The Natural Science of Sleep

the science of sleep

Getting a good night’s rest

By Amanda McQuade Crawford

Proper sleep is absolutely paramount to proper health – and can even effect your chances of developing or coping with diabetes. But prescription (and even some over-the-counter) sleep aides can be habit forming or even dangerous.

Check out these four natural remedies for getting a full night’s worth of quality shut-eye!

Valerian, Skullcap, Passion Flower & Chamomile

Good sleep is as important to good health as whole foods and exercise. It doesn’t take long for poor sleep to cause health problems, depression, even accidents. Sleep disorders affect millions of people. According to a national survey, 54% of adults said they have experienced at least one symptom of insomnia.

Causes

Common contributors to insomnia:

  • Anxiety
  • Tension
  • Pain
  • Nutritional gaps, eating the wrong diet for you
  • Eating heavy meals before bed
  • Stress
  • Compounded by reliance on caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine
  • Odd work schedules
  • Mattress designed for someone else’s body type
  • Rule out medical reasons: bladder or kidney disorders, sleep apnea, medication (some medications for other problems cause insomnia: high-blood pressure medicine, decongestants and antihistamines)
  • Traveling to another time zone

Some people take prescribed sleeping pills, but: 

  • These are not a cure for the underlying cause
  • Prescription sleep aids can be dangerously addictive
  • And all sleep medicines carry some risk of dependency
  • These medicines can cause a “fuzzy” feeling the next day: drowsiness, dizziness and headache.

Try Valerian Root Liquid Extract for peaceful, uninterrupted sleep here

How much sleep is enough?

6 to 10 hours at one time, not two hours here and four hours there, is best for repair and a refreshed feeling upon waking. Individuals need different amounts; the key is to find time for enough sleep to feel rested, to rejuvenate and repair the body. While you sleep, most of your cellular repair occurs. Whether insomnia happens occasionally, off and on, or all the time, most of us recognize two kinds:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (onset insomnia)
  • Difficulty staying asleep (maintenance insomnia)

Lack of sleep begins a vicious cycle as thinking about it creates more mental and physical tension.

Herbs

Lemon Balm herbValerian, Passion Flower, Skullcap, and Chamomile are among most studied herbs for safety that have relaxing or sedative properties (many more in every wild corner of the planet). Each has something about it that makes it different from other herbs for sleep.

Recipe #1 – Easy Sleep Tea:

Chamomile dried 1 oz.
Skullcap dried 1 oz. (tastes bitter but is better in combination)
Lemon Balm Dried 2 oz. OR 4 oz. (to make tea delicious)

Mix the three herbs. Use 1 heaping teaspoon per cup boiling water. Steep or infuse, covered, 15 min; 1 cup mid-morning, and 1 cup mid-afternoon.

Skullcap is a member of the mint family that nourishes nerves but tastes bitter on its own.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is a relaxing but uplifting member of the mint family, and reduces bloating. The volatile oil that gives it aroma and flavor are carminative. It is here for flavor, plus the combination has a calming effect that promotes good sleep cycles.

Get premium, dried Chamomile flowers for potent sleep aides & teas here 

Sweeten your Homemade Herbal Teas with Lemon Balm from Blessed Herbs!

Case History:

A 57 year old woman called Jen is post-menopause but still experiences insomnia. She falls asleep easily but wakes around 2:00 am and seldom goes back to sleep before 5:00 am. Her alarm goes at 6.30 am.  She is a lawyer and feels that she generally has a stressful working week.

I gave her a formula to take during the day and one at night:

3 Herbs as Tea Amount Directions
Chamomile 1 ounce Combine herbs, put 1 heaping teaspoon in 1 cup boiling water, steeped 15 minutes; strain. Can make and store in fridge, reheat as needed: 1 ounce of tea combination to 3 cups boiling water; steep as above and strain before storing.
Dried Skullcap 1 ounce
Dried Lemon Balm 2-4 ounces (for flavor and digestibility)
Tea 1 c 10:30-11am
Tea 1  c 3:30-4pm
2 Herbs as single extracts  
Valerian 1 teaspoon 1 hr. before bed
Passionflower 1 teaspoon Right before bed

After four nights Jen slept through the night for the first time in a year. She won her big case after months of long work days, chose a smaller law office, found time to go dancing, and stopped needing the herbs after a two more months. Jen still keeps some herbs in the cupboard for when her daughter in law visits; her daughter-in-law wants to try herbs now.

 

Recipe #2 – Quicker & Easier Tincture (sometimes called Liquid Extracts)

Valerian 1 oz. Take 1 tsp. 1 hour before bed
Passion flower 1 oz. Take 1 tsp. at bedtime

These herbs are safe enough to take very night until you are sleeping naturally.

 

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Herb RootValerian smells strong but tastes better than it smells. It is used for anxiety, muscle aches, and insomnia. The dose of 1tsp (5mL) of the single extract is the equivalent to 1- 3 grams dried root. This can be taken as necessary, usually two times per day for anxiety. Herbalists may recommend using 5 g or more, as necessary, as a one-time dose, before bed for sleep.

Valerian is a muscle relaxing herb that has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. It is a good short-term sedative that works quickly, offering a healthy, nontoxic alternative to strong prescription drugs. Valerian is best for insomniacs who have trouble falling asleep, because it decreases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, but doesn’t necessarily work on the length of sleep. Because this is a mild herb, one may need five to ten capsules to get the desired result.

Valerian is not just an herbal “sleeping pill” (generally stronger and just requires just one or two tablets. One or two Valerian capsules or tablets may work simply for calming nerves, but more may be required as a sleep aid. Start with a lower number and work up till you get the desired result. Unlike some prescription sleep aids, Valerian is not known to cause morning grogginess and is non-addictive.

Valerian extractThough convenient, capsules are not the most effective. The tea has strong smell, but fortunately Valerian works as a convenient liquid extract, or tincture, at a dose of 1 teaspoon or roughly 5mL.

Valerian is used widely in Europe. In the past 35 years, more than 200 scientific studies have been done on valerian. European physicians are more likely to recommend Valerian instead of pharmaceuticals. Valerian is an active ingredient in about 150 over-the-counter medicines in Germany, including some preparations for children. (In fact, some studies have shown positive effects on hyperactive children.)

In the U.S., it’s recommended that Valerian not be used by children, pregnant women or nursing women, except on the advice of a health practitioner. In normal, recommended doses, Valerian can help a few bad nights or even a rough week. It often takes four nights in a row of using natural sleep herbs to slip into a new Circadian rhythm for better sleep cycles. Still, in sensitive people (pregnant, nursing moms) the need for Valerian after a week signals that something else demands attention.

Try Blessed Herbs Valerian Root – Liquid Extract Here!

Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passion Flower has a sedative effect on the activity of the central nervous system. It is used for its soothing properties to lower blood pressure and for anxiety-induced insomnia. Passion flower has recently been shown to have sedative activity in animals. It aids the transition into a deep, lasting sleep.

Herb-Drug Interactions: This is mainly theoretical, and is not seen in medical literature or in practice. Yet there is some suggestion that excessive doses (1 fluid ounce per dose, roughly 30mL) taken with anticoagulants (example: warfarin) may increase risk of bleeding.

Use 2 grams or equivalent up to 4 times a day, or 8 grams at bedtime. If in doubt, leave it out, or ask a doctor of integrative medicine about Passionflower and you.

Combined with passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) I recommend Skullcap for nightmares, insomnia, and restless sleep.

Herbal Sleep aides For Children:

Chamomile FlowersChamomile (Matricaria recutita) Matricaria comes from Latin words for Mother (mater) or Matrix (womb, parent/basis). Chamomile is a relaxant and antispasmodic, which reduces stress throughout the body. Used as a calming tea for centuries, it contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs. Across continents and centuries, chamomile has been relieving women’s reproductive problems (cramping, painful periods, morning sickness, nervous feelings that affect the digestive tract).

We are speaking here of German chamomile, not the Roman (Anthemis nobile or Chamaemelum nobile).

In chamomile, apigenin and bisabolol are just two components responsible for the anti-anxiety effects. It is also a mild bitter and gentle digestive aid, which is important to helping us cope with anxiety. Chamomile also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Dose 2tsp. per cup or 1 oz: pint – Not 1 tsp per cup unless this is for a child under 50 pounds in weight.

Summary:

  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Make environment “sleep-friendly”:
    • The darker your room the more melatonin you make.
    • Develop a rhythm that encourages better sleep.
    • Turn off the tv (recycle it, give it away)
    • Try recommended herb teas or extracts in liquid or capsules and tablets every night for at least two weeks
    • Take a warm bath
    • Try breathing or relaxation techniques

Insomnia, which has many causes, affects at least ½ adults sometimes, while an estimated 15 percent to 25 percent of children have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. When bedtime stories or quiet communion with your spirit isn’t enough, herbs and minerals may nourish us into natural sleep cycles, without relying on drugs.

After reconnecting to your best sleep cycle, you won’t have to rely on these herbs, or not every night. I have seen that when we have the sense that problems are somehow manageable, the body and mind seize the natural option of a good sleep.  It is safe to experiment with these and compare two weeks on any one of these herbs to your last two weeks of rest.

Amanda McQuade Crawford, M.A. is an herbalist and clinical psychologist practicing integrative health care in Ojai, serving Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties. An Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Boston, she sees patients and consults for the natural products industry on quality issues.

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