insomnia

  1. Skip the sedative hypnotic drugs and get a safer night sleep

    A recent study found that men and women who take sedative hypnotic drugs to sleep may increase their mortality risk by more than a third. Now, I know that lack of sleep is a huge problem, especially if you‘re under a lot of stress. But if you take a drug like Ambien to catch some z‘s, you could be heading for disaster.

    The good news is, there are plenty of safe and natural sleep aids that won‘t send you to an early grave. More about those in a moment. But first, let me explain...

    Why sedatives are so bad

    According to some research, 20 percent of adults use some type of sleep aid each night. You may take an OTC drug like Tylenol PM to help get you through a rough couple of nights. These drugs contain antihistamines plus pain relievers. These drugs are tough on the liver and your digestive system, but they‘re not nearly in the same league as a prescription drug like Ambien.

    Ambien belongs to a class of drugs called sedative hypnotics. And there are two distinct types of sedative hypnotic drugs. The first type of sedatives -- called benzodiazepines -- hit the market in the 1950s. Xanax and Ativan are the most well-known. Side effects range from daytime sleepiness to urinary incontinence to respiratory problems. But the biggest drawback for these heavy-duty drugs is the tendency to become dependent on them.

    Plus,sedative hypnotic drugs stay in your system longer than a newer class of hypnotics called non-benzodiazepines. And that‘s why the more recent drugs like Ambien have been such blockbusters. They‘re perceived as safer and less addicting.

    But according to the new study, they‘re just as dangerous...if not more so because you think you‘re safe taking them for a longer period.

    Sedative drug use may increase mortality risk by 36 percent

    For this study, scientists analyzed data for 14,000 people. They found that men and women who took sedative hypnotic drugs had a 36 percent greater risk of dying. And those at greatest risk were men and women over age 55. In addition, men and women with pre-existing health conditions -- such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or respiratory disease -- also ran a greater risk of dying after taking a sedative.

    According to the published report, there are a number of reasons why this happens...

    First off, both types of sedative hypnotic drugs impair your ability to stay alert. They also affect your coordination. This -- they authors wrote -- contributes to an increase in falls and car accidents. Secondly, we know that these drugs can also trigger or aggravate breathing disorders. So imagine what taking a sedative will do to someone who‘s already got sleep apnea or asthma...or someone who smokes! It‘s a recipe for disaster.

    Lastly, these drugs may cause depression...or make existing depression worse. They can also play games with your central nervous system. As a result, feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin can be disturbed. Therefore, I‘m guessing that some of the premature deaths in the study may have occurred due to suicide.

    So if sedative drugs aren‘t the answer to your sleep problems...what is?

    Safely and naturally improving your sleep

    You already know to keep your room a cool, dark, TV-free zone. And exercising before bed will just rev you up. Plus, here are few other tips that should help you get back to a healthy sleep pattern...

    1. Get off all stimulants. Yup, even in the morning. Coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate are the obvious culprits. But you should also avoid taking ginseng, B12, or milk thistle before bed too. You‘ll also want to avoid eating bacon, cheese, chocolate, ham, potatoes, sugar, sausage, spinach, or tomatoes close to bedtime. These foods contain tyramine, which increases the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Most processed foods also contain tyramine.

    2. Try upping your daily magnesium. Go for 500 mg capsules at bedtime. If you also suffer from mild anxiety, this amount of magnesium may also lessen your symptoms.

    3. If you‘re under the age of 40, try using l-tryptophan. It‘s an essential amino acid found in turkey, chicken, tuna, whole grain crackers, eggs, bananas, figs and dates. So, if you must eat before bed, these are all safe choices. But of course, to get enough l-tryptophan from food, you‘d have too eat a lot of it— nothing like a whole turkey before bed, right? So supplementing is ideal. L- tryptophan will help gently induce sleep. Plus, unlike many drugs, it won‘t cause morning-after fogginess. That said, unfortunately, if you suffer from lactose intolerance, you may have trouble absorbing l-tryptophan. So if that‘s the case, stick to the other options.

    4. I‘ve also seen excellent results using melatonin supplements. Just beware, melatonin is a hormone. So I don‘t recommend taking it if you‘re younger than 40. But as we get older, our melatonin production slows down so there‘s less of a chance of you getting "too much" by taking it as a supplement.

    Go for the smallest dose to start: 1.5 mg at bedtime for ages 40 to 50 or 3 mg for people over the age of 50. With higher dosages, you might wake up drowsy. If that‘s the case, you know you‘ve taken too much.

    5. After a certain age, many of us wake up every night to visit the bathroom. If you want to get ahead of the curve and support healthy bladder function now, there‘s a plant extract call three-leaf caper that just might help. Used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, three-leaf caper strengthens and tones the bladder wall so it can empty more fully.

    Just remember, when you sleep it‘s your body‘s time to refresh and reboot. It‘s vital for your overall health. So if you‘re not getting enough restful z‘s, give one of these natural sleep aids a try and try to avoid sedative hypnotic drugs.

  2. You are supposed to go to sleep, not on a drive

    Last month, a man from a small town near Boise, Idaho hit a number of mailboxes and ran into several parked cars before getting pulled over. The local policemen took the man to the hospital because he appeared to be intoxicated. Turns out, the man wasn't drunk, though he had no memory of the previous five hours. Believe it or not, the man was "sleep driving." He had taken an Ambien earlier in the evening and could not remember anything from his wild ride.

    I wasn't surprised to learn about this man's story. Ambien may cause all kinds of crazy side effects. In fact, on the Ambien website, it warns users that: "Sleepwalking, and eating or driving while not fully awake, with memory loss for the event, as well as abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal, confusion, agitation, and hallucinations may occur."

    Thankfully, no one was hurt in Boise, Idaho. But nevertheless, the very real risk of "sleep driving" is enough to place Ambien in "you've-got-to-be-nuts-to-take-it" category.

    Sleep: No joking matter

    All jokes aside, I know why the Boise man took the Ambien in the first place. He wasn't nuts. He just needed to get some sleep. And that's understandable.

    Getting a good night's sleep ranks as high as proper nutrition and regular exercise in determining your overall health. But according to Harvard scientists, most of us don't get enough. In fact, 75 percent of men and women experience sleep problems at least a couple of times a week.

    You may go to bed tired, but your mind just won't shut off. You end up tossing and turning, trying not to look at the clock. Or maybe you fall asleep just fine; it's staying asleep that's the problem. Plus -- insomnia can be worse at certain times in your life. Times of stress obviously can disturb your sleep. In addition, women going through menopause often experience bouts of insomnia.

    Unfortunately, long-term sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your overall health. Scientists now know that sleep is critical to keeping your memory sharp, your weight down, your immune system charged, your mood up, and heart pumping strong.

    The good news is, there's plenty you can do to improve the quality of your sleep without resorting to a drug like Ambien, or even something milder like Tylenol PM.

    Safely and naturally improving your sleep

    You know to avoid caffeine (even in the morning), napping during the day, and TV-watching in the bedroom. You know not to exercise before bed. And you know drinking alcohol before hitting the sheets often makes things worse. So what else can you do to improve the quality of your sleep without resorting to drugs? Here are a few suggestions:

    1. First off, you may try upping your daily magnesium. Go for 500 mg capsules at bedtime. If you also suffer from mild anxiety, this amount of magnesium may also lessen your symptoms.

    2. If you're under the age of 40, you should also try using l-tryptophan. It's an essential amino acid (meaning your body doesn't produce it, so you must get it from your food). You'll find l-tryptophan in foods like turkey, chicken, milk and eggs. But you'd have to eat something like 15 servings of turkey to get as much of this beneficial amino acid as you'd get in one supplement.

    L-tryptophan supplements were favored for years among naturopaths to treat sleep disorders as well as hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive syndromes, depression, migraines, and even the tremors of Parksinson's disease. Then in March of 1990, the FDA banned l-tryptophan from sale in the U.S. after linking a single bad batch of the supplement to a rare blood disorder that caused 37 deaths.

    Why didn't the FDA just recall the bad batch, like it has done for plenty of contaminated drugs over the years? I have my hunches. In fact, just four days after the FDA ban of l-tryptophan, Newsweek ran an article praising the development of a new wonder drug called Prozac. Coincidence? I think not!

    Here's why…

    You see, your body converts l-tryptophan into serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter in the body responsible for regulating your sleep as well as your mood. On the other hand, drugs like Prozac (as well as Paxil and Zoloft) only enhance the performance of the serotonin already present in your bloodstream. They don't help you to produce more serotonin, like l-tryptophan can.

    Thankfully, the ban on l-tryptophan has been fully lifted. Now, you and I can once again use it as a natural sedative (at bedtime only). It works gently in the body to induce sleep and won't cause morning-after fogginess. Unfortunately, if you suffer from lactose intolerance, you may have more difficulty absorbing l-tryptophan.

    3. I've also seen excellent results using melatonin supplements. But melatonin is a hormone, so I don't recommend taking it if you're younger than 40. But as we get older, our melatonin production slows down so there's less of a chance of you getting "too much" by taking it as a supplement.

    Go for the smallest dose to start: 1.5 mg at bedtime for ages 40 to 50 or 3 mg for people over the age of 50. With higher dosages, you might wake up drowsy. If that's the case, you know you've taken too much.

    4. After a certain age, many of us wake up every night to visit the bathroom. If a full bladder is what's causing your nighttime wakefulness, there's a plant extract call three-leaf caper (crateva nurvala) that just might help. Used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, three-leaf caper helps to strengthen and tone the bladder wall so it can fully empty. You'll find three-leaf caper, along with several other herbs that support bladder function, in a NorthStar Nutritional product called UroConfidence. To learn more about three-leaf caper and UroConfidence read this. For men interested in a product that supports bladder as well as prostate function, consider Prostate Defense by NorthStar Nutritionals. It's a safe, natural, and effective way to address both bladder and prostate health.

    5. Lastly, is it possible that you're just a "light sleeper"? Do you get woken up by sounds in your environment and then have trouble getting back to sleep? If so, you may try putting a "white noise" machine in your room. The machine's gentle swooshing sound will drown out any noises that might wake you through the night. A good one runs about $50.

    Just remember, sleep is your body's time to refresh and reboot. It's vital for your overall health. So if you're not getting at least 8 hours of restful z's each night, go ahead and give one of these natural sleep aids a try.

  3. Urgent Warning for Alzheimer Families

    If you have a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you know it’s not just a memory disorder. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) causes major behavior and mood disturbances. According to doctors, less than 10 percent of Alzheimer’s patients remained free from symptoms of “psychopathology” during the course of their disease. In other words, agitation, aggression, depression, anxiety, paranoid delusions, and insomnia are very much the norm for AD patients. As a result, today’s Alzheimer’s patient is all too often prescribed some type of antipsychotic drug to control their behavior. Thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, trifluoperazine, or risperidone all belong to this class of drugs.

    Limited options for Alzheimer’s patients

    A new study to be published in Lancet Neurology, the respected British medical journal, confirms what one might guess about AD patients prescribed antipsychotics: the drugs shorten their lives. In fact, a patient taking an antipsychotic drug only has a 46 percent survival rate at 24 months (as compared to 71 percent for a patient taking a placebo). Moreover, only 30 percent of AD patients were alive at 36 months after having begun treatment with antipsychotics (as opposed to 59 percent taking a placebo). Bottom line here: if you’ve got a loved one with AD, think long and hard about using an antipsychotic drug to control their behavior. If you’ve run out of options, authors of the study suggest using the drugs for a limited time (3 months or less) to see if behavior improves.

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