When most people think of herbs for sleep, they think of a cup of Chamomile tea, but we have many more powerful herbal remedies at our disposal! Now, I am a huge fan of Chamomile tea, don’t get me wrong. When you use the whole dried flowers, in a decent quantity, steeped (covered) for a good five minutes minimum, and then drink it...ahh... relaxation in a cup. A good well-brewed Chamomile tea will be slightly bitter, and taste quite strong. The problem, as with many popularised herbal medicines, is in the quality, the preparation, and the dose. Expecting a tea bag from the supermarket to solve your sleeping woes is like expecting an apple from the supermarket to keep the doctor away. It may happen, but probably by good luck rather than good medicine!
Chamomile is indeed a powerfully calming herb when administered correctly. It has a special affinity with children, and has the added benefit of being relaxing for the digestive system. Chamomile can be given in the evening for children who need help to get to sleep, or can be given throughout the day and night for children prone to nervous tension. This can also be useful in babies and infants who have unsettled tummies that may be keeping them awake at night. Chamomile given in a liquid or syrup form like Kids Calm makes it easy to administer for even the fussiest of small people!
Whatever the herb, whoever the person, I often find it is best to use quite substantial doses for a week or two to help change sleeping habits and patterns. After this, the herb can often be used just as needed, on nights that seem particularly difficult.
Valerian. Let me tell you about Valerian. Valerian is one of the most powerful sedative herbs we have in our herbal dispensary. It helps to get people to sleep and helps them stay asleep. In other words, it has been shown to help with sleep onset insomnia and also sleep maintenance insomnia. Valerian has been shown in a clinical trial to be as effective as a common benzodiazepine medication but with less side effects. That is rather compelling research!
Some herbalists do prescribe Valerian during the day for people with anxiety, to calm them down. If someone gave me Valerian during the day, I would have a very hard time staying awake. Believe me, I tried it once. I am wary of using this powerful herb during the day, unless it is for very highly motivated highly stressed and anxious people who have too much energy and need to be brought down a few notches in order to feel normal!
I have also seen liquid Valerian used successfully by people with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), when even high doses of magnesium don’t work. Valerian is one of the few herbs that has been specifically trialled on children, and shown to be effective to improve children’s sleep. It is however a strong herb with a rather strong flavour, and I would usually try Chamomile first.
Whenever I see someone with sleeping issues, I ask them what their stress levels are like. Do they have stress or tension during the day? Have they had any anxiety or feelings of overwhelm? Elevated levels of stress hormones from the adrenal glands can interfere with sleep hormones, and also stimulate our nervous systems to keep us ‘wired’.
Two excellent herbs for calming stress and reducing the effects of stress on the body are Withania and Lemon Balm. Withania somnifera is named as such because of its ability to improve sleeping patterns; “somni” meaning sleep. It influences levels of stress hormones in the body, calms and relaxes the nervous system and helps us perform better under pressure. Lemon Balm is a wonderfully calming herb that relaxes the mind and soothes frazzled nerves. When combined with B complex vitamins (which are depleted in stressful times) in StressCare®, these two herbs provide an excellent support to reduce the effects of stress on mind and body. Reducing stress during the day is so important when sleep is a problem, as the calmer we feel throughout the day the more likely our nervous system will be able to ‘turn out the lights’ at night.
So next time you need some support for sleep, remember there are strong and powerful herbal medicines at your disposal, just waiting to help sing you their botanical lullabyes.
*Click here to read Part One: How to Get Better Quality Sleep - Naturopathic Sleep Hygiene: Top Ten Tips