Sleep is something we discuss a lot here at Remedy – and we’re not alone: In the last few years, researchers, doctors, and journalists have learned more than ever before about the role it plays in our lives, from the detriments of getting too little to discovering the molecular mechanisms that help regulate our sleep patterns. Lack of sleep has become such an issue that the CDC now considers it a public health problem. It’s one of the most essential elements to living, yet getting enough of it continues to be elusive: more than a third of Americans lack the daily minimum hours of quality sleep needed to function optimally. We believe an optimal nights sleep involves a bed time ritual and we almost always include supportive herbs. Keep reading for lifestyle practices + supportive herbs for sleep.
Trouble Falling Asleep
Our ability to fall asleep is interconnected with what we do out of bed. How we live our daytime can influence our nighttime sleep–and vice versa. Therefore, it’s essential to move during the day to burn off energy. It’s also important to allow time to transition from day to night, which gives the body the opportunity to taper into rest mode. Most of us go from these busy daytimes and drop right into bed, and that is not easy, nor is it helpful. To help induce sleep, we recommend the following:
Start a ritual: Take a warm shower or bath. When you get out of a warm bath, the air temperature around you will cool your core, which sends a chemical reflex to the brain that induces sleep.
Create the ideal environment: You want to honor your five senses during bedtime. Make the bedroom as dark as possible and avoid any blue light (i.e. TVs and phones). For many, extra touches—essential oils, herbal tea, white noise, great bedding—help.
Keep the room cool: It’s not easy to prescribe an actual number; a cool temperature should be individualized for each person. Ultimately, your body temperature needs to drop to induce sleep.
Clear your mind: If something is bothering you, create an opportunity to help clear that, whether it’s journaling or meditating.
Eat light: Consider a smaller, whole foods-based dinner. Typically, fattier meals are harder to digest. Also, avoid caffeine and alcoholic drinks later in the day.
Be consistent: Keep a steady bed and wakeup time. This honors the internal bodily mechanisms that regulate sleep–the Circadian Rhythm and Sleep-Wake Homeostasis–and helps to establish healthy habits.
Go easy on yourself: Don’t expect to fall asleep immediately. According to Rafael Pelayo, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, you should ideally fall asleep within about 15 minutes of getting into bed. So, it’s okay to lie there for a bit.
Waking Up During the Night
The reasons for waking up and staying up during the night vary from person to person. For young and middle-aged adults, it’s usually anxiety. For older adults, it can also include physical body pain and more frequent trips to the bathroom. Here are some tips for helping to ease yourself back to sleep:
Leave the room: If you lay awake in the night feeling restless, don’t stay in bed awake. This trains the brain that your bed is not a place for sleeping.
Do something calming: Read a book under a soft, dim light, avoiding any stimulating TV, phone, or computer screens. When sleepiness returns, go back to bed.
Meditate: Studies suggest it improves sleep quality.
In addition to supportive lifestyle practices
there are some gentle yet powerful plant allies that are bound help you catch some zzz’s.
Skullcap: a widely used tonic herb that supports and promotes healthy function of the central nervous system. For those of us who are overworked, stressed out, or easily agitated, Skullcap is an excellent ally. This powerful herb defuses stress, encourages relaxation, and soothes tension throughout the body. As a gentle muscle relaxant and antispasmodic herb, it is especially helpful for anyone dealing with muscle tension, headaches, and menstrual cramps that may prevent restful sleep. This deeply calming herb soothes anxiety and helps to relieve hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli such as bright lights, loud music, stormy weather, and large crowds. Skullcap is a wonderful candidate for your home apothecary as it is safe for most folks, including children, elders, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. If you’d like to try Skullcap before bed for a peaceful night’s sleep, you can take it as a tea or tincture. I find that a warm cup of tea about an hour before bed, alongside herbs like passionflower, lemon balm, California poppy, and chamomile, works wonders.
Passionflower: a beautiful vining plant grows all over San Diego! It’s beautiful wild flowers share many of the soothing and relaxing nervine qualities of Skullcap and has a long-standing reputation for helping with insomnia. It helps us to find a place of calm quietude that fosters a long and refreshing night of sleep.
Passionflower has a special affinity for people who have an overactive mind. This herb has been used for a long time to ease circular and ruminating thoughts that occur late at night or in the wee hours of the morning when someone has a tendency to replay scenarios over and over in their head or can’t stop making mental to-do lists.
Passionflower is also a favorite in-the-moment remedy among parents whose little ones get anxious or tend to wake up in the night. This herb is very supportive for women during their menstrual cycles as it can relieve cramping pains, ease moodiness, and promote a sense of calm. It also can be helpful for musculoskeletal pain and joint inflammation, making it a great remedy for anyone struggling to find restful sleep due to strains, pains, or soreness. Passionflower is safe for children, elders, and breastfeeding mothers, and many herbalists and midwives also use it during pregnancy.
California Poppy: this glorious golden flower is not only our state flower but is a potent medicinally as well. This herb supports overall health and balance within the nervous system, grounding us in a state of calm equilibrium. It is a gentle sedative that eases insomnia and restlessness, promoting a night of deep and restful sleep. California Poppy helps to soothe nerves that are tired, stressed, or shocked by recent events. It has classically been used for sleeplessness, insomnia, stress, and anxiety for both adults and children. As a traditional children’s remedy, this herb has been used for many generations as a gentle sedative and even has helped with bedwetting and toothaches.
California Poppy contains various alkaloid compounds that bind to GABA receptors in the body, which then effectively promote calm during times of high stress, worry, and anxiety. Fortunately, California Poppy does not contain any addictive or habit-forming compounds. It is quite bitter, so it is often taken as a tincture with a good bit of raw honey.
1. Blankespoor, J. Herbal Immersion Program (The Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, 2019). 2. Groves, M.N. Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care (Storey Publishing, 2016). 3. Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co., 2003). 4. Romm, A.J. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health (Churchill Livingstone/Elsevvier, 2010). 5. Romm, A.J. The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition, and Other Holistic Choices (Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony, 2011).