Holistic Sleep Strategies

Sleep is one of the primary pillars of health.  Unfortunately, many people suffer from some form of sleep disturbance on a regular basis.  Sleep depravation is one of the defining health problems of modern society, right up there along side obesity.  Our sleep time is crucial for bodily repair and restoration – chronic sleep deprivation is a factor in the development of chronic, degenerative diseases.

The causes of insomnia are varied.  Simply taking a sedative, herbal or pharmaceutical, is ineffective because it does not address the underlying cause of the problem.  A broad focused treatment is required to obtain lasting results.  Three common causes of insomnia: the use of stimulants, stress, and pain.

In one case of stimulant use, the person was drinking one cup of coffee per day, before noon.  This may seem like reasonable coffee consumption, it did to her and she overlooked it as the cause of her sleep problems.  Some people are especially sensitive to caffeine and may not notice its effect on their system.  She was advised to give up the coffee and other caffeine containing substances for two weeks.  In less than one week she reported better sleep and within two weeks she had completely resolved her issue with insomnia.  No other remedies were needed.

Those with chronic sleep disturbance usually rely upon coffee and other stimulants to get them through the day.  This only worsens the problem and further drains their energy.  Breaking this pattern can be challenging.  Accepting short term hardship is rewarded by long term results.  Herbal nerve tonics such as oats and St.John’s wort can help ease through the transition.  The herb Rhodeola rosea , an adaptogenic herb, is especially helpful to enhance endurance and alertness throughout the day.  Gotu kola is a cerebral circulatory stimulant and can improve alertness and mental capacity while producing a state of calm.  A perfect balance.

Stress and anxiety affect us all and can cause short term sleep disruption.  A personal favorite remedy after a stressful day is a strong brew of chamomile tea (2 tsp. herb per cup boiled water) with 20 drops of passionflower tincture added.  Passionflower is recommended for the treatment of nervous tension, restlessness, and irritability with difficulty falling asleep.  Passionflower can be repeated again at bedtime combined with valerian tincture which is a powerful sedative and muscle relaxant.  It is rare that herbal sedatives will cause grogginess the next day. To avoid this it is best not to combine them with sleeping pills.

When stress and anxiety are prolonged and/or severe it can lead to adrenal burn out and deep seated exhaustion.  This can be avoided by using herbal nerve tonics and other stress management tools.  If this does occur adrenal restoratives such as borage, licorice and eleuthero can be used along with other supportive herbal aids. 

Pain can cause severe sleep disruption.  One client was waking every hour for several weeks due to pain and numbness in the arm caused by repetitive strain.  Needless to say this was causing great interference in his life.   In these cases the cause of the pain needs to be effectively dealt with.  Many herbal sleeping agents also act as analgesics, anti-spasmodics and anti-inflammatories.  Examples include California poppy, valerian, black cohosh, and lobelia.  A liquid calcium and magnesium supplement taken at bedtime is relaxing to the nervous system and is an effective way to deal with muscle spasm.

Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, is largely responsible for regulating sleep patterns.  Its release is stimulated by the dark; therefore the bedroom must be completely dark.  Cover windows to block out street lights and wear an eye mask if necessary.  Reduce lighting in the evening, dim the lights or use candles.  Conversely, it is important to have sunlight exposure during the day to maintain melatonin production by the body.

Simple lifestyle adjustments can be very beneficial in cases of sleep disturbance.  For example people respond well to a ½ hour walk after dinner.  Exercise helps the body burn off stress hormones, plus it improves digestion.  A soothing bath in the evening using relaxing essential oils like lavender, ylang ylang or spikenard is very helpful.  Light and pleasurable reading at bedtime can help to shut off mental processing and unwanted thoughts from the day. Turn off TV and computer screens at least an hour before sleep time.

Establishing regular, routine sleep patterns is important.  Sleep research shows that the hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. are critical for rejuvenation.  Sweet dreams.