Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Many people never visit their doctor for insomnia and try to cope with sleeplessness on their own. Although in many cases, safety and effectiveness have not been proved, some people try therapies such as:

  • Melatonin. This over-the-counter (OTC) supplement is marketed as a way to help overcome insomnia. Your body naturally produces melatonin, releasing it into your bloodstream in increasing amounts starting at dusk and tapering off toward the morning. Older people seem to have a greater benefit from melatonin, but no convincing evidence exists to prove that melatonin is an effective treatment for insomnia. It's generally considered safe to use melatonin for a few weeks, but the long-term safety is unknown.
  • Valerian. This dietary supplement is sold as a sleep aid because it has a mildly sedating effect, although it hasn't been well studied. Discuss valerian with your doctor before trying it. Some people who have used high doses or used it long term may have increased their risk of liver damage, although it's not clear if valerian caused the damage. When it's time to stop using valerian, it must be tapered down to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Acupuncture. During an acupuncture session, a practitioner places many thin needles in your skin at specific points on your body. There's some evidence that this practice may be beneficial for people with insomnia, but more research is needed. If you choose to try acupuncture along with your conventional treatment, ask your doctor how to find a qualified practitioner.
  • Yoga. Some studies suggest that the regular practice of yoga can help improve sleep quality, and the risks are limited. Be sure to start slow and work with an instructor who listens to you and helps adapt poses to your needs and limitations.
  • Meditation. Several small studies suggest that meditation, along with conventional treatment, may help improve sleep. Some research suggests that regularly practicing meditation may have other positive health effects, such as reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.

Because the Food and Drug Administration does not mandate that manufacturers show proof of effectiveness or safety before marketing dietary supplement sleep aids, talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or other OTC products. Some products can interact with medications, and others — such as L-tryptophan, kava or 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) — can be dangerous on their own.

Apr. 04, 2014