Sleep Aids

Temporary insomnia can be a frustrating and debilitating problem, often leading to a vicious cycle of worry about not sleeping making sleeping difficult. The first thing to eliminate is any incidental interference to a good night’s sleep – noise, lights etc. Then consider what you are doing before bedtime: many foods and drinks can stop us from sleeping soundly. For example, did you know that black tea contains nearly as much caffeine (a well known sleep disturber) as coffee? Alcohol, although it is immediately a depressant, then tends to disrupt sleep and prevent a deeper, more restful sleep being entered. Exciting computer games, TV and even books before bed can stimulate the mind and cause wakefulness. If you have eliminated all of these things and still experiencing insomnia, then consider what type of sleep disturbance you are suffering:

Sleep onset insomnia

This is difficulty getting off to sleep in the first place, as soon as your head hits the pillow you are suddenly wide awake with thoughts rushing around your mind. It is thought that a change of position can be enough to cause this effect, lying on the sofa before bed thinking you feel tired enough to sleep but then standing up to clean your teeth and walk to the bedroom can get the blood circulating again and bring fresh oxygen to the brain, resulting in wakefulness. Try to change your habits so you drift off in bed and don’t have to stand up again. Sleep onset insomnia can be caused by anxiety and short term stress about a particular situation.

Nature’s answer to sleep onset insomnia  

Drinking a cup of herbal tea containing hops, passion flower or valerian can help you drift off into sleep and stop those restless thoughts from circulating.

Sleep offset insomnia

This type of insomnia is characterised by falling asleep with no problems, but then waking up in the early hours of the morning, much earlier than you need to wake, and then being unable to get back to sleep again. This eats away at your hours of sleep from the other end and often, people find that they fall into a deep sleep just before the alarm goes off and then feel sluggish and lethargic when they have to get up again. The problem here is a disruption to the hormones (gluco-corticoids such as cortisol) that govern the daily rhythm of activity and rest, these hormones are normally produced by the adrenal glands in a cyclical pattern throughput the day. However, a long term period of stress can upset this pattern, leading to a feeling of frayed nerves (often called adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion).

Nature’s answer to sleep offset insomnia  

Although the herbs mentioned above may help, this type of sleep disturbance needs a deeper look at what’s going on. There are a class of herbs called nervines (sometimes called nervine trophorestoratives) that, taken regularly for a couple of weeks or months, can help to redress the balance. Oat straw (or Avena) is a good example, along with liquorice, skullcap and rhodiola. Other measures taken to reduce the reaction to stress, such as yoga and meditation classes, or building back up the body’s resistance to the consequences of the inevitable stress of life will all help in the long term