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What Are the Best Sleep Aids?
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Best sleeping aid


What Are the Best Sleep Aids?

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During my osteopathic consultations, patients often ask what the best sleeping pill is for sleep. The wiser question to consider is: how to sleep without a sleeping pill? Most natural techniques to help you fall asleep are not only healthy and safe, but also completely free! So why not try them first? 

Here is a short summary of simple and effective techniques to help you get back to sleep. To complete this practical guide, we will also mention some natural medicines to help you sleep well.

Finally, since sleeping pills manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry come with serious proven risks, we will explore what the side effects are so you can make an informed decision before choosing to start taking them.

What are natural sleep aids?

Without surprise, the best natural "sleeping pills" consist above all in taking care of our diet, and more, generally, of our lifestyle. To get back to sleep naturally, two questions must be considered first:

  • What good habits encourage good sleep without sleeping pills? 

  • Which nutrients naturally present in my diet will help me to get back to sleep?

Finally, the natural properties of herbal sleeping pills or certain food supplements can also help us fall asleep from time to time.

Good lifestyle habits

Good life habits sleep

Avoiding stimulants such as coffee and screens (whether from a tv, laptop, or phone) is the first step to good sleep hygiene. Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day (preferably in a park or in nature) is just as crucial to getting to sleep at bedtime.

Moreover, to fall asleep, we need to let go of our thoughts and calm the mind. One way to slip into sleep is to enter a kind of meditative state in which we focus our attention on our body sensations

The most efficient technique to fall asleep is to concentrate on your breathing. Breathe with the belly: long, slow, and deep inhalations and exhalations are the key to relaxation.

Our ability to fall asleep also depends on our circadian rhythm, i.e., the rhythm at which we alternate between being awake and asleep. In other words, the more we wake up and go to bed at fixed times, the easier it is to wake up and fall asleep!

Good eating habits

Eating well good food

You have probably already heard of the "sleep hormone", melatonin. To synthesize melatonin, our body accumulates serotonin or "happy hormone" during the day and then converts it into melatonin at night.

Serotonin is synthesized by converting an amino acid called tryptophan, an essential nutrient in our diet.

A large amount of melatonin can be found directly in nuts and hazelnuts. To a lesser extent, it is also found in a wide variety of edible plants including:

  • whole grain brown rice, potatoes, or corn

  • whole grain oats, quinoa, and barley

  • onions, garlic, and ginger

  • pineapples, tomatoes, and bananas

Although melatonin is present in relatively small quantities in the foods mentioned above, they are a great source of tryptophan. Wholemeal bread, honey, and turkey meat are also good sources of tryptophan. Think of them as homemade "sleeping pills"!

Finally, calcium and magnesium are essential minerals for good sleep. Calcium is found in dairy products and soy, and magnesium in spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate is a natural (and quite delicious) sleep aid.

Aromatherapy and food supplements

Aromatherapy & food supplements

Aromatherapy consists of concentrating the therapeutic properties of certain plants in essential oils, i.e., ultra-concentrated phytotherapy.

For example, some clinical studies on passionflower essential oil have demonstrated an effectiveness equivalent to artificial benzodiazepine sleeping pills, undoubtedly the most powerful type.  

While very effective and bringing on sleep, they also come with a host of undesirable side effects, listed in detail below. Unlike conventional drugs, passionflower essential oil is safe and does not cause persistent fatigue or drowsiness.

Food supplements can also help us get to sleep. Valerian and chamomile root capsules are known to facilitate the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA. GABA has a calming effect on the central nervous system, reducing insomnia and anxiety.

Finally, melatonin can also be found in the form of a food supplement. Like the melatonin synthesized by our body, the consumption of these tablets decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and increases the duration of sleep. You must be careful, however: an overdose is less effective than an appropriate dosage, and you should consult your doctor to find out what dosage is best for you. 

What are the side effects of sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills side effects

The side effects of sleeping pills marketed by the pharmaceutical industry vary depending on their nature: over-the-counter diphenhydramine or prescription benzodiazepine. In both cases, the side effects of these pills present some serious risks for consumers.

Side effects of benzodiazepine-type sleeping pills

Benzodiazepines are marketed under the names of diazepam for Valium, alprazolam for Xanax, or even lorazepam for Ativan. These are very nice names for the same molecule with unenviable side effects:

  • drowsiness

  • confusion

  • dizziness

  • loss of balance

  • loss of coordination

  • loss of memory

  • loss of speech

  • muscle weakness

  • constipation

Note that the above are just the common side effects of these sleeping pills. Less common side effects are also worth considering:

  • delusions and hallucinations

  • skin reactions

  • nervousness, agitation, and anxiety

  • aggressiveness

Add to these negative consequences physical dependence, addiction, and long-term learning and concentration problems.

Side effects of diphenhydramine-type sleeping pills

These over-the-counter sleeping pills are marketed under the names, such as Simply Sleep, Tylenol PM, Advil PM, Aleve PM, Unisom, Sleep-eze, or Zzzquil.

Diphenhydramines are known to potentiate the effects of alcohol: that is to say, they increase its effect, in dangerous proportions. However, they also carry their own risk of toxicity, of which symptoms systematically include:

  • drowsiness

  • dry mouth

  • headaches

At first glance, the main side effects of these sleeping pills seem rather benign... But the list of less frequent side effects is endless and affects the whole body, including its most sensitive functions. Here are some examples:

  • appetite disorders

  • heart problems

  • mood disorders

  • impaired vision

  • constipation 

  • difficult and painful urination

  • confusion

  • agitation

  • anxiety

  • decrease in libido

  • dizziness and nausea

The list goes on! The most harmful side effect of these sleeping pills is again, in my opinion, the psychic dependence generated by these drugs and the addiction in the medium or long term.

Is it dangerous to take sleeping pills?

Is it dangerous to take sleeping pills

Benzodiazepines and diphenhydramines are sedative hypnotics. These drugs are classified as psychotropic and each has its own toxicity, even when the dosage is respected. These psychotropic properties are at the origin of a dependency phenomenon, and withdrawal from these drugs can be particularly difficult and unpleasant.

These legal hallucinogenic drugs, although sold over the counter, should only be used with full knowledge of the facts, and only within the strict limits prescribed by your doctor.

Many consumers, trapped by this phenomenon of dependence, wonder how to stop taking sleeping pills... Or more precisely how to wean themselves off sleeping pills.

Finally, these sleeping pills also have in common an unfortunate tendency to cause addiction in consumers, which makes them less and less effective in the medium and long term. They are therefore only prescribed in emergencies for a short period of time. They cannot effectively treat chronic insomnia.

Why not consider playing a sport or snacking on some hazelnuts and dark chocolate... admit it's worth a try!




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