We’ve all had those nights when, no matter what we do, we just can’t seem to fall asleep. Right? We try counting sheep; we try clearing our mind of all thoughts; we try warm milk, a hot shower, or a warm bath. Well, an occasional night of tossing and turning may be a real nuisance, but for many of us this is a regular occurrence.
Lack of sleep may have a number of causes. One is simply advancing age. The pineal gland is a small gland about the size of a pea located between the lobes of the brain. It is a “light sensitive” gland. When we find ourselves in the dark, it begins to secrete the hormone melatonin. Increased melatonin makes us feel drowsy. That’s why most of us get sleepy at night. But as we approach 50 or so, give or take a few years, the pineal gland slows its production of melatonin. For that reason, many older folks have sleep problems. If you’re in that age group, perhaps all you need is a melatonin supplement. And if you’re not in this age group, you should note that artificial lights, stimulant beverages and stress can disrupt normal body rhythms. Thus, for you too, melatonin supplements can be very useful, especially for jet lag or occasional insomnia. Most companies carry them in one and ten milligram capsules. This is also a good help if you can GO to sleep, but then can’t STAY asleep.
Often depression can hinder sleep, too. If this plagues you, perhaps you can benefit from a supplement of 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). It is a precursor to serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This is a metabolized form of l-tryptophan that the body can use directly to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter which plays a role in mood, hunger and sleep. One source states “Increased levels of serotonin may improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and may be required for improved mood, weight-loss success and better sleep.” Check with you doctor before taking 5-HTP if you’re taking prescription medication or if you’re pregnant or nursing. And if you use it regularly, take a two-week break about every three months.
One of the primary causes of insomnia is stress. We are often so keyed-up that we just can’t seem to turn our minds off to get to sleep – especially if there are important things planned for tomorrow. In this case there are some very helpful herbs to help calm the nerves. Hops has a gentle, relaxing, sedative effect on the central nervous system. It can be taken in a capsule, enclosed in a pillow placed on your bed, or added to evening teas. Valerian root is a stronger relaxant for nervous anxiety and muscle spasms. It has a nasty odor, but cats seem to like it! So, it is best taken in capsules and is not for long-term use in large doses as it can cause depression. Passion flower is a mild sedative nervine. This is not the ornamental blue passion flower (which is poisonous), but is an entirely different plant. Its name was given in the 1500s by a Spanish doctor who was reminded of the “Passion of the Crucifixion” by the configuration of the blossom. It is much more likely to help you sleep than to generate “passion.” And Skullcap is a perennial herb in the mint family originating from North America. Skullcap has a long history of use among Native American tribes due to its soothing properties. Combinations of these are often found in “nervine sedative” sleep formulas.
We have also previously mentioned Siberian ginseng (now called Eleuthero) before as an energy producer. So, while it seems contradictory, it is also mentioned in several references to be reputed as a cure for insomnia. And most people who work with herbs know that a cup of chamomile tea is very relaxing at night.
I’ll quote two formulas for you from a book entitled “The Way of Herbs.” Both are for insomnia. “Make an infusion using equal parts of chamomile, valerian, skullcap, catnip, wood betony, and spearmint. 1) Use one ounce of herbs per pint of water. Let it steep ten minutes and drink it before going to bed. 2) For incredible dreams and for nights when you can’t allow sufficient time for sleep, make an infusion of 4 parts kava kava , 1 part alfalfa , 1 part spearmint ,1 part raspberry leaves, and 1 part lemon balm. Vary the strength according to your needs, and sweeten it with honey. The kava kava will produce a numbing effect on the tongue.”
As for minerals, ensure that your diet contains sufficient calcium and magnesium if you wish to sleep well. And foods high in l-tryptophan promote sleep. These include turkey, pumpkin seeds, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, tuna, whole-grain crackers and nut butters. Avoid caffeine, cheese, wine, potatoes, and tomatoes in the evening.
Remember, “he grants sleep to those he loves.” Ps. 127:2b. May you enjoy the fruits of your labor and sleep like a newborn baby tonight. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.
- Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch – Cultivating Naturopathic Care for Total Health, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, 736-1030, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org