You Are Getting Sleepy... Sleepy...
Having trouble sleeping can be a nightmare, literally. There are as many reasons why people can’t sleep as there are grains of sand on the beach. Everyone may have trouble sleeping from time to time, but clinical insomnia is another thing entirely. Stress, anxiety, lifestyle factors, dietary factors, psychiatric disorders and medical conditions can all be important aspects of a non-existent sleep cycle. A paper published in 2002 provides the crushing statistic that 15% of the entire US population is severely affected by insomnia. Women seem to be more affected than men and insomnia increases with age. It can be something as simple as too much artificial light late at night to something as complicated as multi-glandular weakness. But the type of insomnia that you experience can say a lot about a possible solution.
If you have difficulty falling asleep, that is onset insomnia. Waking up often during the night with a difficult time going back to sleep is maintenance insomnia. Waking up too early each day is offset insomnia and a sense of not getting enough sleep no matter how long you sleep is non-restorative sleep.
Many people actually have a combination of these problems instead of just one problem, but even with each person requiring different amounts of sleep, a huge factor is social expectations. Historically humans slept 8 to 12 hours each night based on light. Now, people seem to boast about sleeping only 5 hours and knocking them dead at the office. The truth is that lack of sufficient, restful sleep affects every body system and every cell. It is during sleep that repair occurs, hormones are replenished, stress is cleared and all is right with the world.
There are certain people who are predisposed to experience bouts of insomnia, while others have situations and periods of time that create insomnia. Both can then have secondary issues that can make insomnia become a chronic problem. For instance, tense, nervous, worried people will tend to experience lots of sleep loss, while others will have insomnia as the result of a stressful event such as a death or end of a relationship. Even the loss of a beloved pet can create a lack of sleep with one ear straining to hear the meow at the door. Mood disorders and clinical anxiety are other factors that seem to cause 50% of the more serious insomnia cases. Sometimes insomnia is the result of sleeping in a different location or it can be the result of too much activity before bed, having coffee after dinner, an argument on the way to bed or poor digestion of your last meal of the day.
Often things like alcohol will be used to induce sleep, but this can create a whole series of secondary problems, not the least of which is that this is a major reason for early morning offset insomnia. There are also many medications that have insomnia as a side-effect and most doctors are reluctant to address this, often prescribing a narcotic sleep aid in addition to the offending medication. Any medical condition that creates pain such as arthritis, reflux or IBS can also disturb sleep and lead to further inflammation, pain and debilitation because healing cannot take place.
So let’s look at the best herbal treatments for each type of insomnia:
Anxiety and Stress: valerian, hops, passion flower.
Fear or depression: St. John’s wort, valerian, lavender.
General pain: California poppy, corydalis, Jamaica dogwood.
Inflammatory pain: willow bark, California poppy.
Cramping pain: cramp bark, corydalis, wild yam, raspberry leaf, ginger.
Menopausal hot flashes or night sweats: zizyphus.
Inability to relax: hops, lavender, passion flower.
To stop a racing mind: skullcap, valerian.
Valerian is probably one of the most commonly used herbs for treating insomnia and one of the most effective. It is often combined with other herbs to relax the body and the mind. The most comprehensive approach is to combine both species of Valerian, officinalis and edulus to address all phases of sleep.
Hops has much more to offer than just beer-making. It has been used in traditional Western herbal medicine for sleep disorders, restlessness or wakefulness particularly with nervous tension, stress, indigestion and exhaustion. It is sedative and is particularly good for onset insomnia.
Zizyphus is a favorite of Traditional Chinese medicine for irritabilty, insomnia and palpitations with anxiety. It is perfect for preventing sweats and hot flashes. It can reduce blood pressure and body temperature, so it is perfect for the hot-tempered person.
Passionflower is sedative and is great for general anxiety disorders, but should always be combined with other herbs for maximum effectiveness.
California Poppy is perfect when pain is an issue including headaches, migraines, arthritis and nervous bowels. It is highly sedative and generally needs to be taken on a continuous basis to achieve the best results.
Another option is Chaste Tree in a larger dose before bed. Over time, this seems to help with female insomnia, particularly where there are also menstrual issues including irregularity, mid-cycle pain and heat issues at a pre-menopausal age.
In children, insomnia can be a different thing. Often there is a fear of chronic instances of bed-wetting or eneuresis. Stomach complaints is another issue for children during the night, including reflux leading to night cough. Lemon Balm is an excellent herb for children, particularly when you have stomach or abdominal issues. Vervain is a good choice as a sedative and to relax the nervous system while hops can help calm a worried or hyped up child.
Working with the underlying issues is also important such as sipping marshmallow extract for night cough or GERD, giving homeopathic remedies such as Heel’s Uri-Control for bed-wetting. Homeopathics are also excellent for reducing fear of the dark and nightmares.
No one should have to suffer with insomnia, so begin an herbal regimen and see how different waking up can be!