2020 has been a particularly hard year and almost everyone has had to deal with a lot of changes in their everyday routines. More than ever, natural stress relief and sleep aids are popular requests at my clinic. I thought I’d share some of my go-to remedies in case you need extra support, too. In part 1 of this series, I will review supplements that are helpful and in part 2, I will focus on herbs that support the nervous and endocrine systems.
First, it’s important to discuss what NOT to do, or at least encourage moderation in these areas: Number one is alcohol. Many people have been consuming a lot more booze than usual to cope with quarantines, fire evacuations, working from home, and election stress. More than one drink a day can cause irritable bowels, stomach ulcers, increased cancer risk, depression, and poor-quality sleep. Overindulging in sugar or caffeine and binge eating doesn’t help, either.
Most of us are using our electronic devices more and screen time is way up in general. It’s helpful to turn off your phone, TV, computer and Wi-Fi an hour before bed. At the very least, keep electronics and bright lights out of the bedroom. Take breaks from the screens and go outside for fresh air and sunshine whenever possible during the day.
Sedating drugs like Valium, Xanax, Ambien and even diphenhydramine (Benedryl, Sominex, Tylenol PM, etc.) are not a sustainable answer for anxiety and insomnia either. They can be addicting, cause dementia later in life, and result in worsening agitation and wakefulness when they wear off.
Thankfully, there are many herbs and supplements that can help you stay chill and sleep well for optimal mood and energy during the day. I usually recommend a combination of things and individually tailor my recommendations to each specific person. The following suggestions are generally very safe and well tolerated for adults, but consult your healthcare provider ahead of time if you are on prescription medications or have serious health issues.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that the pineal gland in the brain secretes when the eyes perceive darkness, signaling it is time to go to sleep. Many folks are deficient, especially older folks or those who are exposed to bright lights including TVs and computer screens when it is dark out. Melatonin is also a strong antioxidant and can help support the immune system. 1mg to 20mg at bedtime is the adult dosing range. I recommend starting with a low dose and titrating up slowly as needed. If you fall asleep easily, but wake up in the night, time release melatonin may work better for you. The amino acid, L-theanine 200-400mg can also help people who wake up in the middle of the night. It can be used for daytime stress as well. L-theanine is the calming constituent extracted from green tea.
Other amino acids are very relaxing, also. Tryptophan and its metabolite, 5-HTP, are serotonin boosters and can be both relaxing and help you fall asleep. 500mg of tryptophan is roughly equivalent to 50mg of 5-HTP and I recommend experimenting with both as some people find one works better than the other for them. If you are on an antidepressant medication, avoid both, as they can possibly increase serotonin levels too much. Other relaxing amino acids are Glycine (1-3 grams daily), Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) and D, L-phenylalanine (750mg up to twice a day). These can be used alone or in combination with other amino acids or herbs. Amino acids make up proteins, so making sure you eat enough protein helps, too. Thanksgiving turkey is the classic example of a relaxing tryptophan-rich food, for example.
There are many more natural ways to reduce stress and get better sleep. Stay tuned for part 2 where I will share my herbal stressbusting remedies.
Dr. Margaret Philhower is a naturopathic doctor with a naturopathic family practice in Takilma next door to The Dome School andat The Bear Creek Naturopathic Medical Clinic located at 2612 E. Barnett Rd. in Medford. You can schedule an in person or virtual appointment in Takilma by calling 541-415-1549 or Medford by calling 541-770-5563 or visit her website at www.drmargaret.org.