(Health Secrets) Sleep is one of the pillars of health, but life is full of stressful events that can interfere with restful sleep and eventually deplete the life force inside of you, leading to chronic exhaustion and illness. Fortunately nature has provided herbs to restore equilibrium, so you can get to sleep and stay there. If you are tired of tossing and turning, here are some of the best herbs for a good night’s sleep.
Tonic herbs achieve sleep by toning and strengthening
A good place to start is with the tonic herbs that give positive energy to the body and help achieve balance. These herbs will strengthen your spirit and chase away the malaise and stress of modern living. They work with a very light touch.
Ashwagandah – This is a primary Ayurvedic herb that comes from the nightshade family of plants. It has been prized for thousands of years for its ability to help the body deal with stress. Ashwaganda quells anxiety and allows the mind to become clear and calm. These effects come from the activation of signaling via GABA receptors in the brain. Ashwaganda is an adaptogen, meaning that it can act both as a sedative to those who are overly anxious, and as a simulant to those feeling lethargic.
Ashwagandah is a natural treatment for fatigue and low energy levels. It is also used traditionally for lowering cortisol, pain relief, skin conditions, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Andrew Weil recommends 500 mg of a standardized extract of ashwagandha taken before bedtime for a good night’s sleep.
Holy Basil – This herb can normalize cortisol to mediate the stress response and help you get to sleep. Also known as tulsi, holy basil is another principal herb in the traditional holistic health system of Ayurveda. Holy basil tones the body to increase strength, stamina and endurance, and maintain biologic equilibrium. It is useful for treating panic attacks.
Holy basil is a relative of the basil used in the kitchen for seasoning food. In India, holy basil is planted in a pot indoors to protect the family from maladies including viral infections. Crescence Allen, PhD, suggests taking holy basil as a tincture (dilution of 1:5 or 1:2) 40-60 drops, three times per day, and as a tea or in capsule form.
Sedative herbs achieve sleep by sedating nerve function
If you don’t find the level of sleep you want from the use of tonic herbs, the next step is herbs that use sedative action to directly relax the nervous system. They are known as nervines.
Valerian – This herb is an adaptogen too, and it has been used since the Middle Ages because of its ability to quiet nervous energy and act as a sedative for the nervous system. Deb Soule, founder of the Avena Institute in Maine, suggests that if you have not used valerian as a sleep aid, begin slowly with 5 to 10 drops of a tincture and see how your body responds. Increase the dosage over a few days to 1/2 to 1 teaspoon for an adult.
Taking valerian at bedtime can shorten the time it takes for you to slip into deep sleep. It has also been used successfully to treat neck tension, high cortisol, backache, headache, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal spasms, and it can be effective in quieting a person having an asthma attack.
Adaptogenic herbs can be used two to four times per day for as long as six months to help restore equilibrium and balance to the body systems. In addition to the use of a tincture, Deb notes that adaptogens can be taken as a tea or as a soup.
Hops – Beer drinkers can attest to the relaxing effects that comes from hops. Centuries ago European farm workers picking hops had a habit of falling asleep on the job, and this led to hops becoming known as a natural sleep aid. Now the German Commission E, the equivalent of the FDA, has given approval for the use of hops in cases of anxiety and sleepless nights. This herb works well alone and is also synergistic with valerian. But unlike pharmaceutical sleep drugs which often function as bludgeons, these herbs are mild and have little in the way of side effects. After taking them you can wake feeling refreshed, with no hangover Hops can be taken as a tea, or in capsule form.
California poppy – This herb is a gentle sedative especially useful for quieting and relaxing the body when physical or emotional pain exists. Both emotional and physical pain intensify during the night, and the usual result is sleep deprivation which slows healing, produces ongoing fatigue and can lead to despondence and depression. California poppy has been shown to reduce night pain and induce sleep without physical dependency or serious side effects.
The active alkaloids in California poppy bind to opioid and serotonin receptors to relieve pain. Stimulation of opioid receptors blocks pain sensation in the brain, and blocks pain conduction in the spinal cord from reaching higher brain centers. California poppy can be taken in capsule form, or as tea or tincture. It can be taken alone or used synergistically with valerian and hops.
Suspending Western ways
Most of us grew up in the West, under the rule of Big Pharma. We expect to take a capsule and an hour later feel different. If we don’t, we give it up and move on to something else. But this is not how herbs work. Herbs are slow, gentle and subtle, and require patience and faith. And although their action is gentle, herbs can interfere with the actions of pharmaceutical drugs. For these reasons, it is best to take herbs under the care of an herbalist or naturopath.
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