In my post about insomnia and lifestyle I said that the first two things people ask about when you tell them you’re not sleeping are your coffee intake and exercise details. That was a lie. The first thing they always ask is, Have you tried melatonin? And when this happens to me, I want to punch that person in the face. People, this is not a helpful thing to say to someone who is genuinely struggling with sleep. Of course they have tried melatonin. Everyone has. And for some people it works great, but for others it doesn’t work at all. Fortunately, these days health food stores are lined with different natural methods to encourage sleep. Here is what I have tried, yes, including melatonin.
Melatonin. I’ve used this off and on over the years. It helped for mild sleep trouble, but not at all for real insomnia. Despite this I used to take it hopefully every night, but heard through the grapevine that it wasn’t wise to take long term or regularly so I stopped and my sleep patterns didn’t change.
Valerian. This did not help me sleep at all, just made me feel uncomfortably high as I lay awake throughout the night. A friend of mine also tried valerian for a bout of sleeplessness. It definitely made her feel wonky, but it also helped her to sleep.
Selenium. This did nothing with my insomnia, other than make me feel the same way valerian did.
Marijuana. Ok, this is not available at most health food stores, but if you’re desperate for sleep it might be worth a try. For me, this had a 50% success rate, which is actually pretty good considering most things I tried had a 0% success rate. Unfortunately, for pot to help me get to sleep at 10 or 11PM I had to smoke it around 7 or 8PM. This meant I’d have to commit my night to this, something I just couldn’t do regularly. I also felt super awkward and sneaky and weird about smoking pot in my neighbourhood, which is an especially un-fun feeling when you’re stoned. After a couple of months it became more trouble than it was worth, though it definitely helped me with both sleeplessness and insomnia, I’m just not a cool enough stoner to keep it up.
Magnesium. When I first read about the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, I thought I had solved the problem. I was so sure that taking magnesium before bed would be my silver bullet. It wasn’t. However, there is a difference in my sleep quality when I take it and when I don’t. If you have sleep trouble or aren’t getting deep sleep, you might want to talk with your doctor about potentially having a magnesium deficiency. Taking magnesium before bed didn’t help me sleep, but it has improved the quality of my sleep.
Chinese Medicine Concoction. Didn’t work.
GABA. GABA was recommended to me by a friend when I was struggling pretty frequently with anxiety. I ended up taking it before bed when my mind was racing and was surprised by how effective it was. GABA helps to turn my mind off and bring me to sleep. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any reputable reports on the safety of long term or regular use, so I try to limit it for those nights (or middle of the nights) when my mind just won’t be quiet.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of the natural options available to improve sleep, it’s just what I tried and how it worked for me. Before trying any of the above, or anything at all for that matter, please talk to your doctor. Side effects are real and crazy things.