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Monday, March 19, 2012

That Nightmare Named Insomnia!

This photo was taken the other morning....
I was sitting in the garden looking east.
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have miles to go before I sleep."
Robert Frost
Good morning, did you sleep well last night?  I have been asked to help someone with insomnia.  Now remember, I am not a medical doctor.  So I cannot diagnosis or prescribe anything and according to the rules I sure cannot cure.  Well, whatever.


Insomnia can be classified as transient, acute or chronic.

1.  Transient insomnia lasts for less than a week.  
2.  Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of less than a month.
3.  Chronic insomnia lasts longer than a month.  Now transient and acute insomnia are frustrating and make you sooooo veeery tired, but chronic insomnia is when you start hallucinating, having double vision and start seeing things move around you in slow motion.  Yikes!

Now the thing with insomnia is that it can be caused by so many things.  Allergies, stress, location, temperature, medical issues, drugs, depression, etc., etc., etc.  So if you have not been sleeping well for just a short time or have off and on bouts of sleeplessness or as Cousin Sandra would say, "Get the rat that is racing around my brain to stop!" so you can calm your thoughts and have a wonderful nights of sleep, there are quite a few easy lifestyle changes and herbs that I can suggest.  If you have not slept well in over a month, the world around you is slowing down and your imagination is playing tricks on you.....well, I suggest you do get some medical advice.  That way you have a diagnosis, have ruled out other medical problems, then please come and see me or email me and we can look at some herbs and life style changes.

Dietary and Lifestyle Change Suggestions

Okay, my first question to someone having trouble sleeping?  How much coffee, tea, sodas, and/or chocolate do you have on a daily basis?  I can already hear the groaning.  Sorry, folks, caffeine is a stimulant, has been and will always be.  Now it does have some benefits...that will be another post...but for now it could be interfering with your sleep.  The effects of caffeine can stay in your system for up to 20 hours.  If you can't sleep, try cutting back on caffeine...I realize stopping "cold turkey" isn't such a great alternative....but weaning yourself back slowly could really help you get to sleep.
          You could try:  
  • Decaf coffee or tea, and having no caffeine after noon,
  • herbal tea or an herbal combination of Valerian, Lemon balm, Chamomile, Hops, Passion flower, Scullcap, Catnip or Oats.  
Pineal Gland
photo by

"Melatonin and Sleep:  Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that helps regulate other hormones and maintains the body's circadian rhythm.  The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour time-keeping system that plays a critical role in determining when we fall asleep and when we wake up.  Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin while light suppresses its activity."http://www.theherbprof.com/vitMelatonin.htm 
  • suggested dose 1-3 mg of melatonin taken 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Sleep in a dark room.
  • Set an alarm clock and get out of bed at the same time every morning, no matter how you slept the night before.  Once normal sleep patterns are reestablished, most people find that they have no need for an alarm clock.
  • Avoid alcohol...yes, a small amount could make you feel sleepy, but it invariably disrupts deeper sleep cycles later. 
  • Some will tell you not to eat 3 hours before bedtime and others will tell you to have some carbs before bed.  So lets say....in the evening have a snack of turkey, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, and whole grain crackers or nut butter.  These foods are high in tryptophan, which promotes sleep.  Eating a grapefruit half at bedtime also helps.
  • Info with bullets came from the book, Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing by JaF. and Phyllis A. Balch
When I was a child and had trouble sleeping my mimaw told me she counted her blessings every night before she went to sleep.  I have found this to be a very good practice....makes me focus my thoughts on the good in my life instead of what I perceive is going wrong. So....
  • Learn to put worries out of your mind.  Count your blessings.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortable and quiet.  If too much quiet is the problem, try running a fan or playing a radio softly in the background.   
  • Take a warm bath before bed.  Add a couple drops Lavender Essential oil.  Or better yet, add some Lavender Bath Salts. Shut out the lights, light a candle, breath deeply the lovely Lavender aroma, read an inspirational book on peace or love.  Do this for 15-20 minutes.
There is so much information these days on natural "cures" for insomnia...and like any thing else, one source will tell you something different than another source.  But, sometimes getting back into a sleeping pattern is just a matter of a few simple changes.  So, let me see if I can give you a quick list things to try today......
1.  Skip the caffeine for the rest of the day.
2.  Take a walk in nature for at least an hour, sometime around mid afternoon.
3.  Make sure your bedroom is as you love it....comfy and cool.
4.  Eat a light supper, then have a carb rich snack before bedtime.
5.  Take some melatonin about an hour before bedtime.
6.  Take a bath, relax meditate, read a "peaceful" book, breath deeply.  Sip a cup of Chamomile tea (add a little honey and milk....yum!)
7.  Rub some Lavender essential oil on your temples.
8.  Make sure there is no light in your room.  
9.  Climb into bed....cut out the light, snuggle in, shut your eyes, now 
10. Count your blessings.  Things tend to look cheerier in the morning anyway.

As always, I hope this has helped.  And remember when using herbal remedies and changes in lifestyle....well, it isn't always a quick fix.

Also, I have all the herbs mentioned in this post except the Melatonin, which I am sure you can find locally.  Let me know if I can develop a "sleepy time" herbal tea or tincture for you, and/or make you some Lavender Bath Salts.  Until next time, sweet dreams and herbally yours, Susan

To achieve the impossible dream, try going to sleep
Joan Klempner

Dreaming of Flowers
Rebecca Merry

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