Q: Help! Is there an herb that can help me get a good nights sleep? Christy
If you have ever lain awake until the wee hours, you know how sweet it is to fall asleep quickly and soundly–and stay asleep! Whenever someone asks me what herb they might use for sleep, the first question I ask is, “Do you have have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?” From an herbalist and natural health perspective, it is important to differentiate between the two.
There are several reasons for not being able to fall asleep that immediately come to mind such as caffeine intake, using electronics too late in the evening and watching disturbing programs (like news!) just before going to bed. All three of these things are under your control. Shutting off electronics a couple of hours before bedtime and breaking the bedtime news routine are fairly simple to do but caffeine can fool you.
I hear so many people say that they don’t drink any caffeine after 2:00 p.m. so that can’t be the problem. Let’s delve a little deeper. Caffeine increases stress hormone levels and keeps you awake by blocking sleep-promoting receptors in the brain. Research has shown that even after five hours of drinking a caffeinated beverage, 50% of it remains in your bloodstream. But here is the mind-boggling statistic: it takes 16 to 24 hours for caffeine to clear your system! If you are sensitive to caffeine, that morning cup of coffee or tea may be the sleep-depriving culprit–even if that’s all the caffeine you drank all day! When I decided to eliminate caffeine from my diet (and my system), I did so by cutting back a little each day. By the end of a week, I had removed it from my diet without causing any headaches, fatigue or concentration problems and I slept better than I had for years. I am sensitive to caffeine and even morning caffeine can cause me to wake up about 2:00am and not be able to get back to sleep. Amazing.
While we are on diet, let me share a little more information on foods that may be messing with your sleep. Nightshades. These include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and any peppers including bell and chilies and anything made with these plants including cayenne, paprika, potato starch, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and chili powder. For a more complete list of nightshades, scroll down until you find the article on nightshades (The Dark Side of Plants).
The reason nightshades may affect you detrimentally is because these plants produce natural pesticides called glycoalkaloids, which are designed to kill predators like insects. However, these glycoalkaloids are also toxic to human cells because they block the enzymes which keep the nervous system from getting overstimulated. If you are sensitive to these plants, they may keep you awake. After a completely sleepless night, I researched bell peppers to see if they could affect sleep. I had not had caffeine in any form for weeks so I knew that wasn’t the problem and that only left my dinner. I had fixed a delicious meal of stir fried chicken, onions, and red and yellow bell peppers the night before. Boy was I surprised to find that if you were sensitive to peppers, they could keep you awake. Although I loved them, I love sleep more so I eliminated them from my diet.
FYI: Another hint that you may be sensitive is that you are sensitive to weather changes.
Alcohol may cause drowsiness, but then later on, prevent sleep. Aged, fermented, cured, smoked and cultured foods such as salami, cheese, sauerkraut, red wine, etc., foods contain histamine (a neurotransmitter that can really mess with the cardiovascular, nervous, hormonal, cardiovascular, and digestive systems) which may also affect the quality of your sleep. If you want more information on histamine intolerance, check out the article at www.diagnosisdiet.com/histamine-intolerance/.
If you want to know if any of your favorite foods are causing some of your issues including pain and insomnia, start a food journal. Write down everything you eat. When an issue arises, look over the previous day’s food intake and see if you can find a pattern. Eliminate the suspicious food for two weeks and see if that makes a difference. It may be a gradual improvement that you don’t notice until you again eat that food and suffer the consequences.
I always believe in looking at root cause and trying to correct or remove the cause before taking drugs. If something we are eating is causing a health issue, it follows that although that food may be healthful for some people, it can also be a health hazard to you and may make other health issues worse because you weaken your systems by stressing them with “poison apples.” If you do your homework and find foods you love do not love you back, you have to decide if you want the food or the sleep and good health. Many who ask for help back off quickly when we start talking about food causing pain and sleep issues. They are not going to give up their breads, sodas, caffeine and nightshades. That is their choice.
But back to Christy’s question; yes there are herbal remedies for sleep issues that come to mind (although I would rather you find the root cause and fix that first!). They include valerian root, chamomile, lavender, S. John’s wort, Passion flower, lemon balm, lemon verbena, wild lettuce and skullcap. I have used valerian root with Passion flower and hops with good results, however, my daughter can’t take it because it causes her to have bad dreams. We are all different! If one doesn’t work for you, you can try another until you find a sleep remedy that does work. However, one of the reasons the herbs may not work is because you are still doing things to keep you from sleeping.
I have several different tincture blends brewing based on these herbs in hopes that it may help some of us with sleep problems and I will let you know which works best. Finding a natural remedy is so much more to my liking than taking prescription drugs with nasty side effects!Important Note! The information in Wholistically Speaking is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. If you have a health problem, I highly recommend you consult a competent health practitioner and educate yourself before embarking on any course of treatment.