Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Categories: Health & Healing
Can’t sleep? Insomnia symptoms plague more than one in three Americans, and chronic, every-single-night sleeplessness affects one in ten. So, your chances of facing insomnia at some point are pretty significant. General grumpiness and necessary stealth naps aside, sleep deprivation has a host of serious, real effects. Your risk of developing cardiac conditions goes way up; you’re more likely to attack those office cookies when your hunger signals get thrown out of whack; your risk of depression and anxiety increases; and, just in case you needed another reason, you age a little less gracefully than if you were getting your recommended 8 hours. Fortunately, there are a lot of different solutions, from herbs to meds to meditation; if you prefer an all-natural route or traditional medication is not for you, check out some of our favorite remedies for sleepless nights. Sweet dreams!
If you’re lucky enough to live in a state with access to medical marijuana, check out Uwe Blesching’s Cannabis Health Index. Blesching notes that some kinds of insomnia, like from jet lag or a new work schedule, are adjustment issues that will usually self-correct. Still not sleeping? You can try indica and indica-dominant strains. Strains “with a relatively lower THC:CBD combination encourage sedation, relaxation, and grounding effects,” according to Blesching. Because insomnia can be caused by stress or anxiety, cannabis can be a particularly effective treatment: it relaxes both body and mind.
There are many different sequences you can do if you’re looking to yoga to sleep better and more deeply. Exercise in general is good; it’s been proven time and again to improve sleep quality and is an important part of sleep hygiene. If you’re looking for a relaxing and easy start, try child’s pose for comfort and containment. Or, try a forward fold for letting go. Author David Emerson shows you how:
For this posture, if you don’t have a mat or a carpeted floor, you may want to use towels underneath your knees in a way that makes you more comfortable. From a table position, bring your big toes together and begin to experiment with sitting back toward your heels. With your big toes together and sitting back toward your heels, next consider some of these options: For some, it may be most comfortable to have knees together. For others, knees may be slightly wider than hips. In either case, once you find a comfortable variation for yourself, if you like, extend your arms forward. Another option is to stack your fists and rest your forehead on top of your fists. When you have found the variation of this pose that feels most comfortable to you, investigate lengthening your back through your tailbone. Cultivate some length in your lower back. Experience taking care of your lower back through this exercise. Feel free to give yourself a moment to breathe comfortably here.
Seated Forward Fold: A Calming Practice
Start in a sitting position, legs out in front of you. If you like, bring your feet a little farther apart than your hips. As you begin to experiment with this forward fold, you have many options. You can lean your forearms into your thighs—this may be enough of a forward fold. You can also bring your fingertips to the floor, or maybe your hands to the floor. Another option is to take one hand to the opposite elbow and hang freely forward. Feel free to experiment with these options for a moment. You can try something, and if that does not work, try something else. Take a moment to experiment. If you like, when you are ready, you may wish to gently shake your head yes and no, allowing the muscles in your neck and upper back to release a little bit. You may also choose to gently move your jaw in a way that invites any tension in your jaw to release. Feel free to breathe here for about twenty seconds. When you are ready, begin to move gently back toward a seated position, allowing your breath to be free and easy.
If lavender baths (another great first-line defense against insomnia) aren’t doing it for you and it’s time to bring out the heavy-hitters, try valerian: it’s a powerful natural muscle relaxer that, according to The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, is “a knocker-outer.” Just don’t take too much—in too-large quantities, it can have the opposite effect of the one you want and make you excitable. Below, valerian is used as a key ingredient in one of our sleepy time teas, but it’s also available in pill form.
Passionflower, or Passiflora incarnata, is native to North and Central America, from the southern US to Guatemala. It’s an old traditional remedy that naturally quiets the nervous system, and it’s perfect if stress is keeping you up at night. It contains flavonoids, including rutin, indole alkaloids, fatty acids, and sterols. While it helps hush mental chatter, it also has the added benefit of enhancing concentration and focus during the daytime, so it won’t leave you feeling drowsy the next day. A double-blind study in Phytotherapy Research (2011) agreed: compared to the control group, sleep improved in those who’d taken low doses of passionflower. Bonus: it’s also a remedy for the hiccups. For more info, including how it works on the brain, check out The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood.
If you’re crafty and have the time and inclination to DIY, you can consider making a sleep pillow. You’ll need about 24 x 16 inches of fabric (or, if you don’t feel like sewing, you can use a small pillowcase). Cotton or another natural fiber, in a soothing, mellowed color is probably best.
- 1 oz. dried lavender flowers
- 2 oz. chamomile flowers
- 1 oz. holy basil
Mix the herbs well in a large bowl. Sprinkle on the oils. To make the pillow, sew your fabric into a rectangular bag, stuff it, and sew shut (or, if using a pillowcase, make sure it’s sealed.)
Sleepy Time Tea
Sleepy time tea is one of my favorites: it’s tasty, it’s relaxing, and it puts you in the right mindset to power down and snooze. The ritual, too, is helpful for consistent sleep; incorporating tea as part of a nightly bedtime routine signals to your body and brain that it’s time to take it easy and rest. Here are some tried-and-true NAB recipes for herbal teas:
Lavender & Oat Straw Serene-a-Tea
- 1 cup dried oat straw or tops
- ⅛ cup dried lavender flowers
- 2 quart jars
Boil the cup of oat straw (or tops) in one quart of water for about 5 minutes, and then put the oat straw and boiled water into a quart jar. Top up with more boiling water if necessary to fill it to the top. Cap jar and let it sit overnight. Put the dried lavender into the other quart jar. Fill the jar with boiling water. Cap and let sit for 20 minutes. Decant it, squeeze out the herbs, and refrigerate the lavender infusion until the oats are ready. Because these two herbs require such different lengths of time for steeping, it’s easier to make them separately than to combine them. It also allows you to boil the oats, which brings out more of their flavor and nutrients. Please don’t over-steep lavender; 3–5 minutes of steeping yields a nice beverage, and precisely 20 minutes yields a medicinal-strength infusion. After you’ve decanted the infusions, combine them for a sweet, soothing blend to deeply nourish your whole being. Drink this when you feel worn down emotionally, when your digestion is upset because you feel frazzled, or simply because you’ll enjoy it. It’s good iced, too.
- 3/4 oz. passionflower
- 2 oz. valerian
- ¾ oz. lemon balm
- ½ oz. lavender
Makes: 4-oz. herb mixture
Mix 1-2 teaspoons of the dried herb mixture into a mug of boiling water and leave it to infuse. Once made, it should be drunk immediately for the best results. You should store any extra herb mixture in an airtight jar away from the light so they’ll keep fresh up to a year.
Excerpted and adapted from:
- The Cannabis Health Index by Uwe Blesching
- The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Plants by Matthew Wood
- The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Plants by Matthew Wood
- The Herbal Handbook for Home and Health by Pip Waller
- The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett
- Overcoming Trauma through Yoga by David Emerson