Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, is an ever increasing problem in our fast paced society. It is the most common sleep disorder, and often goes untreated. The issue can last less than a week, or for decades. Prolonged cases of poor sleep can indicate an underlying condition such as depression or sleep apnea, but it can also be the cause of serious medical conditions. Anxiety, depression and even congestive heart failure can be the result of chronic insufficient or inadequate sleep.
There are lots of simple things that can reduce your ability to sleep. Caffeine, alcohol, or smoking too close to bedtime will sabotage your sleep, as can eating protein within three hours of sleeping, since protein requires a lot of work for the body to break down. Exercising near when you go to bed, keeping your room too warm, or watching TV when you feel like you can’t sleep will also impede slumber. If you let your pets sleep in the bed with you, their movement and noises during the night can bring you out of deep sleep, leaving you feeling exhausted in the morning. Lastly, allowing too much light into your room can confuse the nerves behind your retina and diminish the release of melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone which helps control the sleep-wake-cycle.
But what if you have corrected all these things and are still having trouble sleeping? Depending on the seriousness of your situation, you might consider consulting with a healthcare practitioner. From an herbalist and health consultant’s perspective, here are some safe, simple and natural things you can do to help.
For some, the natural release of melatonin is not adequate, so taking a supplement can be beneficial. However, if your insomnia is not caused by deficient melatonin, few results will be noticed. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a European herb, is the primary herb used to induce sleep. It is a natural sedative, helps soothe nerves, calm the mind, and allow sleep to come more easily. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a mild sedative herb which is believed to increase a chemical in the brain which increases relaxation and decreases the activity of certain brain cells. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius), mild sedatives, calm the central nervous system, aiding the body in relaxing and falling asleep. They taste great, too. Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanoides) and Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oils can also assist in calming the body and mind. Ending your evening with fifteen to thirty minutes of meditation or a Reiki treatment are wonderful ways to center yourself and calm your mind, body and spirit.
So the next time you are counting sheep and hitting triple digits, try sipping a hot cup of herbal tea, applying some oils, and clearing away the clutter of the day with some meditation. Your mind, body and spirit will thank you.
These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist, Natural Health Consultant, and Reiki Master Teacher, but are for educational purposes, and are not intended to treat or diagnose, or to replace consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner.