Sleep is as essential to human life as breathing and eating. Without proper sleep, the body just can’t function. During sleep, the body solidifies and consolidates memories. That is smaller chunks of information that we took in during the day transfer to long term storage at night while our body is at rest. Also, during sleep our bodies grow muscle, synthesize hormones, repair tissue, restore and rejuvenate.
Sometimes, sleep seems to evade us, slipping through our fingers like a thin piece of satin string, toying with us all through the night until, the sun rises and a new day begins. The Mayo Clinic defines insomnia as a “persistent disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or both.”
Most of us have suffered from some form of insomnia from time to time in our lives, however, for millions of Americans, this nightmare is repeated night after night. Estimates show that over 70 million Americans suffer from chronic insomnia which includes 90 different sleep disorders.
Chronic insomnia can lead to a variety of health complications including obesity, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and more. Although many people reach for over-the-counter and prescription medications to help them sleep, they often only mask the cause of the sleeplessness and can come with some pretty hefty side effects.
The good news is that there are some very effective herbal remedies and therapies that can be used to help bring balance back to the body and promote relaxation, allowing the body to heal and self-regulate.
If you have problems drifting off to sleep because your mind is overcrowded with thoughts or anxiety, the following herbs can help bring you to a place of calmness and balance so that you can rest.
Herbs For Insomnia & To Promote Better Sleep
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
The root of this tall perennial flowering plant is dried and used as a calming agent and sleep aid. According to numerous studies, valerian, native to Europe and Asia, may help reduce the amount of time it takes a person to fall asleep and also help increase the duration and quality of sleep.
If you purchase capsule form, it is recommended that you take about four an hour or so before bed. The impact should last about four hours. If you find yourself waking up in the night, unable to return to sleep, take another four. Most people find this an effective dosage. Be sure only to take valerian for three weeks or so before switching to another herbal remedy as your body will get used to it. After you switch for a couple of weeks, you can go back to the valerian, and it should have the same impact that it initially had.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Besides being an incredibly beautiful flower, passionflower is highly effective when used as a tool to calm the mind and promote relaxation. This ornate vine was given its name by Pope V in 1605 who saw the vine as a symbol of the “Passion of Christ.”
As an herbal remedy, passionflower has been used for a very long time to ease mental stress and slow the down a “running” mind. Historically it has been used both as a sleep aid and a stress reliever.
The chemical composition of this plant is nothing short of amazing. Scientific studies confirm the sedative properties of this magnificent plant, mostly when used in combination with other herbs. Rich in flavones, alkaloids and coumarins, passionflower extract is also found to contains GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, that can play role in regulating the excitability and regulation of muscle tone while it feeds and relaxes nerves.
When used appropriately, passionflower is safe for children and persons with health conditions and taken in the form of a tincture. Between 30 and 60 drops are recommended before bed or other time you need to relax and unwind.
California Poppy ( Eschscholzia californica)
California poppies are happy little plants with fern-like foliage and brilliant yellow, orange and red flowers that thrive in dry conditions. Very early Spanish explorers called the plant “Copa del Ora,” meaning “cup of gold.” because of the legend that said that the orange petals were gold filled.
Although not filled with gold, the California poppy is not only a good food source but also has some potent medicinal properties. Historically used for such illnesses as toothaches, headaches and sores, this perky little plant has also earned a reputation as a strong sedative. It can ease insomnia that results from restlessness and anxiety and can be used even for children.
Often taken in conjunction with valerian, as a tincture about 30 to 40 drops twice a day can help promote relaxation and sleep. You can buy California poppy tincture from here.
Herbs For Early Morning Awakening
If you have a pretty easy time going to sleep but find you wake up way too early, you could have early morning awakening or morning insomnia. The cause of morning insomnia may be related to a spike in cortisol, a stress hormone.
In addition to adopting a healthy, whole food diet, and exercise program, there are several herbs that can be used to help with this type of insomnia.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Considered one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic practice, ashwagandha, native to India, has been used since ancient times for a number of conditions.The plant itself is in the same family as the tomato and has tiny, red, raisin-like fruit. Although the leaves and the fruit of this plant have therapeutic value, it is the root that is most potent.
Used commonly by people to strengthen their immune system after an illness, research published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine shows that this herb also reduces chronic stress, by reducing cortisol levels, without taking away energy.
Study participants who took the herb also experienced feeling more relaxed, mentally calm, had reduced anxiety, less depression, and reduced insomnia.
Most people take 300mg twice a day over a long period to experience all of the great benefits of this totally safe herb. You can get ashwagandha here.
Magnolia Bark (Magnolia officinalis)
Magnolia bark, used extensively in Chinese medicine, is known to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation of both the body and the mind. Not only can this have a positive impact on improving duration and quality of sleep but it can also help reduce the risk of obesity and type ll diabetes.
Italian studies found that magnolia bark eased anxiety and when bark extract was combined with magnesium it improved sleep, mood, reduced anxiety and depression in menopausal women.
It’s best to take this herb before bed since it promotes rapid drowsiness. Begin with only one 200 mg capsule (available here) when needed.
Herbs For Infrequent Insomnia
If you suffer from infrequent bouts of insomnia where you have a hard time getting to sleep or awaken and can’t fall back to sleep you may want to try the following herbal teas:
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula officinalis)
Lavender is a woody shrub with a very pleasant aroma and lovely purple flowers. Although this herb is native to mountainous areas of the Mediterranean, it is now grown all over the world including the United States, Australia, and southern Europe.
A cup of warm lavender tea before bed is a great way to promote relaxation which can help with anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia. In addition to drinking tea, try spraying your pillow with lavender pillow mist or soaking in a hot bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil and Epsom salts.
German Chamomile ( Matricaria recutita L., )
The tops of these pretty daisy-like flowers are have been used to make a calming and soothing tea for hundreds of years. The same tops are also used to make extracts, capsules and pills. Chamomile as a topical cream is also quite effective at reducing inflammation, redness and itchiness of the skin and the scalp.
Other Natural Tips For Getting A Great Sleep
Besides calming herbs, there are a number of things you can do to promote a restful night’s sleep including:
Go to bed and get up at the same time each night
Grow these sleep enhancing plants in your bedroom
Sleep in complete darkness
Keep a window open for fresh air
Use a Himalayan Salt Lamp – read more about HS lamps here
Use organic bedding
Take a warm bath before bed
Exercise ( but not late in the day)
Keep a journal of things you are grateful for
Reduce caffeine intake
Eat a whole food diet
Eliminate sugar – find out how to quit sugar from a former sugar addict here
As with any natural therapy, it is wise to seek consultation from a licensed herbalist or other qualified medical practitioner who can give you direction. Keep in mind that herbs are tremendously potent and choosing the right type of herb, as well as the right dosage, is essential.
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