Is there anything more frustrating than insomnia?
We all deserve a good night’s sleep, but even this fundamental respite can become tortuous at midlife. There are three fundamentally different types of sleep problems that I see in my practice. Some people collapse into bed but can’t fall asleep, while others wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling until dawn. Still others sleep all night but wake up the next day feeling like they didn’t get any rest at all! I’d like to focus on the first problem in this post to help you fall asleep right away, and I’ll write about the others in future posts.
Fortunately, herbal formulas, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes can make all the difference in cases of insomnia, and often quite quickly. The key to overcoming long-term sleep problems is getting to the root imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit in addition to treating the symptoms of insomnia itself. This is what I do in my practice. On the other hand, occasional insomnia caused by the stresses and anxieties of everyday life can be treated with over-the-counter herbs and supplements.
So in this blog post, I’d like to acquaint you with some of the herbs you might see on labels in your local health food stores. But before I get started, I need to caution that if you are pregnant or nursing, you should consult a health care provider before taking any supplements, including these.
7 Herbs that Can Help You Fall Asleep
This list is in alphabetical order because it is intended to be for informational purposes, not a recommendation.
1. Ashwaganda is an Ayurvedic herb and is an excellent “adaptogen.” This means it helps your body adapt to stress. Its roots are used to reduce anxiety, relax, and improve the mood. Ayurveda is the ancient healing tradition of India. Like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it emphasizes all-natural remedies such as herbs and healthy lifestyles.
2. Blue skullcap calms the nerves and treats the symptoms of emotional excess. It is used for insomnia caused by worry, nervous irritability, restlessness and anxiety.
3. California poppy is a mild sedative that promotes relaxation and counters nervous tension, anxiety, and insomnia.
4. Chamomile treats nervousness, headaches, anxiety, cramps, and spasms. It is also good for febrile diseases (colds and flus) and minor digestive problems. Chamomile tea tastes good and is soothing. Note: if you are allergic to ragweed or the Asteraceae (daisy) family—such as blessed thistle, calendula, echinacea, safflower, or yarrow—you should avoid chamomile.
5. Hops calm the nervous system and induce sleep. They combine well with other tonics for nervousness such as valerian and passionflower. You can actually buy little aromatic “pillows” stuffed with hops or make one of your own to have near you when you go to bed. Beer also contains hops, but contrary to popular opinion alcohol actually inhibits slumber. Please note: hops should not be used by people who are on anti-depressants.
6. Passionflower is a reliable herbal sedative. It is calming and is used to induce relaxation. It can also reduce restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness.
7. Valerian is good at calming and sedating. It can relieve pain, cramps, and spasms, but in some cases it also stimulates the brain, so not everyone experiences it as very calming. If you tend to be physically cold and emotionally nervous, it will most likely help you relax, but it stimulates those with energetic “heat conditions” (as diagnosed by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
People often ask about kava. It is a bitter tasting herb that is used for reducing stress and anxiety. Beware that it can harm the liver if used daily, so it is best for occasional use. I would not recommend this herb for children or teenagers, people taking Tylenol (acetaminophen) or statin drugs for cholesterol, or those who are heavy alcohol drinkers.
We all need restful sleep. In fact, sleeping well eight hours every night is one of my basic recommendations for good health. If I can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I offer free strategy sessions for new clients.