Herbal supplements Can Cause Sleep Problems

from New York Times 6/2000

People are taking more and more nutritional and herbal supplements, but these are not often asked about or reported during routine physical examinations. Doctors whose patients are having trouble falling asleep or staying awake should ask about herbal supplements according to researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dr. Charlotte Gyllenhaal, a professor of pharmacology said that in her study, which involved the analysis of medical literature, they found that many herbal medications might exacerbate sleep problems. Her co-author, Dr. Sharon Merritt, the director of the UIC sleep research center noticed that an increasing number of patients complaining of insomnia were taking supplemental ephedra, sold as a dietary supplement to people who want to lose weight.

Dr. Gyllenhaal found several reasons to be concerned about ephedra beyond the insomnia. She noted that this drug could also exacerbate high blood pressure and diabetes as well.

Some herbal medications reputations are better than others, she said. Valerian root and kava have been shown to be effective as mild sedatives and findings on ginseng’s ability to fight fatigue are equivocal. Dr. Gyllenhaal stated that the best remedy for insomnia is a change in one’s behaviors. “Herbal medicines are best for occasional use or after a sleep disruption like travel.”