Natural Remedies for Insomnia
There is nothing worse than lying awake listening to the clock tick by. You toss and turn and when you do sleep your night is full of violent dreams and bouts of wakefulness. It is likely that you end up more tired in the morning than you were the night before. And the cycle continues, because with no sleep comes anxiety for sleep and with this comes increased wakefulness.
Restlessness or broken sleep is thought to be the major factor in illness of the body and of the mind. We need to relax and we need to have time to recuperate our energy levels, to recharge. Without this time our immune system weakens and our ability to rationalise becomes impossible. This then cycles in on itself. Poor physical health and mental health then makes it harder to sleep and the symptoms worsen.
Because we all need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of the sleep we achieve rather than the quantity. It might be surprising to know that even if you sleep eight hours each night uninterrupted, if you wake up feeling fatigued you are likely suffering with issues of insomnia. You will need support with your sleep as much as the person who struggles to sleep each night or regularly wakes up. We all need to aim to wake rejuvenated in the morning, fully rested and ready for the day, without the aid of a coffee cup.
I’m pretty sure I have now got the attention of well over half the world’s population. I doubt that few people realise that insomnia is defined by how well you wake up rather than how well you fall asleep. But, don’t worry there are natural remedies for insomnia, these four herbs can offer some support with the symptoms and some of the causes of insomnia. These are: St John’s Wort, Valerian, Gingko Biloba and Ashwagandha Root.
St John’s Wort
Nearly half of all cases of chronic insomnia are as a result of anxiety or depression. This might be short term, due to life stresses, anger or worry but it might also be a result of psychological problems of deep emotional distress. St John’s Wort is a well-known herbal treatment for mild to moderate anxiety and depression. A study by Linde, Berner and Kristen, which peer reviewed hundreds of studies, claimed that the herb was equally as effective as Prozac but with significant less side effects. Not only is it said to be as effective as chemical anti-depressants but it is thought it will take effect much quicker.
Not only will it deal with the causes of insomnia but it can help with sleep too. The active ingredient of hypercin is also thought to help serotonin reach the brain, which will help with restful sleep. So, it can help with the causes of insomnia, in anxiety and depression, and ease the symptom of sleeplessness.
The herb is available from herbal stockists and most pharmacists. You will find that there are lots of different brands available, all making claims of the success of the herb. Check for the amount of active ingredient in the supplement before purchase. The normal dosage is 200mg to 1000mg of 0.3% standardised hypercum extract per day.
St John’s Wort does interact with other drugs. If you are also taking sleeping tablets, then St John’s Wort can prolong the effects. This could make you sluggish when you wake up in a morning. They also lessen the effects of blood thinners; therefore, it is a good idea to seek advice from a pharmacist or a doctor. You should also consider seeking advice before taking St John’s Wort if you already take anti-depressants or if you suffer with bi-polar. The herb can interact with anti-depressants and can cause hypomania: a rapid changing of mood from high to low.
However, the success of St John’s Wort in reducing anxiety can help for a good night’s sleep, whilst the release of serotonin can even promote sleep. Therefore, as an aid to insomnia, St John’s Wort can be a useful supplement to take. It might be worth the research!
Valerian is thought to be one of the best herbal options to alleviate short term sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that the root of this herb when dried and presented in capsules, can lead to falling asleep quicker and help you to enjoy a deeper sleep. Remember insomnia is not necessarily the inability to fall asleep but the fact that you have sleep that does not alleviate your fatigue. By giving you a deeper night of sleep Valerian ensures you enjoy quality rest.
There are also reports to suggest that Valerian can be taken as a means of reducing the effects of anxiety and stress. It has been used medicinally as a nerve sedative and as an antispasmodic.
Studies do suggest it is effective but also note that it may be most effective after regular doses for a period of two weeks or more. Advice from specialists suggest that Valerian has little or no side effects when taken over a short period of 4 – 8 weeks. However, after this there are reports of stomach problems and as yet there are few studies that tell us about the long term effects of Valerian build up in the body.
In truth, if insomnia is lasting longer that 4 – 8 weeks it is likely that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Valerian is excellent for breaking the cycle of sleep deprivation and resultant anxiety that then causes greater sleep problems. It may be the perfect resolution to a brief period of sleep problems. However, if you still struggle with sleep after this it is likely you need to see a doctor about possible cognitive behavioural therapy or to learn about sleep hygiene routines that could help you.
If you do take Valerian, it is a good idea to stop taking the herb two weeks before surgery. The herb can extend the effects of anaesthetic and therefore impact on the work of the doctors. Also, Valerian can impair thinking and affect concentration, therefore you should not drive or operate machinery once you have taken Valerian.
The herb is taken in capsule form and should not be chewed, instead swallowed whole. The dosage depends on the amount of the active ingredient and you should read the label carefully before taking a dose.
Although not traditionally thought to aid sleep as such, Gingko Biloba has been proven by psychologists to aid with generalised anxiety disorder. With anxiety contributing to more than 50% of cases of insomnia, it is worth looking to deal with the cause rather than the symptom.
Gingko Biloba is thought to be one of the oldest plants. It was believed to inhabit the earth over 150 million years ago. The tree was cultivated for consumption and has been a part of Chinese medicinal practices for centuries. In the US, the herb is now one of the best-selling supplements. It is thought to be something of a miracle, with effective prevention of cognitive impairment through such diseases as dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well as qualities that aid cancer prevention. The plant also has the pleasant effect of improving sexual desire.
The herb is known to interact with anti-depressants, therefore should be taken only after advice from a medical specialist. There is also a possibility of side effects, including nausea and dizziness. But, the known benefits of the supplement and the extensive trials prove that Gingko Biloba is effective, particularly in reducing anxiety and clearing thought processes. This should then have a direct impact on your ability to sleep, as the runaway thoughts that visit you as you are trying to drop off will calm and leave you in peace.
Known as the Indian Ginseng, Ashwagandha Root is part of Ayurveda. This is a belief that our bodies are woven from food. The nutrients from food are metabolized to give us energy and to send information to our cells, tissue and organs. Herbalists believe that Ashwagandha Root can help the body reach a delicate balance that will promote general well-being.
So, like with Gingko Balboa, the initial effect of this root is in improving your feelings about life in general. Ashwagandha Root is one of the more powerful herbs in Ayurveda and is known for its ability to alleviate stress, fatigue, lack of energy and difficulty in concentrating. Some studies have suggested that the root has a direct impact on your cortisol levels, which is the hormone that causes us to feel stress. However, you should experience an all-round rejuvenating sense of well-being. Ashwagandha means “smell of horses” and is thought to represent the strength and the vigour of the stallion that will be visited on the person who takes this supplement.
Belonging to the same family as the tomato, all parts of the plant have medicinal properties – the leaf, the fruit and the root. However, it is the root that is felt to have such powerful effects on our immune systems. The root is claimed to be an adaptogenic. This means it is a combination of amino acids, vitamins and herbs that modulate your response to stress and the changing environment. So it can help your body cope with the external stresses of toxins and the internal stresses of anxiety and insomnia.
The standard dose of Ashwagandha Root is through a capsule. You should take between 600 – 1000mg a day. However, as we are specifically interested in insomnia you might want to take a spoonful of powdered Ashwangandha Root in a glass of warm milk just before bed. Experts suggest this will have a direct impact on the quality of the sleep you will enjoy.
So, although the Ashwagandha Root works to combat the causes of insomnia, it can also be used at bedtime to help improve your sleep in the short term. A bit of a wonder supplement it seems!
Valerian is a sedative and will obviously directly impact on your ability to fall asleep and sleep deeply. When we consider that insomnia is in fact the ability to feel rejuvenated by sleep – then Valerian might be able to help more of us than previously thought
However, sometimes a problem needs to be approached from a different angle. By taking a supplement that helps us sleep we will solve the symptom but it will not address the cause. St John’s Wort can help sleep but generally through the reduction in anxiety and the troubles caused by mood disorders. The same with Gingko Biloba, a reduction in contributory mood problems will result in a greater peace of mind which in turn will help you sleep.
Ashwagandha Root can offer a rebalancing of your systems that too can help to reduce stresses and anxieties and therefore aid relaxation and then sleep. However, in powdered form it can be drunk with warm milk and act as a sedative to aid sleep.
Before you make a decision about how to go about improving your sleep, first sit back and consider what might be causing the problems. Look at your sleep hygiene and at your nightly routines. Look at your attitude to work and life and see if there are changes that you need to make that will eventually impact on life. Speak to a medical professional and see for sure there are no serious issues that could be causing your issues with sleep.
Then, as you seek to adapt your lifestyle and consider how to arrange your routines better for your sleep, choose a supplement that will act as an aid in this transition. Often sleep problems are cyclical and you cannot bring about change because you are caught in the upset and exhaustion of disturbed patterns. Therefore, choosing a supplement to help you to break this cycle is a proactive taking of control. You will enable your body the time and space needed to realign the balance that has been lost in the period without sleep.