To most people, a good night’s sleep conjures thoughts of rest, relaxation and renewed energy. Most of us need about eight hours of sleep each night. Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that the average person actually needs closer to ten hours sleep.
Yet sound sleep remains elusive for many people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. CFS expert Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum notes that “disordered sleep is, in my opinion, the underlying process that drives CFS/FM.”
Fibromyalgia patients, for example, are seven times more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns than those without the condition. Usually sufferers experience tossing and turning, muscle spasms, being startled awake and random opening of the eyes, all of which prevent the person from falling into a deep, refreshing sleep.
While traditional sleeping pills may be one quick and easy answer to sleeping problems, more and more people are becoming concerned about the side-effects and potential hazards of long-term medication use.
Botanical medicines represent one of the most accessible types of alternatives available. In fact, a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that almost one out of five adults who responded is likely to use herbal remedies, while only seven percent were likely to use prescription medications when experiencing difficulty sleeping.
Herbs can be taken in several ways including capsules, teas, powders, infused oils and liquid extracts. Although many herbs have not been clinically studied, this should not deter you from trying them. Most herbs have been around for thousands of years, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence and informal studies that support herbal use.
Remember when using herbs that they generally work differently from drugs. You may need to experiment to find the one that works most effectively for you, and improvements may take some time to be felt, depending on the severity of the condition. One of the many benefits of natural sleeping aids is that you can make minor adjustments in dosage without the fear of dangerous side-effects.
Three Plants to Promote Peaceful Slumber
German Chamomile – (Matricaria recutita)
You can find bags of chamomile on almost every supermarket shelf, and we have probably all used it at one time or another. According to leading herbalist David Hoffman, chamomile is probably the most widely used relaxing nervine herb in the world. Although the attractive flowers of this herb can have a wide range of health uses, it is primarily used for rest and relaxation. There are several types of herb called ‘chamomile,’ but it is the German variety that is used for tea. The other kind, called Roman chamomile, has similar properties but is bitter and is used primarily for digestive upsets.
The mildly flavored, pleasant-tasting German chamomile tea combines easily with other relaxing herbs. Chamomile is wonderful to have late at night, but it can also be safely used in the day to ease stress and tension. Since chamomile is gentle and effective, it is the first herb to try for sleep disturbances.
How to Use: One teabag steeped for about 15 minutes in 8oz (one cup) of just-boiled water. Or, two teaspoons of loose dried tea. Chamomile is an easy kitchen herb to grow, so for fresh tea, use a good tablespoon. No matter whether the herb is fresh or dried, always remember to cover your tea so that the medicinal volatile oils do not evaporate with the steam. Sweeten with honey if desired.
If you prefer, a liquid extract, also known as a tincture, or capsules can be used instead. Use approximately 1-1 and ½ teaspoons of the extract or two to three capsules.
Lemon Balm – (Melissa officinalis)
Although lemon balm may not be as well known as other herbs, it is no less remarkable in its sleep-enhancing abilities. Its pungent lemony-scent is tension relieving by itself. Used since the seventeenth century when it was known simply as balm, this herb is great for helping to relieve stress and anxiety, which in turn helps people to sleep better. Research in Germany has shown that a key compound in lemon balm, the volatile oils, calms the central nervous system.
How to Use:
Lemon Balm makes a great-tasting tea and is also effective when taken in pill or extract form. Take 1 or 2 teaspoons of extract and two or three capsules. For the tea, use two teaspoons dried herb to one cup of just-boiled water and let steep for 15 minutes.
Passionflower – (Passiflora incarnata)
Don’t let the name mislead you – passionflower has nothing do to with passion, and everything to do with sleep. This herb, which is native to the southern United States, has been used for over 200 years for its sedating and tranquilizing properties. One of the great characteristics of passionflower is that it will help you sleep without giving you the groggy feeling that is typical of many sleeping medications.
How to Use: This herb can be drunk as a tea in the evening (one or two cups, prepared as described above.) A tincture is also effective – one to two teaspoons, or two or three capsules.
These herbs have a long history of use as gentle but effective sleep-inducers. Their versatility means that you can combine all three in a tasty tea, or you can choose to try pills or tinctures one by one to find out what is most effective. Whatever herbs you decide to use, hopefully you’ll soon be sleeping sounder, longer and more peacefully.