Drift Into Dreamland, Naturally

Gentle herbs can help you overcome insomnia and have sweet dreams.

| May/June 2006

A hundred years ago, prior to the lure of radio and television and the fast-paced modern world, nine and a half hours constituted an average night’s sleep. In the 1950s and ’60s, the average number of hours spent sleeping dropped to eight. The average American adult today sleeps seven and a half hours, and this number continues to decline.

Sleep-deprived people are chronically tired, irritable, moody and potentially depressed. All aspects of life are affected. Researchers say that people who invest in a full night’s sleep are recompensed by heightened productivity, creativity, focus and health. Moreover, sleep contributes to psychological well-being by processing emotions and memories through dreaming.

Insomnia: The Basics

Statistics suggest that one-fifth of American adults and half of American seniors have difficulty falling asleep on any given night. And as many as 15 percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia, the most prevalent of the sleep disorders. Insomnia is the inability to get enough sleep night after night, for weeks on end.

There are at least two types of insomnia. The first type is caused by tension, overwork and mental strain, especially for those who work late at night. Relaxing herbs, such as catnip (Nepeta cataria), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and linden flower (Tilia ¥vulgaris) may be helpful for this type. Other recommended practices include stretching before bedtime, taking a warm bath before bed, practicing meditation and deep breathing (especially at night), receiving regular massage or acupuncture treatments, and avoiding working into the wee hours.

The second type is when people fall asleep but wake up after a few hours and are unable to go back to sleep. This may be associated with adrenal weakness, in which case consistent use of adrenal tonic herbs, such as eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), may be useful.

Either type of insomnia may be based on, or at least worsened by, a neurotransmitter imbalance. Herbs and foods that help restore the proper serotonin levels in the brain, such as L-tryptophan-rich foods like yogurt, spirulina and legumes, can be useful, as well as St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum).



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