Pretty literally every blog, magazine, and medical journal you read will tell you in no uncertain terms how important a good night’s rest is to your health. Persistent and occasional insomnia has been linked to a huge number of very real health risks, including:
- healthy brain function
- emotional wellbeing and mood
- metabolic health and weight regulation
- blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity
- hormone regulation
- circulatory health
- growth and development
- immune system function
Sleep deficiency is a much bigger problem than just hiding those ever-present bags under your eyes. But for many of us, a “good night’s sleep” is easier said than done.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to insomnia and sleep deficiency. For those who have been struggling short-term, you may be under irregular stress, or there may have been a recent change in your schedule or environment.
For longer-term insomnia sufferers, there are a number of possibilities.
Living by a certain schedule for a prolonged period of time becomes habit; if you always go to bed at 2-AM, you’ll likely have trouble falling asleep earlier because your body’s simply not ready yet. If you need to adjust your sleep schedule, doing so gradually may be your best bet.
Technology can also be a contributing factor. Humans were designed to be active during the day and sleep after dark- that’s our default setting. But when we leave all the lights on and continue stimulating our brains with TV or Facebook until late into the night, we’re unintentionally “tricking” our bodies into believing it’s still daylight. Abruptly putting out the lights and lying down to sleep doesn’t allow our bodies time to adjust and relax, and so many of us will find ourselves staring at the ceiling for an hour or two while we “shut down” for the night. In this instance, you might try “twilighting”. For an hour or two before bed, dim the lights, or leave on only as many as you absolutely need; this mimics the sun going down and lets your body know it’s time to chill. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, set your alarms and silence your phone. Read, meditate, take a bath- anything you find relaxing. Again, an hour or so of “unplugged” time is ideal, but work with the time you’ve got. It won’t change your sleep schedule instantaneously, but make it a habit, and soon you’ll find yourself falling asleep much faster.
Insomnia has as many potential causes as it has people suffering from it- from stress to scheduling, chronic pain to mental illness, or any combination thereof. But whatever is keeping you up at night, these herbal remedies may be able to help you stop counting sheep.
The three best-known herbs for treating insomnia or sleep deficiency are Lavender, Chamomile, and American Skullcap. In addition to their aromatherapeutic properties, all three can also be used in cooking, or used to make teas.
Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 39 known species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. There are many varieties of lavender available- some pricier than others- but they all share remarkably similar properties when it comes to treating insomnia. In aromatherapy, lavender is noted for inducing relaxation and a sense of peace. In folklore, lavender is used to bring pleasant dreams, so bonus points there. Try an herbal tea that includes lavender before bed, or simply dab a couple drops of lavender essential oil on your primary pressure points (wrists, neck, heart- same as applying perfume), and let the soothing scent help you get some sweet dreams.
To read more about the health benefits of lavender, click here.
Chamomile- or camomile– is the common name for several daisy-like plants of the family Asteraceae. Though they have a number of medicinal uses, they are one of the go-to herbs for insomnia. Chamomile is generally considered the most effective herbal treatment for sleeplessness, and a favorite in herbal teas. You can also try this one in essential oil form- apply with the same directions as the lavender oil; just be sure to dilute it with a carrier oil such as Sweet Almond Oil first- this stuff is strong!
To read more about the health benefits of chamomile, click here.
American Skullcap. (Please note- American Skullcap and Chinese Skullcap are two entirely different plants with different properties. In this instance, we’re talking American. You have been warned.) Skullcap is a powerful sleep-aid, generally used to combat stress, anxiety and muscle-tension. For a relaxing tea before bed, steep two teaspoons of dried Skullcap in one cup of hot water, for at least fifteen minutes. Strain, sweeten with raw honey (if desired), and enjoy!
Not a tea-drinker? Try this DIY essential oil blend for some sweet dreams!
SWEET DREAMS” ESSENTIAL OIL BLEND
YOU WILL NEED:
- 1 small sealing container (eye-dropper, roller-ball applicator, or baby-food jar will do)
- carrier oil (Sweet Almond oil recommended)
- lavender essential oil
- chamomile essential oil
- dried lavender and chamomile (optional)
1) Fill the container 3/4 full with your carrier oil.
2) Add lavender and chamomile essential oils until the mixture reaches the desired strength. (Add a few drops at a time- a little goes a long way!)
3) Add dried lavender and/or chamomile, and seal.
TO USE: Before bed, apply a couple drops to pressure-points (wrists, lymph-nodes at jaw, and over heart- just like perfume). The soothing aromatherapeutic properties will gradually take effect. Sleep well!