Self help tips for promoting good sleep

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 Zopiclone and Bezidiazipams 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.

Herbal Approaches

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.