Getting Enough Sleep

Using Supplements or Herbs
Used skillfully, supplements and herbs can be a boon to your health. But like any tool, they can be used to harmful effect. To minimize that risk, please consider these perspectives and guidelines.
  • Herbs contain more types of molecules than most prescription drugs, so they often act in more complex ways. This may enable an herb to act through multiple pathways for a more comprehensive benefit, but it also increases the chance of unpredicted effects.
  • The potency in herbal preparations varies widely, especially in raw herbs. This range means that you should generally try to use standardized extracts, start at relatively low levels, and if necessary, increase the dosages slowly. When you can't find standardized extracts, such as with many Western and Chinese herbs, you should take extra care. The range of potency also introduces more uncertainty into the question of whether an herbal intervention will work for you.
  • Some herbs and supplements have had standards established for their manufacture by the official U.S. Pharmacopeia, and these will have "USP" or "NF" (National Formulary) on their labels. Herbal formulas manufactured in certain European countries, notably Germany, are carefully regulated, which can increase your confidence in herbs from those sources. There are also numerous U.S. companies that are highly reputable, and a nutritionally oriented health professional can steer you in the right direction.
  • Some herbs and supplements can interact with prescription medications or have side effects that complicate the diagnosis or treatment of an illness. Therefore, you should always tell the doctor who is treating you about the herbs or supplements that you are taking. (An easy way to do so is to bring them to your appointment.) In particular, we recommend that you do not take herbs (unless otherwise instructed by an experienced, licensed health care professional) if you are pregnant, nursing, have a liver disease, or think you could be allergic to the product. And, naturally, keep your supplements and herbs out of the reach of your children.
  • At very high levels, nearly any herb or supplement can have harmful side effects, so you should not exceed the doses we describe unless you've been instructed to do so by a licensed health practitioner experienced in their use.
  • But we suggest you not be needlessly alarmed about the risks of supplements or herbs. On rare occasions, a news item about some tragedy appears, but these have to do with major overdoses or a tiny handful of herbs (none of which we suggest). To put the risks of supplements and herbs in perspective, consider that prescription drugs are the source of over 100,000 deaths each year (through side effects, interactions with other medications, or overdoses). Supplements, herbs, and prescription drugs are tools, and they require skillful use; if you use supplements or herbs sensibly, you should have nothing to fear.

Acupuncture. This technique consists of placing super-thin needles into specific points on a person's body, based on the Chinese theory of energy meridians. It has been used for several thousand years, and modern research has shown it to be helpful with many ailments, including pain, stroke, depression, and sleep. Since the emphasis in Chinese medicine is on healing ailments by balancing the whole body, you may find that acupuncture for insomnia provides other benefits, as well.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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