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Some exhausted new parents are shocked to find that instead of falling asleep the minute their head hits the pillow, they suddenly can't get to sleep at all. If your normal bedtime routine isn't working, you may need extra help. Here are some ideas.
Warm milk before bedtime is a traditional remedy for insomnia. Milk, like many sources of protein, contains the amino acid L-tryptophan. Tryptophan raises the level of serotonin in the brain, which may help make you sleepy.
However, milk contains relatively little tryptophan, so the soothing and soporific effects of warm milk may be purely psychological. But if it works for you, that's what counts!
For variety, try adding a bit of vanilla extract or other flavoring.
Herbal remedies come in many forms, including the fresh or dried plant, pills, tinctures (a concentrated liquid extract), and powders.
If you're breastfeeding or pregnant, consult your healthcare provider before taking herbs in any form. Herbs are considered a natural alternative to certain drugs, but they can be toxic and just as powerful as pharmaceuticals.
Also, keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't strictly regulate herbs and supplements, so the strength, purity, or safety of these products is not guaranteed. People may also react to them differently.
The herbs recommended below are believed to be safe, but talk to your doctor if you have any questions about herbal remedies. To make a tea, follow the directions that come with the packaged or bulk herbs that you buy.
Some studies have found that chamomile has a mild calming effect, so having a cup of chamomile tea may soothe you before bedtime. It's also used to relieve indigestion, flatulence, gastrointestinal spasms, and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
However, some people have a strong allergic reaction to chamomile. If you're allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies, you may not want to try this remedy because there's a good chance you'll be allergic to chamomile, too.
Sleeping on a pillow stuffed with dried hops is another traditional remedy for sleeplessness and nervous conditions.
You can also take hops as a bitter tea or as a freeze-dried extract in capsule form. Hops are a common ingredient in beer, but taken as a tea or in a capsule, there's no alcohol involved.
Sprinkle lavender oil on your pillow or put a few drops in a warm bath with lemon balm for a soothing soak.
But note that not all lavender is conducive to sleep: Avoid Spanish lavender, which can be stimulating.
Lemon balm is a stomach-soothing sedative that's often combined with other calming herbs. Steep some lemon balm for a subtly flavored tea.
Passionflower may sound like an aphrodisiac, but it's actually a mild sedative. (The name refers to Christ's passion and comes from the cross at the center of the flower.)
You can make a cup of passionflower tea by steeping the dried herbs in boiling water.
Passionflower is not safe for pregnant women, and resources from the National Institutes of Health recommend that breastfeeding women not take passionflower either.
Valerian has traditionally been used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Some experts recommend not taking valerian regularly for longer than four to six weeks at a time.
Add the recommended amount of tincture to hot water or steep dried valerian root in boiling water for a bedtime tea. (If the strong smell doesn't appeal to you, try it in capsule form instead.)
Most over-the-counter sleep aids and nighttime cold medicines contain antihistamines, and some antihistamines make you sleepy. (Other potential side effects are dizziness and dry mouth.)
If you want that sleepy effect, check product labels for these active ingredients: brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine, and doxylamine. (The antihistamine loratadine does not cause drowsiness.)
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor before taking any medication that contains an antihistamine. Don't take medicine that contains an antihistamine for more than two weeks at a time.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that's often recommended to prevent jet lag and insomnia. It's available in tablet and liquid form and can be found in most natural food stores.
However, don't take melatonin if you're trying to conceive, pregnant, or nursing a baby. Little is known about its safety, side effects, interactions with drugs, or long-term effects.
What if you still can't get to sleep?
Sometimes making a few simple lifestyle changes can improve your ability to fall asleep. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, wind down before going to bed, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
Getting regular exercise can also help, and some evidence suggests that yoga improves sleep. You might also consider trying meditation or acupuncture.
If you've tried various remedies and still can't get a good night's sleep, it may be time to consult a sleep therapist. Some use cognitive behavioral therapy to help people with sleep problems, including those that begin after you have a baby.