as if you may be suffering from ‘hypnagogic jerks’, otherwise known as ‘hypnic jerks’. The trouble is that once you’ve had one, feeling anxious about getting to sleep can make you prone to another one. However, there are several steps you can take to try to reduce the risk:

- Limit strenuous exercise close to bedtime (although a gentle stroll in the late afternoon may help)

- Don’t be tempted to use alcohol. This may stop the jolting sensation but it will have a significant adverse effect on the overall quality of your sleep, disrupting sleep later in the night

- Avoid smoking (for this as for a host of other reasons) and cut out caffeine after about 5 pm

- Try to get into a regular sleep routine, by getting up at the same time every morning (even if you’ve had a bad night) and not catnapping

- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and consider a supplement with magnesium, iron or calcium – low levels of any of these can make you prone to hypnagogic jerks

- If your symptoms are severe or debilitating, speak to your GP about getting blood tests to check for deficiencies.”

-Dr Sarah Jarvis