Sleep is one of the most important things you can give to your body and arguably one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to be healthy. Ideally an adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, a teenager should get 9-10 hours and a child should get 10+ hours to feel rested and refreshed. A sleep myth to bust right away is that you cannot catch up on sleep. I repeat, YOU CANNOT CATCH UP ON SLEEP.
While you are sleeping your body is doing some very important maintenance work. Your energy levels are being replenished, your memories consolidated, and some important hormones are released. These are mostly growth hormones which are building and anti-aging. They stimulate tissue regeneration, and liver regeneration. They are muscle building and work to breakdown fat into energy, while also normalizing the blood sugar levels in your body. You are literally being rebuilt overnight to make sure that your body can handle the next day effectively. If you get too little sleep for multiple nights in a row you might begin to experience reduced immune function, mood and cognitive issues like irritability or confusion, blood sugar imbalance symptoms like hanger, and overtime side effects like weight gain, and increased risk of heart disease.
So sleep is important. But what if you cannot sleep or feel like you are not getting the benefits of sleep even though you’re putting the hours in?
Factors & Conditions Affecting Sleep
The CDC (link) reports that about 10-15% of adults suffer from insomnia. Insomnia is defined as, trouble falling asleep (sleep latency) or inability to stay asleep long enough to feel rested.
Primary Insomnia is transient usually lasting a few days at the most and is typically related to factors such as stress, jet lag, or change in sleep schedule. Immediate side effects are usually daytime fatigue, irritability, anxiety and headaches.
Secondary Insomnia is chronic lasting a month or more and is usually caused by chronic conditions such as alcohol & drug abuse, chronic pain, obesity, chronic depression, sleep apnea, headache, illness, etc. This type of insomnia typically results in decreased ability to function emotionally, physically and socially; impaired memory, concentration and attention; decreased reaction time, tremors, hallucinations, depression or other mood disorders, decreased immune function, and reduced resistance to stress.
If you suffer from chronic insomnia, it is in your best interest to seek help from a medical professional to address the underlying issues of your condition. The following tips may provide you with some relief, but will not substitute as medical intervention or advice.
I currently suffer from primary insomnia, but when I had Lyme disease I was a sufferer of secondary insomnia. By changing my night time routine and occasionally supplementing with herbs, I am able to maintain consistent deep sleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed.
Exercise early in the day. Exercising in the morning or in the early afternoon will prevent your adrenaline levels and endorphins from being too high at bedtime and preventing you from being able to calm down enough to rest.
No screens an hour before bedtime. I’ll admit, this one is hard. There is scientific evidence that the blue light emitted from our phones and TV screens mimics sunlight and messes with our internal clock. Too much of this light before bed tells your body that it’s still daytime and it’s not time to sleep. The goal is to stop looking at screens an hour or more before bed, but I am able to manage 30 minutes and that works out well for me.
Establish a routine. No routine will ever be ideal or perfect every single night but by establishing a set of things that you do every night before you sleep, you signal to your body that it is time to prepare for rest. Mindset is everything. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth and laying your clothes out for the next day.
Write down thoughts and concerns. This is especially useful if you are kept up at night worrying about the following day. Simply keep a notepad by your bed and before you lay down, write everything you need to do the following day and everything that you are worried about. Journaling is also a great pre-bed activity, as it clears your mind.
Get more sunlight. When we spend time outside our bodies produce melatonin, which is a sleep hormone that enables our bodies to rest more effectively. Sunlight also helps to get our circadian rhythm (internal clock) synced up with the natural world.
Natural Products for Sleep:
Business first; many of the following herbs have not been given a chance by science and therefore, do not have many studies to back up their effectiveness. General caution should be taken when using sleep herbs as they tend to be sedative and hypnotic by nature. Don’t drive or operate machinery while taking sleep herbs until you know how they affect you. Talk to your doctor about any possible drug-interactions before taking sleep herbs if you are taking pharmaceuticals. Now, let’s get to the fun stuff!
Valerian (Valerian officinalis)
As a solo-herb, valerian does not work as well and is less reliable than prescription sleep medication, but when used in combination with Lemon Balm it worked well in clinical trials with perimenopausal women, children with restlessness and adults with anxiety or trouble sleeping during stressful times. Best if used in herbal tea mixes.
However, Valerian doesn’t work well with everyone. There have been stories of caffeine-like agitation and daytime sluggishness, as well as strange dreams in some people. If you try Valerian and these things happen to you don’t worry! Just stop taking it and try something else.
Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passionflower is a broad-spectrum hypnotic, sedating and sleep-enhancing herb that often works for a wide range of people without complaint. It is ideal for stress, nervous-adrenal and muscle tension because of its cooling nature. Best used as a tea or tincture before bedtime.
Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifloria)
This is my personal favorite. Skullcap is best for overstimulation or cases where you are hearing every sound, smelling every smell and cannot get your brain to shut off for long enough to get to sleep or stay asleep. It has anti-anxiety and mood boosting effects, and is great for people who easily become irritable under stress. Best used as a tea, tincture or in capsule form.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is a calming herb with an incredibly bitter taste. For that reason it is mostly found in herbal tea mixes and oil blends for sleep. I have used this one every night for the last year or so, either in my oil diffuser or as a topical oil on the bottom of my feet. See my favorites linked at the bottom of the page.
I have been using a diffuser next to my bed for over a year now and have loved the benefits of blending different oils together to really set the mood for sleep and create a calm environment in my bedroom. Sometimes just lavender gets boring. Listed below are a few of my favorite blends as well as a printable reference sheet for you! Make sure that you are buying your oils from a responsible and reputable company. If you would like to order Young Living brand oils through me, I will link my page here and also in the navigation bar at the top of this page.
- 3 drops lavender & 3 drops cedarwood
- 3 drops lavender & 3 drops sweet orange
- 3 drops Roman chamomile, 2 drops bergamot & 2 drops frankincense
- 3 drops grounding blend, 2 drops lavender & 2 drops Roman chamomile
Products I enjoy:
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