Exploring Herbs + Sleep

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Sleep is one of those things: if you are stressed you are probably not getting enough, and if you’re not getting enough you are probably feeling even more stressed. So I thought it might be good to give this topic it’s own day on the Challenge. Let’s dive in!

The Role of Herbs in A Healthy Night’s Sleep

Herbs actually aren’t the first thing to consider if you’re not sleeping well. According to
Mayo Clinic there are quite a few simple lifestyle changes that can make a difference. Let’s take a look at three important things to consider.


A regular schedule
If you’re like me, a regular schedule is really hard to keep. Especially if you do a lot of shift work or have littles at home that are less than thrilled about bedtime or waking up in the morning, your bedtime and getting up in the morning can vary wildly. But it’s important to let your body find as much of a natural rhythm as possible so that all of the important brain chemicals and hormones that help you get ready for bed can do their thing. This is a great example of when herbs could be used to help you change gears when it’s getting close to bedtime, especially when a wildly fluctuating schedule just can’t be helped. At the very least, try to establish a bedtime routine that can help cue your body that it’s time for bed even if you must keep odd hours.

Turn down the lights
Did you know that bright light can actually cue the body to feel awake by stimulating parts of the brain that regulate hormones and body temperature? It’s true. And before you protest that you always go to bed after the sun goes down, realize that bright TV, cell phones, and computer screens can have the same impact! So a little screen free time in the evening can be a good idea.

Get comfy
Physical discomfort, even if it’s not more obvious distractions like pain, can keep you sleepless.  Do what you can in the way of blankets to stay warm or cool enough, find pillows that don’t give you a crick in the neck, and try to set good boundaries on polite behavior from pets, children, or significant others that share your sleeping quarters. Try to avoid eating a lot just before bed, because your stomach may not be very happy that the rest of you is trying to wind down while it still has a lot of work to do. 😉  A fan or a white noise machine can help block out sounds from inconsiderate neighbors, and light blocking curtains can help keep out headlights from cars on the street corner or from flood lights or security lights.

Herbs + Sleep

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the lifestyle changes that you can make to help you sleep better, let’s look at 3 herbs that can be particularly helpful as part of an evening routine. Nervines are the best general category of herbs to work with in this case, but specifically a class of nervines known as hypnotics. Hypnotics are basically herbs that support a healthy night’s sleep in a more specific way than other nervines. They are not as potent as a pharmaceutical sleep aid, but some sensitive individuals may feel better if they start with a lower serving size and work up to the average amount if needed to avoid feeling a little groggy in the morning.


Personally, I’m one of those sensitive people, and I actually find that I respond better to herbal blends rather than using herbs as simples in this case. You can always consider searching for a blend recipe or a product by an herb company like Herbs Etc, Gaia Herbs, or Herb Pharm. Bedtime herbal tea blends can also be a wonderful option.  

Chamomile
Matricaria recutita
Chamomile has a reputation for being especially helpful when you are feeling fussy and restless. According to Sharol Tilgner in Medicines from the Heart of the Earth a specific mental picture for chamomile is “acting like a baby and can’t be comforted.” Chamomile is traditionally considered safe for children, too.
Serving size: up to a tablespoon of dried flowers per cup of water; 20-60 drops up tp 4x per day
Safety: may cause vivid dreams or nightmares in some individuals. An Asteracea plant so if you have allergies to other plants in that family be aware that chamomile may cause an allergic reaction as well.  

Hops
Humulus lupulus
Hops have a very bitter flavor. It was used by herbalists in the late 1800s for insomnia from worrying or anxiety.   It’s a  good herb to choose when there is a lot of physical tension accompanying sleeplessness.
Serving size: 1-2 tsp per cup of water; 20-60 drops up to 4x a day
Safety: avoid using with sedative medications. May not be an appropriate herb for someone with depression because, according to herbalist David Hoffmann in his book Medical Herbalism, it “may accentuate this mood state”.

Valerian
Valeriana officinalis
Valerian is infamous for the smell of its roots. Most people will either love or hate the way valerian smells and tastes – there seems to be very little middle ground! Like hops, it’s very good at relaxing physical tension as well as promoting restful sleep, but valerian tends to be more warming whereas hops has a cooling effect.
Serving size: 1-2 tsp per cup of water; up to 60 drops up to 4x a day
Safety: don’t use with prescription sedatives or sleeping medications. Valerian may make some people feel more awake rather than calm so it can be good to start with a lower amount and see how you respond.

Your Mission
For today’s mission, I hope you will take a look at your sleeping quarters and see what you might be able to change in order to get a better night’s sleep. Make a list of 3-5 things you could do and make them a priority over the next few weeks. Or, consider creating an evening routine to help you unwind and get ready for bed.

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