Hormones and sleep are very closely linked. Sleep disorders are very common, and there are certain times of life when they are even more common. During pregnancy a woman’s hormones go through huge changes, and often it can take months or even years for the body to get back into balance after having a baby. Sleeplessness is also a symptom of menopause, as this is another time in a woman’s life when her hormones are shifting. Disruption to regular hormone patterns can affect the nervous and endocrine systems, and sleeplessness can be a difficult condition to overcome using natural sleep aids if remedies for hormone balance are not included as part of the treatment.
There are many natural sleep aids that work, but when using natural remedies for insomnia, it’s important to understand the cause, so that the sleep disorder can be addressed at a deeper level, acknowledging the influence of other body systems and lifestyle factors. A sedative herb or supplement is not a replacement for prescription sleep medication, as herbs are often more gentle and more general in their effect. Let’s take a look at a couple of different sleep disorders and compare the natural sleep aids we would use for each.
Menopausal insomnia is associated with declining oestrogen and progesterone levels, so it has a strong connection to the reproductive system. A whole body approach to this sleep disorder needs to include some remedies for hormone balance, and specifically for addressing oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations. This would likely include oestrogen-modulating herbs such as Wild Yam and Black Cohosh, as well as sedative herbs like Passionflower.
How to sleep better with anxiety is an entirely different question, as this type of sleep disorder is associated with the adrenal glands and stress response. Natural remedies for anxiety usually include herbs and nutrients that are active on the adrenal gland, often Rehmannia herb and vitamin C. These would be given in combination with sedative herbs to address the causes of insomnia.
As you can see, effectively using home remedies for sleeplessness means addressing the whole picture and approaching the treatment from more than one angle. Along with herbs and nutritional therapy, there are a few other strategies that can really impact sleep quality. Lying down in a darkened room is important for melatonin production, your body’s natural sleep hormone. Keeping the lights on stimulates the brain and gives it the message to stay awake.
The brain can also be stimulated by the light from computer and television screens, caffeine, alcohol, and hyper-activity. So we need to avoid these things, as much as possible, near the end of the day. The endorphin release that occurs during exercise leads to better sleep as it reduces the body’s production of stress hormones. Also, the increased circulation that comes along with exercise oxygenates the blood and removes metabolic waste from the body.
Mindfulness practice and techniques that help to quiet your thoughts and emotions can also be very useful for sleep disorders in adults. Finally, just making time to wind down at the end of the day is one of the best home remedies for sleep. A sleep-friendly space should be quiet, warm, dark and comfortable.
Even though there are many different types of sleep disorders and treatment protocols vary for each one, there are common herbs that I recommend for everyone. These are mildly sedating, relaxing, and nourishing herbs that also act on other body systems to address underlying and contributing conditions. Here are my 5 best herbs for sleeplessness.
Withania is an Indian herb with a whole range of therapeutic uses. It is very often given as a natural sleep aid because it relaxes the nervous system but also helps to nourish and rebuild the nerves following stressful or demanding times. It is my number 1 natural remedy for sleeplessness because it is useful for any type of sleep disorder; whether its hormonal, nervous, inflammatory, and even if the cause is not known. It rebuilds and rejuvenates the tissues, organs and systems that are involved in sleep regulation. Withania is often given in liquid tincture form or as the traditional Indian paste Ashwagandha.
Passionflower is a true herbal sedative. It acts directly on the nervous system to quiet the mind and body. It improves sleep quality, helping to get into a state of deep sleep, where mental and physical rejuvenation is optimum. If you have trouble getting to sleep or are a restless sleeper, this is the herb of choice for you. It helps with anxiety, irritability and headaches associated with nervous tension, so can really help your waking mood too. Passionflower is a beautiful herb that makes a delicous tea.
- Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm is a very soothing herb that is mildly sedating. It’s specific for people who have trouble switching off at night, as it has a reputation for clearing a cluttered mind. It can gently uplift the mood and release nervous tension to aid sleep. It has an affinity for the digestive system, so it’s a great remedy when there is a combination of digestive and nervous symptoms. This herb is gentle enough to use for children and it best consumed as a tasty herbal tea.
Licorice is a favourite herb of mine because it has the unique quality of increasing the therapeutic effect of other herbs in a blend. It can also be very useful for disguising the taste of bitter herbs, as it’s own flavor is sweet and strong. Licorice is an essential part of treating insomnia that is associated with stress and anxiety; especially when the exposure to stress is long-term and the adrenal glands are overworked and depleted. Licorice herb is specific for sleep disorders where people fall asleep easily, but then wake in the early hours of the morning and can’t get back to sleep. They often feel unrefreshed after sleep.
Skullcap is only mildly sedating, but it is powerful in it’s ability to rebuild the nervous system from a state of depletion. If sleeplessness is associated with nervous exhaustion, physical overwork, or mental strain, this is the herb for restoring health. It is best used long term as it’s main contribution to treating insomnia is in gradually bringing the sleep pattern back into balance. It’s an invaluable herb when someone has been suffering insomnia for a long time.
So there are my 5 best herbs for sleeplessness. You can see that they are all slightly different in their actions and affinities, so it’s always good to seek advice when thinking of trying natural remedies for sleep issues. This is especially true if you are wanting to substitute pharmaceutical prescriptions with herbal remedies, as this is quite an involved process and can have serious consequences if it’s not done well.
It is also important to look into the deeper causes of the sleep disorder and attempt to address the contributing factors as well as the symptoms. This is a core philosophy of natural medicine and a big part of why it can work when nothing else does. Understanding that there are multiple causes of insomnia means we can treat it with multiple strategies, and this is how we are most likely to get the result we want. In this way we can start to shift our physiology towards better sleep and a better quality of life, rebalancing and nourishing the body using natural remedies that are safe and effective.
Aurora graduated as a medical herbalist in 2011 with areas of interests in mental health, women’s health, and nutrition – specifically how to use nutrition in combination with herbal medicine. I have always been interested in botany and gardening, but it became full time passion (read obsession) when I realised I could use this interest to help people with herbal remedies.