How Many Sheep Are You Counting At Night?
Are you having a hard time getting to sleep? Staying asleep? Waking up too early and unable to get back to sleep? Hey, we’ve all pulled “all nighters” for work or even fun. But when you can’t sleep when you want to sleep, you may have insomnia. As your mama probably told you numerous times, sleep is a basic human need that allows your physical and mental body to heal. Without sleep, your quality of life can decline. You may start having brain fog, daytime tiredness, fatigue, low energy, irritability, and performance or productivity issues during the daytime.
Although insomnia seems very common these days, it is very complicated. According to the Mayo Clinic, insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep (sleep-onset insomnia), tough to stay asleep (sleep-maintenance insomnia), or waking up too early (late insomnia). You may feel lethargic or tired even when you wake up (non-restorative sleep). The key here is that you have the time and the desire to sleep, but something is not allowing you to sleep.
Although sleep varies from person to person, most adults need anywhere from seven to eight hours a sleep at night. The National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 30% of the general population complains of sleep disruption with 10% have symptoms impacting their day to day activities. If you are struggling with the quality of your sleep, you are not alone.
Insomnia can be caused by an abundance of issues including:
Aging (Changes in sleep patterns, medication, activity, health, etc.)
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
Changes to sleep environment
Eating too much late in the evening
Emotional or mental health disorders
Life event or circumstances
Poor sleep habits
Natural and/or prescription medicine
Travel (Jet lag)
Depending on the duration, insomnia may be categorized as either “acute” or “chronic.” Acute insomnia is very short and is caused more from life circumstances (aka a big test, bad news, or stress.) It can last a few days or even weeks. This type of sleep disruption usually passes when the cause changes and tends to resolve itself without any treatment.
Chronic insomnia may last for a month or more. The National Sleep Foundation states chronic insomnia is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months. Chronic insomnia suffers tend to benefit from some form of treatment or help to get back to healthy sleep.
Herbs and Spices Traditionally Used For Insomnia
While there is a multiple number of over the counter sleep aids and prescription medicines available for insomnia, some people like to try sedative-type of herbs to naturally help get them back to sleep. Natural alternative medicines derived from herbs and spices may be an option especially if one’s body does not process synthetic medicine well.
German Chamomile: German Chamomile is best known for its “calming” and “relaxing” abilities. In alternative medicine, German Chamomile is used for its sedating activity for insomnia. Although scientific research on humans is limited on its ability to treat insomnia in humans, one clinical study suggests that taking German Chamomile extract 220-1100 mg daily for eight weeks significantly reduces anxiety causing insomnia. Like Valerian, there is some concern about drug interactions for patients who use German Chamomile. If you have a ragweed or similar allergies, you may have an allergic reaction to German Chamomile. German Chamomile is often used in tea form before bedtime.
Hops: Many Native American tribes used Hops to treat pain and insomnia. Alternative medicine now uses Hops to treat anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, tension, nervousness, and irritability. It is valued for its soothing sedative effects. Multiple research studies show Hops effectiveness on insomnia when taken with other natural medicines like Valerian or Passionflower. But, there is limited research of its effectiveness against insomnia when used alone. Hops can increase hormonal activity and should be used with caution. Hops are available in tea, capsules, and tincture forms.
Kava: Originating from the South Pacific Islands, Kava was used medicinally for relieving nervous tension and elevating mood. Taken in larger quantities, Kava was used as a sedative to induce sleep and was taken as a cure for insomnia. In today’s alternative medicine, it is used to help reduce tension and anxiety especially with menopause and PMS. Although clinical research is unsure where Kava derives its sedative effect, the science community finds no strong evidence that it has direct aid in insomnia. Since Kava has been linked with hepatotoxicity in some, it is considered unsafe to use for long-term. If you have liver problems, use alcohol, or take prescription medicine, please make sure to consult a healthcare practitioner first before using. Kava is available in tea, capsules, and extracts.
Lemon Balm: Used for tension, anxiety, and poor sleep in the Middle Ages and Renaissance eras, Lemon Balm is known for its therapeutic uses. This minty herb is irresistible even to the honey bee. Used alone or with other herbal remedies, clinical studies have shown its effectiveness with insomnia. One clinical research study showed taking a lemon balm extract twice daily for 15 days reduced insomnia by 42% in patients with sleep disorders. Lemon Balm can be used in a variety of methods including tea, capsules, tinctures, extracts, and even lip ointment.
Passionflower: Interestingly, the Spanish conquistadores learned from the Central America’s Aztecs of the ability of Passionflower to treat insomnia. Since then, Passionflower used to be marketed as an over-the-counter sleep aid and now is considered a dietary supplement in the United States. Passionflower is one of the “calming” herbs that provide a soothing effect on the nervous system. Preliminary clinical research suggests that drinking one cup of Passionflower tea an hour before going to bed improves measures of sleep quality. Like other herbal medicine for sleep, it is not recommended to use Passionflower for long-term use. It may interact with certain prescription medicine. Passionflower can be used in infusions, capsules, and tinctures.
Skullcap: In American folk medicine, Skullcap was used as a sedative and nerve tonic. Bridging out from Native American usage, Skullcap’s popularity continued as a favorite herbal remedy for nervous tension, insomnia, and even serious mental illnesses well into the early 1900s. Since then, today’s herbalist tend to use it as a mild relaxant for treating insomnia. Preliminary clinical research shows that healthy people who take a single dose of freeze-dried skullcap extract might feel more relaxed than tense. Skullcap has not been extensively researched for insomnia benefits. Skullcap is traditionally used in capsule, tincture, and tea forms.
Valerian: Valerian is one of the most popular and most studied natural medicines used for insomnia because of its sedative and tranquilizing properties. It is widely used in Europe for its therapeutic uses for nervousness, insomnia, and anxiety. When combining statistical data from multiple research studies, it shows that taking valerian significantly increases the chance of having improved sleep quality by 37% to 80% compared to placebo. Taking valerian also seems to decrease time to sleep onset by 14-17 minutes compared to placebo. It may take several nights to a few weeks may be needed for it to work. Valerian seems to be safe when used short-term for “acute” insomnia. It's usually well tolerated; but caution is issued for long-term use. There is some concern about drug interactions for patients taking valerian so always check with a healthcare practitioner first before trying any new natural medicine.
If you are considering taking any new herbs and spices, it is better to start with taking one herb at a time than to start taking multiple herbs all at the same time. This will give you the ability to see how your body reacts to each herb. Taking only one herb or spice is extremely important especially when considering taking sedative herbs and spices.
With any herbs or spices that you may consider digesting or using for medicinal purposes, please consult a healthcare practitioner FIRST before adding anything new to your health regime. Depending on your current diet, nutritional support, and prescription medicine, you could have interactions or adverse reactions to other herbs and spices along with prescription medicine. In addition, long-term use many not be recommended. It is better to check first with a medical healthcare practitioner first before beginning something new. If you are pregnant or nursing, please DO NOT take herbs and spices for medicinal purposes.
Blessings, Herbal Farmwife
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