There’s nothing worse than lying in bed at 1 o’clock in the morning with churning thoughts. No matter how hard you try, sleep will not come. Even worse is knowing that the next day is going to be miserable because of a bad night’s sleep.
Who wouldn’t want a safe and natural alternative to ease the mind into a relaxed state and allow normal sleep to occur?
However, natural doesn’t always equate with safe. Many sleep preparations contain herbs that have drug-like effects and can adversely affect liver function. And some products actually contain habituating drugs that are not regulated by the FDA.
Fortunately, for occasional sleeplessness, there are safe and effective natural options that actually work.
Every time you go to sleep, you are making a deposit into your health safety deposit box. This is a very stingy bank, however, and at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep are required out of every 24 hours to keep from depleting reserves.
If your body has been stressed, sleep is especially important because reserves are already low. Ironically, people suffering who are very stressed often find sleep hard to come by.
Achieving normal sleep is essential for feeling your best. Generally this may take some effort, but the reward is feeling better.
What Prevents Normal Sleep?
A few lucky people in the world seem to never experience difficulty sleeping, but most people will be touched by not sleeping well at some point in their lives. People who are naturally alert will have greater difficulty sleeping than most. For those people, just the thought of something stressful may keep them up at night.
Poor sleep is not actually a disease. Instead, it is a manifestation of neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain, most commonly occurring as a reaction to stressful situations. Stress disrupts hormone balance, and suppresses neurotransmitters in the brain necessary for sleep.
When stress becomes severe, poor sleep can be a nightly aggravation: the nervous system becomes wound up, causing extreme tiredness, but at the same time, agitation that prevents sleep.
Beyond the day-to-day stress associated with modern life, the modern world is saturated with artificial light. Clinical studies have demonstrated that artificial light at night is associated with suppression of normal melatonin levels and disruption of normal sleep.
Many natural processes, including aging, can also adversely affect sleep. People tend to struggle more with sleep as they grow older. Menopause, a natural process, is almost always associated with disrupted sleep, Fortunately for most women, the disruptions caused by menopause gradually resolve and sleep does return to normal.
Sleep disturbances are common for individuals with suppressed immune systems. Though stress is a common culprit for occasional sleeplessness, inflammation of brain and nerve tissues may also be a contributing factor. Numerous clinical studies have linked inflammatory markers of systemic inflammation in the body with sleep dysfunction. This may explain why poor sleep can occur with a chronic health condition, even when the body and mind are in a relaxed state.
Reversible Causes of Disrupted Sleep:
- Artificial lighting and computer screens
- Gastrointestinal issues (reflux, irritable bowel syndrome)
- Working long hours
- Rebound occasional sleeplessness from taking sleeping pills
- Environmental factors (noise, light, bed partners)
- Pain or restless legs
- Stress and anxiety
- Stimulants in food and drink
- Working odd day/night shifts
Recommended Herbs for Occasional Sleeplessness
Three ingredients — bacopa, passionflower, and motherwort — stand out as being exceptional for promoting a calm state without side effects or toxicity. Used during the day, a relaxed state results. Taken before bedtime, that relaxed state allows for normal sleep.
Each ingredient offers slightly different properties. When combined, the effect is restoration of normal calm throughout the body, without drug-like effects or risk of dependence.
Unlike valerian, kava, and hops (commonly found in many sleep supplements), these ingredients do not pose the risk of causing liver damage or habituation.
Bacopa has long been used in traditional medicine in India for occasional sleeplessness and stress, but recently has also been studied for optimizing cognitive function. In other words, it’s a sleep aid that helps you think better. It also protects the brain against the negative effects of not having sleep. Studies have shown that bacopa enhances mental clarity and focus in subjects ranging from college students to elderly individuals with mental decline
Passionflower is derived from the leaves of a woody vine native to South America. It has long been revered for promoting a state of calm, but it is unique in also offering muscle-relaxing properties.
Motherwort is a calming herb also known for supporting cardiac function, particularly occasional palpitations associated with stress and hormonal fluctuations.
Additional Tips for Improving Sleep
- Adjust the thermostat: Being overly hot or overly cool can adversely affect sleep.
- Get a sleep test: If your partner reports that you snore excessively, you may have sleep apnea. See a neurologist or visit a sleep center for testing.
- Don’t exercise late: Vigorous exercise during the day is excellent therapy for insomnia, but should be avoided after 8pm except for relaxing routines such as yoga or qigong. The gentle relaxing movements of qigong are perfect for promoting a relaxed state before going to bed.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime: Warm water is both soothing and relaxing.
- Avoid excessive light stimulation: Use low lights and turn off televisions and especially computer screens after 8pm. This will help stimulate natural melatonin levels. Always sleep in a very dark room. If you work an odd shift, use darkening shades to completely darken the room where you sleep.
- Avoid blue light computer screens: Blue light suppresses melatonin and keeps your brain alert. If you read from a tablet, buy a tablet that allows reading without blue light, or download an app for removing blue light from the screen. There are several programs available for download. The most popular is f.lux (justgetflux.com).
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress: “Memory foam” mattresses or tops are especially conducive to a good night’s sleep and allow for sleeping on the side. Sleeping on your back encourages sleep apnea.
- Limit noise pollution: Try to limit noise like outside traffic, snoring bed partners or restless pets. Consider obtaining an electronic device that produces “white noise” to drown out surrounding sounds. A HEPA air filter unit by the bedside is a great option.
- Isolate yourself: Be aware that your bed partner may be keeping you awake. Movement and snoring from a person or pet in the room may be contributing to trouble sleeping. Consider sleeping in an isolated location until your sleep quality improves.
- Learn how to turn your brain off: Become a master of the simple breathing and relaxation exercises. There are almost unlimited options for accomplishing this goal, but if you want to overcome occasional sleeplessness, consider it essential.
When to Call Your Doctor
When occasional sleeplessness becomes a nightmare of nighttime wakefulness, it’s time to see your doctor. Before you go, however, you should know something about medical therapy options that may be offered.
If trouble sleeping is severe and unrelenting, medications can play an important role in breaking a vicious cycle. That being said, potential side effects associated with drug therapy and the potential for habituation and dependence must be respected.
It should also be noted that certain medications can actually cause occasional sleeplessness. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Wellbutrin, and many others), taken for anxiety and depression, are notorious for disrupting sleep in certain individuals.
Consult with your physician if you experience:
- Chronic sleeplessness
- Restless legs
- Sleep apnea (commonly associated with excessive weight)
- Chronic pain
- Habituation to sleep medications