About a month ago I joined the group of insomniacs. Insomnia affects the lives of many people all over the world. A survey of the general population suggests that 49% of adults report having periods of difficulty sleeping(1), and despite the number of sleep medication prescribed every year, it continues to be a problem for most people.
There are many causes of insomnia, from transient (lasting less than a week) to acute (lasting less than a month) to chronic (lasting longer than a month) and not everyone’s sleepless nights are caused by the same thing. An overactive mind brought on through too much excitement late in the evening; over-exhaustion from a grueling day at work, poor digestion from eating the wrong foods, negative thinking and worry prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep.
Rather than simply taking a sleeping pill, it is necessary to identify why you are not getting enough sleep. Many herbs contain natural sedatives, but to ease insomnia you will also need to identify the cause of the problem. If you are irritable, tired and drained it may have more to do with stress than lack of sleep, in which case a stress-relieving herb will serve you better than a sedative one.
It is essential to learn to unwind and relax as well as be active – balance is the key, and a calming and balancing herb such as lavender may be what you need.
Foods can play a role in your night’s sleep. It is best no to try to sleep on a full stomach because digestion speeds up your metabolism and is likely to keep you awake. Avoid sugar, caffeine and rich foods in the evening if you want to sleep soundly. If you do need a late evening snack, however, try the following:
Milk and honey
Drinking milk promotes the body’s production of serotonin, which can have a sedative effect (3). However, the jury is still out on whether milk has an effect on easing sleep.
Whole-wheat pasta, baked potatoes, oats, rice, and wholegrain bread all contain ingredients that help increase Tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin and sleep-inducing agent.
Steep a fresh organic lettuce in one pint of freshly boiled spring water for 10 minutes. Strain and then sip for one hour, a few hours before going to bed (5).
These herbs will help ease you to sleep. Try taking them in herbal teas or adding them to food.
Probably the most famous and most used herb for its sedative properties. Chamomile soothes digestive problems that might interfere with restful sleep, and also eases tension, period pains and irritability. Its gentle nature makes it ideal for treating children. Before bed, sip a herbal infusion of 2 tsp of dried chamomile per cup.
The ancient Egyptians used dill in pain-killing mixtures, and the Greeks covered their eyes with it to induce sleep (6). Its anti-inflammatory properties make it especially useful in cases where indigestion may be interfering with sleep.
Soothing and sedative lavender calms the mind and emotions. It is an ideal scented candle to burn in the bedroom, or take a long soak in a lavender bath just before bedtime.
Shares calming and sedative properties with lemon balm. Good for lifting the spirits and easing the depression that may be keeping you awake during the night.
Contain the natural sedative valerianic acid, ideal for calming an overactive mind(7).
A gentle herb that aids digestion, especially over a period of time mugwort has been used for centuries throughout Europe and Asia. Its action as a tonic and digestive herb can help settle your stomach before bed. DO NOT use if you are pregnant!
One of my favorite oil blends to infuse in the bedroom is:
- 5 drops of Lavender oil
- 3 drops of Jasmine oil
- 2 drops of Bergamot oil
Meditation has also helped me with my bouts of insomnia. This is an ongoing process for me and healing the underlying condition my goal for this new year.