Consistently getting a good night's sleep isn't a luxury—it's essential to your health. Insufficient sleep not only leaves you feeling tired and irritable but also weakens your immune system and puts you at risk for depression, weight gain and chronic headaches. To get the full health benefits of sleep, most adults should aim for at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.

Many of my patients have trouble sleeping. I often help them determine the nature of their sleep problem--and what might help.

Choose your specific sleep problem below—and try one solution at a time for up to two weeks. If the problem persists, try a second solution in combination with the first. (Don't try three solutions at once.) Once you find the remedies that work for you, you can use them indefinitely. Before starting, check to make sure that your sleep problem is not caused by any prescription medication you might be taking.

Trouble Falling Asleep

For any reason when you first go to bed, try...

  • Sublingual melatonin. Melatonin, the hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain, helps to control sleep and wake cycles. Sublingual melatonin supplements (lozenges placed under the tongue) generally work better than either capsules or tablets. Start with 1.5 milligrams (mg) of sublingual melatonin, 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. (If this doesn't help within three nights, try 3 mg.) Do not take melatonin if you are pregnant, breast-feeding or taking oral contraceptives.

If you have feelings of anxiety, depression or stress, start with…

  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). The body uses this amino acid to manufacture the good mood" neurotransmitter serotonin. Taking a 5HTP supplement increases the body's serotonin production, promoting a sense of well-being and better resistance to stress. Start with 100 mg one hour before bedtime. (If symptoms don't improve within three nights, try 200 mg.) You shouldn't take 5-HTP if you are pregnant, breast-feeding or taking an antidepressant or antianxiety medication.

If 5-HTP doesn't help and you need a more aggressive approach to anxiety and depression, add...

  • Sedalin. This formula, manufactured by Xymogen (health-care professionals can order it at 800-647-6100,, can help relax the nervous system. It contains Magnolia officinali extract, from the bark of a type of magnolia tree, to relieve anxiety...and Ziziphus spinosa extract from a shrub to treat irritability and insomnia. Take one capsule at bedtime for a minimum of two weeks to allow your hormone levels to adjust. (Sedalin also can be used on its own to relieve anxiety and nervousness during waking hours. Since its main role is to calm the nervous system, it won't make you drowsy) It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

If you are over age 60, try...

  • Calcium and/or magnesium. These supplements can help seniors, who are most likely to be deficient in these minerals, fall asleep by relaxing the nervous system. Take 500 mg of calcium with 250 mg of magnesium one hour before bedtime. Some people are helped by taking either the calcium or the magnesium alone. Find what works best for you.

If you are menopausal, try…

  • Natural progesterone. This bioidentical hormone (not to be confused with the pharmaceutical progestin) has a natural sedating effect for women with sleep problems related to low progesterone

Best: Have your hormone levels tested. If progesterone is low, apply a total of one-quarter to one-half teaspoon of progesterone cream to the inner forearm and wrist or the inner thighs 30 minutes before bedtime.

One over-the-counter brand to try Emerita Pro-Gest (800-648-8211, www.emerita. com). For a stronger effect, take a progesterone capsule (100 mg to 150 mg), available by prescription.

Waking In The Night

If you have trouble getting back to sleep…

  • Eat a light snack before bedtime. Some people wake up in the night because their blood sugar dips, triggering the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline-exactly what you don't want while sleeping

Solution: Eat a small snack before bedtime, such as six ounces of organic yogurt.

If you consistently wake up between midnight and 2 a.m., try...

  • Balancing stress hormones. Many people wake up in the wee hours and are unable to fall back to sleep quickly because of an imbalance in stress hormones. Melatonin can help. In addition, try...
  • Walking after dinner. Exercise of any kind decreases the production of stress hormones. Exercise as early as possible in the evening, at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Listening to relaxing music. One study showed that listening to relaxing music (such as classical for 45 minutes before bedtime resulted in better-quality and longer sleep.

If you consistently wake up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., try…

  • Balancing other hormones. Waking between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. can be related to hormone imbalances, including estrogen deficiency in menopausal women (note that this is a different sleep problem than that caused by progesterone deficiency described above)...testosterone deficiency in men age 50 and older.. and/or growth hormone deficiency in people age 60 or older. Have your hormone levels tested-and if they are low, get a prescription for a bioidentical hormone.

Natural Stress Busters

When it comes to your health, getting a good night's sleep is just part of the equation. It's also important to maintain a calm, relaxed state during the day. This is not when people's stress levels can soar because of overloaded schedules. Stress is bad for your health. It can cause gastrointestinal problems... increase risk for cardiovascular disease...and weaken immune response. To stay on an even, upbeat course, I recommend several remedies. Use only one daytime remedy at a time-in conjunction with the sleep remedies (from the previous story) that work for you.

For ongoing stress or anxiety...

  • Calm Natural Mind. Created by natural physician Hyla Cass, MD, this remedy contains gamma aminobutyric acid GABA), which increases levels of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, and L-theanine, a substance in tea leaves that has been shown to increase brain waves associated with a relaxed state. Take as recommended on the label during stressful or anxious periods. It helps some people within a day or two. Try for at least five days, and see if you have any improvement. There are no side effects, and it is safe for everyone except those on antipsychotic medications. To order, call 866-778-2646, or visit (and click on "Health Store").

For quick relief of bouts of anxiety…

  • Bach Flower Rescue Remedy. If you find yourself in a stressful situation during the day, this homeopathic formula, available in health food stores, can provide relief in about 10 seconds to a few minutes. (It is not as strong or long-lasting as Calm Natural Mind, mentioned above.) Take four drops in a glass of water. It also can be a "back to sleep" aid when you wake up in the middle of the night.

For compulsive or extreme worrying or mindracing…

  • Coffea cruda. This is an excellent homeopathic calming therapy. Take two pellets of a 30C potency when your mind goes into overdrive. It's also a sleep aid when you can't sleep because of mind-racing.

Quick Cures

For nosebleeds: Pinch the nose closed, and keep your head tilted downward (not back, which can cause choking). If you continue to bleed profusely from a nosebleed or any other small wound), take the homeopathic remedy Phosphorus (dissolve two 30C pellets under the tongue) to cut down on bleeding time. Take five minutes after the bleeding begins. If bleeding continues, wait five minutes and take another dose.

For motion sickness: If you are prone to nausea and dizziness while riding in a car or on a boat, travel with the homeopathic remedy Cocculus, which is available at health food stores. It works very quickly. Dissolve two pellets of 30C potency under your tongue. Wait five minutes. If you don't feel better, take an additional two pellets of 30C potency. Breathing fresh air also will help you feel better.

For constipation: Try the herb senna (Cassia senna), which is a natural laxative. Take 500 mg in capsule form (standardized to 20-60 mg sennosides). Or drink one cup of senna tea. Do not use senna for long-term relief (more than one week) of constipation or if you are pregnant or have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

For headaches: Put your feet in a bucket of warm water and put an ice pack around your neck. The strategic use of heat and cold causes blood to move away from your head and toward your feet, relieving headache pain. It takes about five to 10 minutes for the pain to recede. This technique might not help people with poorly controlled diabetes or vascular disease who have diminished blood flow to the feet.

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