Many factors can contribute to a disrupted sleep – worries, hormones, habit, pain, snoring and other
breathing issues, illness and even (well, particularly) the frustration of not being able to fall asleep!
It may be that the idealized eight hour stretch you feel you are missing is hard to attain because
this pattern is shaped by
modern work demands rather than actual evolutionary patterns.
Pharmaceutical sleep medications can deliver good results in the short term, but also bring
side effects and have the potential for addiction.
Herbal remedies have performed favorably or at least as well as
without some of these side effects,
but there is no simple solution to the sleep challenge.
While the key to your particular sleep difficulty may be in dealing with the underlying issue (hormones, stress,
anxiety etc.), there may be improvements that you can make to your bed time routine. The term ‘sleep hygiene’ is
a term coined to describe various practices that are considered to make a good night’s sleep more likely. They
are listed below. Consider implementing some of these, in conjunction with herbs. Bear in mind, the end result
may not look like the 8 hours perfect sleep from 11 p.m. till 7a.m - but you may well still be increasing the depth
and quality of your rest.
Only go to bed when you feel sleepy, but also try go to bed early before you are too exhausted.
If you don’t fall asleep within 20-30 minutes get up. Don’t turn any bright lights on. Perhaps sit and drink
some herbal tea. Then try bed again.
Try to avoid napping during the daytime.
Even if you fall asleep late, try not to oversleep. Sleeping too much or too little can both leave you feeling
tired and sluggish.
This hormone, melatonin, is associated with sleep onset and its production is triggered by
Good curtains in the bedroom can help maintain a good sleep inducing environment. Also be sure to get plenty of
sunlight during the day to keep a balanced sleep-wake cycle.
Try to avoid exposure to TV’s, bright lights and screens in general as they can affect
Do something relaxing before bedtime. For example reading or listening to music. Relaxation music podcasts on
the internet can be helpful. For example. Remember, don’t
watch, just listen. But find something that suits you.
No stimulants. Avoid caffeine – coffee and tea in the evening. Cigarettes are also stimulants. So is alcohol
for many people.
Pay attention to how much liquids you can drink in the evening without getting up to pee.
Doing exercise can be beneficial but try to keep it a good few hours apart from bed time as it can also be
Pay attention to how food intake around bedtime affects your sleep.
Take a relaxing bath before you go to bed with Epsom bath salts and essential oils.
There are many herbs that have been traditionally associated with promoting sleep. A few of these have been
subjected to contemporary investigation.
But don’t let it put you off if they haven’t – get to know which herbs work for you. Also consider that there are
many ways to take the herbs – as a tea, as a tincture (with or without hot water) as a vinegar, in honey, in the
bath, essential oil drops on the pillow etc. Herbs may work better at sometimes more than others, and they may
work better in combination – with each other, and, ideally in context of the strategies above. Consider swapping
formulations around if your body responds at first, and then wriggles back to its restless bad habits.
Lavender Lavendula angustifolia
Traditionally lavender has been used to treat anxiety and insomnia. John Parkinson, a 17th-century London
apothecary, wrote that lavender is ‘especially good for all griefs and pains of the head and brain.’
Contemporary scientific investigation supports the calming and sedative effects of lavender although most
research has been focused on the
inhalation of the essential oils.
Interestingly there are several studies in relation to
rest in partum women. Consider using lavender as an
essential oil, in the bath, on your pillow. Or the whole plant extract as a weak tea.
Californian Poppy Eschscholzia californica
This is a non-addictive poppy that is very useful in sleep problems that arise from stress and anxiety. It is
also useful for those that can’t sleep due to pain especially of musculoskeletal origin as it is also mildly
spasmolytic (ie it reduces spasm in smooth muscle). Traditionally used by First Nation American Peoples to
improve sleep. It tastes a little bitter, but can be drunk as a tea or in a tincture mix.
Chamomile Matricaria recutita
Chamomile is a well known sedative that is traditionally considered to be mild and gentle enough for children.
Gentle as maybe, chamomile can also be powerful sleep remedy especially where digestive problems are part of the
picture – which may be more common than is often taken into account.
Great as a tea, or as a tincture. The dried flowers and the essential oil can be used in the bath.
Lime Flowers or linden blossom Tillia Europa
The honeyed taste of linden blossom is a pleasant tasting ingredient in any sleepy tea. Traditionally considered
to be an anxiolytic and a diaphoretic (promotes sweating). For those who are woken up at night by ‘night sweats’,
adding Tilia to the mix may seem counter intuitive, but it may be that generally and evenly supporting the process
of elimination, is helpful to a restful state.
Valerian Valariana officionalis
Valerian will be well known to those who have explored alternatives to pharmacological sleep medications. Its
reputation as a valuable European sedative goes back at least as far back as ancient Greece. Traditionally it is
used to reduce tension and excitability, and to relax smooth muscle – which is why it is considered a useful herb
in reducing blood pressure. Has been investigated more
than most, and interestingly has been shown to work better when taken in
combination with hops.
Hops Humulous lupus
This aromatic bitter, understood to contain phyto-oestrogens (chemical compounds in plants that bind with
oestrogen receptors in some mammals, including humans), has been an important economic crop associated with
brewing for centuries, in Europe. Its relaxing action to the central nervous system seems to occur independently
of its association with alcohol. For example a study
on students who consumed non-alcoholic beer with their dinner for 3 weeks showed that sleep was significantly improved.