Sleeping Soundly Naturally
By Brigitte Mars
Blissful sleep is that recharging, rejuvenating repose in which about one third of our lives are be spent. When resting, bone marrow and lymph nodes produce substances that aid the immune system and much of the body’s repair work is done. Yet for many, sleep can be elusive, leaving one exhausted and lacking clarity the next day. The best way to improve insomnia is to change the cause.
Many prescription medications can contribute to insomnia including antibiotics, cold remedies, decongestants, steroids, appetite suppressants, contraceptives and thyroid pills. Sleeping pills can inhibit calcium absorption, are often habit forming and can prevent dreaming. They should not be a first resort for sleeping problems.
The first resort should be lifestyle strategies, food, herbs, and natural remedies. One recommendation to avoiding insomnia is refraining from eating at least three hours before bedtime as food can stimulate rather than sedate. Caffeinated foods and beverages such as coffee, black tea, chocolate and cola drinks, even when consumed early in the day can affect normal night sleep patterns. Alcohol consumption interferes with deep REM (rapid eye movement) type of sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant and smokers can take longer to fall asleep than non-smokers.
Those active during the day, are less likely to have sleep problems. However, exercising a couple of hours before sleep, may give a second wind. Rather than watching TV in the evenings, take a walk. Darkness triggers melatonin production.
Too much on one’s mind can contribute to insomnia. Write things down before bed: plans for the days ahead, things to do and people to call. Then one can relax, rather than lying awake, trying to remember your “to do” list.
A warm bath before bed can be a sleeping aid. After, the tub has filled, Adding seven drops of calming essential oil of chamomile or lavender can have further relaxing effects, as one relaxes in the aromatic warmth. Another technique is to put two or three drops of chamomile or lavender oil on the pillowcase.
Nature provides wonderful herbs to help sleep.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nerve restorative that calms stress and anxiety. It has traditionally been used to calm those prone to nightmares. Chamomile is rich in nerve and muscle nutrients calcium, magnesium and potassium. It’s antispasmodic properties helps one unwind from tension.
Hops (Humulus lupulus ) contains lupulin, a strong yet safe reliable sedative. Though it is bitter, it is safe enough for children. As well as using hops internally, it can be made into a sleep sachet where a five by five inch cloth is stuffed with dried hops, stitched up and placed in one’s pillowcase. The aroma from hops helps lull one to sleep. Both King George II and Abraham Lincoln are said to have slept with hops pillows. Make a new sachet twice a year.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) slows down the breakdown of the brain chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine, helping one to move into a more peaceful state of consciousness. As a sedative and antispasmodic, passion flower has been used to calm hysteria and nervousness.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a tonic for the nervous system. It helps calm emotional upsets and is rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium. It contains scutellarin, which transforms into scutellarein in the body, which stimulates the brain to produce calming endorphins. It is best when used over a period of time.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) calms sleep disorders that result from anxiety. It is a warming sedative and works best for people with a tendency to feel cold more easily. Fear, panic and anxiety can be calmed by valerian. As it can be somewhat of a depressant, those suffering from depression are not encouraged to make long-term use of this remedy. In Europe, physicians are more likely to recommend valerian rather than the drug Valium (which is not related to the herb) because it is safer. Most will find the taste of valerian to be unpleasant so a tincture made from fresh plant or freeze dried capsules is a more pleasant yet effective way to utilize this strong smelling root.
All of the above herbs can be taken by themselves or in combination. Natural food and pharmacies will carry herbal sleeping blends in tea, tincture or capsule form.
A calcium magnesium supplement can also be helpful taken before bed as it has a muscle relaxing calming effect. The body also best absorbs calcium when the body is at rest. Sleep remedies are ideally used about forty-five minutes before bed. For those that wake during the night, having about an ounce of water by the bed so that you can squeeze a dropperful of herbal tincture into it can help you get back to sleep and is simpler than having to get up and make tea, consume enough liquids that you awaken from the urge to urinate.
When trying to sleep, allow no thoughts except the in and out of your breath. You should soon be able to soothe yourself to sleep. Some sort of visualization, such as: with one breath relax your toes, with the next breath your feet, then ankles and moving slowly up your body should help you slumber. By the time you reach your waist you might very well be asleep!
As we get older, our requirements for sleep actually decrease. If you lie awake for more than one half hour, get up and write a letter or read something that is not too action packed.
Establish a regular bed and awakening time and do your best to stick with it. Sleeping on the back is said the give one’s internal organs the most room for optimum function. At least try to have the bed in the quietest and darkest corner of the room. Keep the bedroom between 60 – 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow a bit of fresh air into the bedroom at night, though not directly by the head. Make sure your bed is comfortable and fabrics that are as natural as possible are used as bedding to allow the skin to breathe. Electro–magnetic pollution too close to the body can be stimulate the nervous system as and weaken the immune system. Avoid having clocks, stereos, and electric blankets as your nighttime companions within six feet of your bed. Light is a stimulant. If there is much light shining brightly through your windows at night, consider getting heavier curtains. You may need to utilize earplugs or eye masks to help shut the world out for a while.
The bedroom ideally, should be a calm color, like blue. Keep your bedroom space serene and avoid using it as a place to do homework, business or carry out arguments. Avoid excess mental activity right before bed such as action packed TV or page- turning novels. Talk about your feelings to someone you trust. Sex, can be a pleasurable prelude to sleep.
Should you wake in the middle of the night, avoid snacking, as this starts bad habits. In the bathroom, avoid turning on bright lights, as this tends to make one more awake and can inhibit melatonin production. A small night light will help you to retain your restful composure. You can then return to bed and focus on your breathing.
An oriental proverb is “An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight.”
May all your best dreams come true!