Sunday, May 22, 2016

Herbal Support for Sleep
Photo by Nikki Roberts
         Sleep is important and a lack of sleep can cause a cascade of problems in our daily lives. The effects of sleep can be seen on all spectrums from our mood and emotional state to our physical ability to function. Not sleeping well can cause irritability, lack of focus, fatigue, memory difficulties, reduced libido and may pose an array of other challenges. This article provides information herbal supports for sleep.

         If you or a friend/client are having trouble sleeping take some time to ask questions, reflect and figure out what triggers might contribute to the difficulty. 

Some questions to ask may be:
Is there an underlying level of anxiety or stress that is infiltrating bedtime? If this is the case you might want to incorporate tonic herbs throughout the day into the care regimen. For this condition, two kinds of herbs may be helpful.  Nervines are herbs that feed the nervous system and are gently calming and relaxing.  Some possibilities include Oats / oat straw(Avena sativa), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and catnip - Nepeta cataria). Anxioylic's are herbs that help reduce anxiety. Blue vervain (verbena hastata) and motherwort (leonurus cardiaca) could be helpful when used throughout the day.

Are you able to fall asleep quickly but are unable to stay asleep? Dig deeper here if you are able to fall asleep. What is waking you up? Is it your mind running a marathon? Are you uncomfortable? If so is this caused by physical tension/pain or from your sleeping arrangements. Is it something in your external environment like noise, lights, sounds, electronics? Do you have to go to the bathroom many times a night? Once you answer some of these questions you can address some of these underlying problems with appropriate herbs to help.

Can you not fall asleep to begin with? Do you toss and turn trying to fall asleep? Ask some of the same questions above here - is your mind not letting you rest? Are you uncomfortable, if so why? Is your sleep environment not ideal?

See if addressing any of these underlying things helps you sleep! And of course, you can always combine herbal treatments of those underlying causes by taking some sedative and sleep specific herbs before bedtime. Here are my three favorites. These herbs can be combined together if you find that more effective:

Kava Kava - Piper methysticum
  • Botanical Family: Piperaceae 
  • Parts used: Roots
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: Kavalactones and Polysaccarides 
  • What it does: Kava is a sedative and muscle relaxer. It is often also used in social settings to help release inhibition. It is anxiolytic, meaning it reduces anxiety. This can be a good choice of sleep aid if you are also having muscle tension and pain as a cause of lack of sleep.
  • Tincture Dosage suggestion: Experiment here. You can take a higher dosage if you do not feel the effects of a lower dose. You can take a Tincture of 3-5ml 20-30 minutes before sleep. 
  • Contraindications/Things to know: Kava upsets some people's stomachs.  It will numb your mouth a little bit whenever you take it, that will subside soon after. Some individuals get a little hyped up before the Kava has its sedative effect so it is best to take 20-30 minutes before you would like to sleep. Because of this Kava might not also be the best choice for individuals waking up in the middle of the night that need something to help them fall back asleep. Do not take during pregnancy. If you are a person with a compromised liver please consult a medical professional before taking Kava. Kava can impair your ability to drive or operate machinery, use responsibly. Kava is a potent herb--start with smaller doses and work your way up.  Despite its potency, it is not habit forming in any way.  Make sure you get kava roots only and get them from a reputable source.

Hops - Humulus lupulus
  • Botanical Family: Cannabaceae
  • Parts used: Strobiles from the female flowers
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: lupulin
  • What it does: Sedative. Can also help reduce pain so can be another good choice for people having difficulty sleeping with pain as an underlying cause. This is a bitter plant so also has a stimulating and supportive effect on the digestive system. 
  • Dosage suggestion: 2-4 ml of tincture before sleep. More as needed, can be taken in the middle of the night. Tea is very bitter, most people do not like it in that form! 
  • Other ways to build this herb into your diet: Drink a beer high in hops before bed like an IPA.
  • Other things to know:  You can also make a dream balm, infused with hops and lavender, to rub on your temples at night before bed.  

Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
  • Botanical Family: Caprifoliaceae
  • Parts used: Roots
  • Forms taken in: Tincture, Tea, Powder
  • Active constituents: 
  • What it does: Sedative. A helpful herb for insomnia and nervous system support. 
  • Dosage suggestion: Try a few drops first and wait awhile and see if you have the stimulating effect or not. Otherwise take 2-3 mls before bed. 
  • Contraindications: About 10% of people have a different response to Valerian where they get stimulated from it instead of sedated. My one herbal teacher Susan Hess told us that this happens to her and she switched to using the flowers and said that was effective. I have not tried it but it is something to keep in mind. Fun fact: Some cats go crazy for Valerian!

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