When considering overall health maintenance and basic quality of life, few factors are more important than sleep. As we all know from experience, a night of poor or missed sleep can make the following day or days inefficient, unpleasant and even dangerous. A good night’s sleep allows us to be present, focused, cheerful and productive. Good sleep also helps all our other physiological systems function optimally. Excellent health is simply not possible without adequate good-quality sleep.
During sleep our bodies recover from all types of stresses and integrate information from the previous day. This is when the brain organizes information collected during the day into short or long-term memories. Although the processes involved in sleep are still relatively mysterious to scientists, the consensus is that sleep is essential, and we need a certain amount of good-quality sleep to function well.
Insomnia is a common issue in today’s busy, technology-oriented world. This problem can range from an occasional mild disruption to a debilitating lack of sleep. How much sleep each of us needs varies from person to person, but a basic minimum for optimal well-being is essential (8 hours is the standard recommendation).
Good sleep hygiene is an important first step to improve sleep. Sleep hygiene simply refers to habits that foster ideal sleep conditions. These include simple things like winding down before bedtime, turning down the lights, putting away any electronics, meditating and reading. Avoid consuming any stimulants late in the day. Set a consistent physiological clock by putting yourself to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
For additional sleep support beyond good habits, there are many herbs that promote healthy sleep. Humans have turned to herbal medicine to aid with sleep for centuries. These herbs, many of them familiar household names, are just as effective and relevant today as they were for our ancestors. Here is a list of six herbs that help to improve sleep quality and quantity, and different ways to use them. Incorporate these herbs into your bedtime habits to nurture healthy sleep.
This familiar herb strengthens the nervous system, promotes relaxation, and encourages quality sleep. It is a well-known and well-loved herb, and is something you might already have at home or in your garden. It smells great and is non-toxic so feel free to use it liberally, though a little bit goes a long way. Lavender is a fun herb for exploring all the creative ways you can use it, as described below.
This well-known herb is a mild sedative effective in reducing anxiety and irritability. Its pleasant taste and smell make it a great tea before bedtime. It is safe enough to use with children. This herb should be avoided if you are allergic to ragweed and related plants (chrysanthemum, sunflowers, daisies, etc.).
This herb aids in falling asleep and staying asleep, and improves sleep quality. It’s useful for reducing nervousness and restlessness. It works well when combined with other sleep herbs, such as hops. It may interfere with certain medications, so inform your health care practitioner if you are taking anything else regularly. Take this herb as a capsule or as a tea made from the plant’s roots.
A fair amount of research has been done on this herb’s calming properties. It aids in relaxation and helps reduce anxiety. Like chamomile, it is safe enough for children to use. It can be taken as a mild tea or as a tincture for stronger effects.
This herb is commonly found in modern-day sleep treatments, often in combination with other ingredients. It is useful for relaxing someone who is overworked or has a busy mind.
How to Use these Herbs
While all of these herbs are great medicine, there is no reason to limit yourself to taking a pill nightly before bed to improve your sleep. Instead, get creative, explore the various fun and therapeutic ways of using these herbs, and find inspiration to incorporate these holistic treatments into your life.
Tea: All of the herbs listed in this article can be taken as a simple herbal tea. The soothing warmth of tea before bed will help you relax (not too close to bedtime if you tend to get up in the night to pee). If you do this regularly, your body will start to associate tea time at night with winding down for bedtime. A cup of chamomile tea before bed helps encourage restful sleep, though drinking this any time of day should help with nighttime sleep. Experiment with combining two or more herbs to find a flavor and therapeutic combination that you enjoy.
Tincture: A tincture is an efficient way to take any of these herbs. A dropperful or more can be taken orally or added to tea or another beverage, if you don’t love the taste of the herbs. Take before bed, starting with a small dose. If you need more sleep encouragement, increase the dose gradually and start taking the herbs earlier in the day.
Oil: Lavender and chamomile work well as oils. They can be applied directly to the skin in small quantities (diluted in a carrier oil). A few drops on a couple different areas, like the wrists or temples, tend to be enough. Try adding these oils to your favorite massage oil or lotion to rub on your muscles in the evening. Add a few drops of diluted oil to a pre-bedtime bath or foot soak. Oils can also be added directly to a hot compress for a soothing, pleasant-smelling nighttime ritual.
Herbal pillow or eye mask: If you have some basic sewing ability, it’s easy to make a small pillow or eye mask to stuff with your favorite herbs. Choose a fabric that you will enjoy feeling against your skin at night. Lavender’s lovely smell and relaxing properties make this a great herb for filling a pillow or mask. Hops is also an excellent stuffing to enhance sleep quality. You can easily purchase an herbal pillow or mask if making one yourself does not appeal.
Pill: If you prefer to keep it simple, or are feeling overwhelmed by poor sleep and your various life responsibilities, all of these herbs are available in pill form at your local health food store or natural pharmacy. Find a way that works for you to fit this essential health care treatment into your life.
Remember, adequate good-quality sleep is key to overall health. There is no reason to passively suffer poor sleep when effective and safe natural sleep support can help. If you experience insomnia, or just want to support your healthy sleep patterns, try out a few of these natural remedies.