I have written on sleep before, but it's been some time, so I thought I would do an update. Millions upon millions of people develop sleep problems, especially as they get older. The fact is that the biological switch that toggles us back and forth between wakefulness and sleep doesn't work as well when we get older. Even people who live healthfully can face this problem, and it's challenging because it is so chronic and intractable.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is not to do the wrong thing. And that would be to start taking pharmaceutical drugs for sleep. Sleeping pills, such as Ambien, are among the most prescribed drugs in the world, with annual sales in the billions. And besides the standard sleep drugs, there are still a lot of doctors who prescribe benzodiazepine tranquilizers for sleep, even though they are highly habit-forming and addictive. And there is a push in Medicine to go back to certain sedating antidepressants for sleep, such as Trazadone.
I am not in favor of any of these drugs, and I think it is a big mistake to get started on them- any of them. None of them deliver real, natural sleep, and that's what you want. Just because a drug "knocks you out" doesn't mean that you are experiencing healthy sleep. I say don't bother with any of them. If you have to struggle with your sleep, then struggle with it, but don't start taking drugs because you are never going to get a good result that way.
So, what can you take? There is always melatonin. People report different results from taking melatonin, but it's bound to improve your sleep some- if only a little. The melatonin product that I use and recommend is not available on this site. It is Dr. Walter Pierpaoli's MZS Melatonin. It is manufactured in Switzerland and wasn't available here until recently. I used to have to order it from England, but now you can find it on Amazon.com. So, do a search for it there. And the good news is that it is not expensive. Dr. Pierpaoli designed his product so that it would produce a nighttime peak in melatonin between 1 and 3 AM. He believes it is VERY important to achieve that. He also adds small amounts of zinc and selenium to the product for their synergistic roles in melatonin metabolism. And remember that melatonin has many health benefits besides sleep enhancement. It is truly an anti-aging hormone.
I still think that sedative herbs can be useful, and my favorite is Lemon Balm. The problem with taking a combination herbal product (and there are many) is that you don't know what's working and what's not. So, I prefer to take one at a time, and I would start with Lemon Balm because I think it's the best.
Theanine is an amino acid from green tea with calming effects. It also increases alpha brain waves, which support relaxation, and it increases the brain's production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma amino butyric acid, also known as GABA. I like the Sun Theanine from the Japan, and I think it is an excellent product to take to aid with sleep. Keep in mind that it is not directly sedating. You could take it during the day and not feel sleepy at all. But, it does induce relaxation and calmness which are conducive to falling to sleep. That's what you want: to fall asleep.
The minerals magnesium and calcium both have relaxing effects, and you could take those at night to aid sleep. And of the two, I particularly value magnesium.
Finally, the amino acid Taurine has a relaxing effect on the brain, and it does all kinds of good things for your body. Millions are getting insufficient Taurine anyway. The only way to get a lot from from food is to eat a lot of organ meats (such as cow heart) and fish. Vegetarians don't get any taurine at all. So, how do they get by? The body can convert another sulfur-containing amino acid, methionine, which is abundant in food, into taurine. But again, it's a conversion that slacks off with age. I'm all for getting some pre-formed taurine, and I think it's a good idea in general. Taking 500 to 1500 mgs of Taurine a day can be a very good thing to do.
Those are my main recommendations for sleep aids, and again, it's all about supporting sleep indirectly so that you can fall asleep; not be knocked out.
But in addition, do as many other things right as possible to enhance sleep. Eat healthy and nutritious foods, and avoid junk. Get sunlight in your eyes, especially in the morning. Exercise every day, and the more the better as far as sleep is concerned. You've got to earn your sleep through exercise. And finally, if you have other issues interfering with your sleep, such as an anxiety disorder or depression, then you should seek help for that. But again, I prefer non-pharmacological solutions.
It's possible, even likely, that no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try, you are NEVER going to sleep like a baby again. And you may have to wrestle with your sleep- to some extent- for the rest of your life. Well, join the club because millions are in that boat. But, don't panic; don't get desperate; and don't do the wrong thing. Work on your sleep, and doctor it sensibly, but don't follow the masses into drug dependency on this important issue. Sleep is a physiological process, and it cannot be forced.