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A staggering 76 percent of Australians suffer from sleep deprivation. Stress and anxiety are often to blame, along with lifestyle habits like shift work. Critically, many of us don’t get enough non-REM sleep, the deep sleep phase which facilitates cell renewal and repair; shallow, dream-filled REM sleep is necessary, but is less restorative. Sleep is a time to relax and surrender control. Learn to trust that all is well. To treat insomnia:

1. Avoid stimulants

Caffeine (in tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, soft drinks), alcohol (triggers adrenalin and inhibits uptake of tryptophan into the brain, depleting serotonin levels), nicotine, TV, computer and talking on the phone in the evening.

2. Balance blood sugar

Low blood sugar at night releases stimulating adrenalin and cortisol. Avoid high-GI carbohydrates, eat wholegrains and unprocessed foods. If you are hungry at night have a bowl of warm oats – they are low-GI and calm the nerves.

3. Try melatonin

Production of this neurotransmitter by the pineal gland is essential for dropping core body temperature and so inducing sleep.

In healthy adults, there is a gradual release of melatonin at around 3 p.m., peaking at 9 p.m. Adrenalin is released between 5-7 a.m., which aids in the waking cycle. Interruption of the dark cycle (due to late nights or shift work), lack of vitamins B5, B12, folic acid and the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) all cause melatonin deficiency.

Studies show that taking 2-3mg of supplemental melatonin one hour before bed reduces waking through the night and improves sleep quality without inhibiting REM sleep, which is what sleeping tablets like benzodiazepenes do. Melatonin is available on prescription; you can also buy homoeopathic preparations. Or, increase your body’s production of melatonin naturally by eating sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, spirulina, oats, chickpeas, cottage cheese and eggs, which increase melatonin’s precursor, serotonin and the amino acid tryptophan.

4. Get herbal help

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is useful if nervous tension is the cause of insomnia. One study has shown that passionflower extract is as effective as oxazepam in treating anxiety. New research shows that a daily dosage for 14 days of 1,500-2,500mg of chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), normally used in female reproductive health, improves melatonin output by 60 percent. This is a more natural way to increase melatonin than taking melatonin hormone replacement therapy.

Nina Stephenson is a qualified naturopath and freelance writer on natural health, healing and awakening consciousness. Contact her at wellnesseternal@gmail.com