Ever find yourself watching the clock as it races towards the dreaded morning alarm? Spend the nights tossing and turning? counting flocks of sheep to no avail? Everyone suffers from the odd sleepless night during their lifetime. Stress, overwork, not enough physical activity, jumpy legs, digestion problems, poor diet, pollution, an uncomfortable bed, seasonal changes, even the moon phase can all contribute to sleep problems and prevent us from drifting off to the land of zzz’s…
In today’s hectic society the majority of people find little time to relax. I mean really relax – not just slumped on a couch in front of the TV, but actually switching off and relaxing. Letting your mind wind down, turning off the TV or computer, resting your ears, eyes and brain from the constant barrage of [mostly useless] information. Research shows that taking an hour out to yourself before retiring to bed prepares the body and mind for sleep, thus enhancing your chances of a peaceful, restful night.
A warm evening bath is a wonderful way to relax. Make the experience as indulgent as possible – lanterns / candles instead of electric lights, a warm environment, warm towels to climb into afterwards, maybe even some peaceful music in the background, and try to ensure that you won’t be disturbed. Enjoy this moment – create a space you can relax in and allow yourself that time!
The two most well known herbs / oils which would enhance the bathing experience are Lavender and Chamomile, and both are gentle enough for children and adults alike. If you’re using the essential oils in the bath dilute them first in carrier oil [almond, olive, jojoba etc..] or milk, this helps the oils disperse in the water, and avoids a film of essential oils forming on the surface. Generally speaking, for an adult, up to 6 drops of essential oil/s should be sufficient for a full bath. For children between 5-12 use no more than 3 to 4 drops essential oil mixed with a carrier.
The dried or fresh herbs can also be added to the bath, either directly or brewed up as a strong infusion which can be added to the bath water.
Other herbs you might like to try in the bath include Hops, Lemon Balm and Marjoram. Other essential oils include Neroli, Benzoin, Marjoram, Pathchouli and Ylang-Ylang.
A Herbal foot or hand bath can be just as effective – a hot foot bath, in particular, helps to draw blood away from the head.
Caffeine can play a large part in causing restless nights – if this is the case for you try to avoid that extra cup of tea or coffee late at night and try a herbal cuppa instead :
Lemon Balm has an excellent reputation as a bedtime herb – soothing to the stomach and a gentle sedative with a lovely zesty flavour.
Chamomile is another successful favourite for a bedtime cuppa – try blending it with Lemon Balm.
Valerian Root makes a rather foul smelling and tasting infusion, but an extremely effective sedative. Valerian should not be taken with any other sleep inducing drugs, and I would recommend it for only very occasional use. [Try blending it with other more pleasant tasting relaxants mentioned in this list].
Catnip [as long as you can keep the cats off it] is a gentle sedative and like Chamomile and Lemon Balm is suitable for restless children. Catnip contains sedative chemicals similar to those found in Valerian, but is certainly a more pleasant tasting alternative!
Passionflower has been used for centuries as a remedy for insomnia, particularly sleeplessness caused by anxiety or nervous tension. If you suffer from anxiety, emotional worries or nervous tension try blending Passionflower with Lemon Balm.
Hops produces a slightly bitter tasting tea, and is well known for its sedative qualities on the whole nervous system. I tend to stick with Hops as a bath or sleep pillow addition, but it does work very well as a sleepy cuppa – although it is best not to take Hops internally if you suffer from depression.
Elderflower makes a delicious, delicately fragranced infusion which helps relax the nerves.
Lime-flower is another one to mention for a delicately flavored relaxing herbal cuppa, and is also valuable as an antispasmodic and sedative to the nerves and digestive system.
Creating a relaxing environment to sit and unwind in before you retire to bed is one of the most important steps you can do to ensure a decent sleep. An oil burner can be used to great effect – as long as you remember to blow out the candle before falling asleep! Relaxing oils such as Lavender, Chamomile, Rose, Neroli, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Benzoin, Frankincense, Bergamot, Sandalwood, Patchouli and Violet can all help create a soothing environment. Choose one or two oils which you find most comforting and relaxing and add a few drops to water in a suitable oil burner.
In The Bedroom
One of the most effective, easy to use and well-known sleep remedies is Lavender essential oil sprinkled on the pillow or bedding, or dab a little Lavender on to the wrist pulse points and forehead / temple. Another way to include Lavender in the bedroom is in a sleep pillow – make a sachet or small pillow and stuff with Lavender herb and add a few drops of Lavender essential oils. Pop the sachet under your pillow or hang it on your bedstead and breath in the relaxing fragrance. Other relaxing herbs you could include in a sleep pillow include Hops, Lemon Balm [particularly useful for menopausal women suffering from nightly hot flushes] Chamomile and Marjoram. If nightmares are causing the restless sleep you might like to try including Rosemary in your sleep pillow mix.
In The Kitchen
Eating a healthy, well balanced diet is not only essential to your general health and well-being, but will also improve your chances of a restful sleep. Junk food and processed foods stuffed full of additives, preservatives and artificial coloring’s is one sure-fire way to send your digestive system into chaos. Over-indulging or eating rich foods in the evenings can also cause problems. Many a sleepless night is caused by poor diet or digestion problems. Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet [organic where possible], Smoothies are easy to make [a blender is useful of course] and the combinations of fruit and veg are endless – have fun experimenting with different blends. Include natural yogurt, or ice-cream if you fancy treating yourself [try and find a natural, organic ice-cream], Lettuce has a long-standing reputation as a soporific food. The Romans were particularly keen on it, and modern research has discovered that it does contain sleep-inducing compounds. Eat the leaves raw, make Lettuce soup or drink as an infusion in the evenings.
Oats are an excellent food for ensuring a peaceful sleep – try muesli, granola or porridge, and instead of a chocolate bar in your break, try a flapjack. Oats also make a tasty topping for stewed fruit or fruit crumbles.
For a bedtime drink try adding a little honey to mug of warm milk [sprinkle a little cinnamon or cocoa on to add a bit of luxury], or try one of the herbal infusions mentioned above.
Suitable relaxing music can be invaluable in creating an atmosphere of calm and programming the body to prepare for sleep. Keep the volume low, and choose natural sounds such as evening birdsong, gentle rain or waves, or gentle blues, relaxed jazz, lilting folk music, or music composed specifically for meditation / relaxation. As scientists are beginning to realize just how effective music can be I read more and more reports on ‘listen to classical music before bedtime’ – great if you’ve chosen Debussy’s “Arabesque no.1” but not so beneficial if you have chosen Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”. There are hundreds of suitably soothing classical music choices, and research has proven some of Mozart’s music to be extremely beneficial at soothing brain waves. The trick is to find the appropriate piece – trial and error and a simple love of exploring the many faces of Classical music will help you assemble a relaxing evening collection. [Aim for unhurried tempos, 50-60 beats-per-minute as opposed to the 120 + bpm of clubbing music]!
There is growing research to suggest that sunlight plays an important role on our body clocks – sometimes it can be a case of not enough natural light causing a lack of energy and a desire to hibernate [as can be seen most drastically during our winter months], in others a lack of natural light appears to cause restless sleep. Research has shown that babies who are exposed to a few hours of natural daylight during their waking hours sleep more peacefully than those exposed to little or no sunlight. Far too many people spend their days locked in dingy offices in front of computer monitors with little or no natural light, and we are constantly bombarded with artificial light day and night, from light-bulbs to TV screens – it’s hardly a surprise that our natural body clocks are so confused!
Sleep is an important and vital part of living – allow yourself time to relax and re-energize. Creating your own evening ritual will teach your brain and body to slow down and prepare for sleep. Relying purely on sedatives whilst continuing to rush about like a mad-march-hare-on-speed during your waking hours is not the answer! Fresh air, plenty of exercise, a well balanced diet, meditation and time to yourself will all help in improving your chances of a peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. So take care of yourself, listen to your body, and sleep well. Sweet dreams….
The herbal remedies mentioned in this article are not intended to replace professional advice. Any medication you are on should also be taken into consideration – always check with your healthcare professional if you are on prescription drugs before taking herbal remedies. Seek professional medical advice before taking herbal remedies if you are pregnant, epileptic, have a serious health issue, or are taking prescription medication.
Gillie Whitewolf has an affinity with herbs and a passion for nature, along with an insatiable appetite for creating – from herbal remedies and wildcrafts to visual and aural arts. Gillie also runs Gaia’s Garden, a place to explore the world of herbs and the natural magic of mother earth. Visit the Gaia’s Garden Shop for organic herbs, spices and resins, quality oils, the Gaia’s Garden range of herbal and aromatherapeutic products, meditation music, art and crafts and much more… gaias-garden.co.uk