I am frequently asked about Insomnia and for a quick fix. The long answer is to reset your circadian rhythm (search posts for that) and purge yourself of the stresses and bad habits (late coffees, late night social media and binge watching box sets, bringing phone to bed). In the short term there are herbal nudges into zzzzz but nothing beats a set bedtime and a bedtime routine of winding down and cooling down and sleeping in a dark room.
Before we jump to the teas, insomnia is best understood as the inability to sleep or the experience of poor quality and quantity of sleep. It can be considered acute or chronic. Acute or short-term insomnia generally lasts a single night or a short cluster of a few nights over a week or more. Chronic is the complication extending into repeated bouts over several weeks and, in the extreme, over several months.
Acute insomnia can be a simple case of environmental factors such as noise (traffic, rattling wind, a party next door), light (brightness keeps the mind alert) or temperature (hot or cold can impact on the body’s ability to rest). It can be occasioned by illness or physical discomfort and even conventional treatments for those conditions (some medications can interrupt normal sleep patterns). It can also be occasioned by emotional discomfort (stress, office politics and unrequited love, alas, can all play on the mind at night) and similarly medications to address anxiety and depression can have sleep-altering side effects. Shift work, jet lag and so on can also trigger short-term insomnia.
Chronic or prolonged insomnia most often pertains to chronic stress, depression or anxiety or to an underlying ailment causing night-time bodily discomfort or mental anguish. Whichever you suffer from, insomnia can be a vicious circle in that anxiety and fear of not sleeping generates more anxiety and adrenaline to psychologically and chemically undermine the sleep potential. Sleep is essential for brain function and cellular regeneration, so loss of it impacts directly upon health and daily function. Insomnia upsets the natural balance, cognitive performance and our hormonal rhythms but it, and its ancillary symptoms of fatigue , irritability and stress can be treated and reversed.
Herbal teas – Both chamomile and lavender are the go-to herbs for rest and sleep. Clip a little of either one and smell it, put some in the bath or better still sip a tisane of it – both plants have aromas and phytochemicals that steady the nerves, counter stress and even-out the excesses of caffeine and biochemicals that keep you from peaceful rest.
Cowslip petal tea is sedative and soothing to the mind. Valerian root harvested for tea or tincture is sedative and hypnotic (the latter meaning sleep-inducing rather than making you walk like a duck or believe you are naked) and it also helps alleviate spontaneous fidgeting and muscle spasms that can be a part of a restless night.
Passionflower is both sedative and antispasmodic, and suitable in tea or tincture form. Other sedative herbal teas include those made from linden flowers, Californian poppy and hops; mood-enhancing and rest-inducing herbs include lavender, lemon balm, catmint and skullcap. All those mentioned are also considered to be anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) herbs.
If your sleep problems is a daytime stress slipping into night time agitation then try a cup of green tea in daylight hours – it contains L-theanine, a neurologically active amino acid that stimulates the production of alpha brain waves, thus inducing a relaxing effect. It won’t make you drowsy or fall asleep, but its anxiolytic potential is good to support you through the day and set you up for a good night’s sleep later on.
Insomnia can seriously undermine you mental and physical wellbeing so if you find its not resolving then don’t prolong your suffering, go see your GP or a sleep specialist/clinic.