Not getting enough sleep is one of life’s cruelties. Whether you have trouble falling asleep in the first place, or constantly wake up during the night, insomnia can be a lonely and frustrating condition – especially if you consequently spend all day exhausted.
An occasional night with too little sleep can make you irritable and lack focus the next day, but the impact of long-term sleep deprivation on our health can be quite damaging, making you more prone to serious medical conditions.
Organic, natural health experts Neal’s Yard Remedies cover a huge range of health issues and ailments in their new book Neal’s Yard Remedies Complete Wellness with 800 ideas to help overcome them with herbs, essential oils, natural foods and holistic therapies.
If it’s sleep you’re after, they recommend keeping your bedroom dark and at around 18.5ºC and taking regular exercise, as well as these other remedies…
Herbs can relax the mind help to induce sleep and reduce disturbed sleep patterns.
Valerian (a flowering plant) is strongly sedative on the central nervous system and relaxes the internal organs (avoid with sleep-inducing medication). Take 2.5–5ml tincture twice in a little water between 6pm and bedtime.
Hops is a sedative and aromatic herb that helps ease tension and feelings of restlessness that accompany insomnia (avoid with depression). Infuse one teaspoon of the dried flowers in 175ml of boiling water for a bedtime tea.
Passionflower is deeply relaxing for mind and body. Try using with chamomile (may cause drowsiness). Infuse one teaspoon each of dried passionflower and chamomile herbs in 175ml of boiling water, and sip throughout the evening to help promote a state of relaxation before bedtime.
Wild lettuce is an extremely relaxing sedative and an antispasmodic herb, which can help induce sleep. Add 1ml tincture to a cup of passionflower tea.
Some essential oils, such as lavender, have been proven to promote a restful night’s sleep.
Lavender has been shown in trials to be a safe, effective insomnia remedy. Add five drops to 10ml vodka and 40ml water for a room spray (not to drink!)
Roman chamomile is a calming and sedative oil to aid sleep. Add two drops to 5ml almond oil for a pre-bedtime massage.
Vetiver is helpful for relieving stress and tension when these block restful sleep. Add two to three drops to a diffuser, or add five drops to a bath dispersant for a pre-bedtime soak.
Tryptophan-containing foods: The amino acid boosts levels of sleep-inducing melatonin or ones with naturally high levels of melatonin.
Sour cherries, cherries, goji berries, tomatoes, chillies, fenugreek, white or black mustard seeds, sprouted seeds, corn, rice, and lupin (often available in bean form or as a flour/protein) provide melatonin.
A bedtime glass of sour cherry juice has been shown to aid sleep. Yogurt, poultry, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of tryptophan. Avoid junk food, which studies have shown can disrupt restorative sleep.
We need a broad spectrum of nutrients to remain healthy and therefore sleep better. There are also certain nutrients that have been specifically linked to improvements in relaxation and a reduction in insomnia.
Omega-3 has been shown to promote restful sleep in children. Take 500mg to 1g daily for adults and 300-500mg daily for children, from marine or plant sources.
Magnesium is a trace mineral that helps the body to release tension and in turn relax. Take 350-400mg daily.
Vitamin D – low levels are associated with daytime sleepiness and musculoskeletal pain. Take 600–800iu vitamin D3 daily.