We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. During sleep, our bodies restore themselves physically, mentally and psychologically. If you're not getting enough sleep or your sleep is restless and uneven, you're depriving your body of an element that's as important as food, water and exercise.
Are You Tossing and Turning?
Many people suffer from insomnia. Too often, they rely on over-the-counter and prescription medications to help them sleep. Those pills can become habit-forming or even addictive. They can also have many unwanted side effects.
What's the answer?
Fortunately, there are herbal extracts that can help you achieve deep, restful sleep quickly and easily. These herbs work without being habit-forming and without harmful side effects. Here's why it's important to get a great night's sleep and how these herbs can help you do that.
It All Starts With A Good Nights Rest
A good night's sleep is defined as seven to nine hours of sleep that includes all four sleep cycles. These are early sleep, light sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and deep sleep. Getting that type of sleep is what allows you to wake refreshed, alert and ready to take on the day.
What Is Insomnia?
The term insomnia refers to an inability to fall asleep when you want to. It could include feeling awake long past the time you should be sleeping, suddenly waking in the middle of the night or tossing and turning restlessly all night.
More than 3 million people a year complain to their doctors about insomnia.
According to the National Sleep Foundation(1), you are more likely to suffer from disrupted, insufficient or poor quality sleep if you:
- Are over 50.
- Are divorced, widowed or separated.
- Have gone through menopause.
- Don't exercise regularly.
- Drink excessively.
- Take certain medications.
- Are in pain.
- Suffer from anxiety.
How Lack of Sleep Affects You
Lack of sleep does more than make you long for a nap in the middle of the day. Over time, it can have powerfully negative effects on your overall health and well-being.
- Lower immunity: Sleep keeps your immune system working properly. Lack of sleep can lower your immunity.
- Weight gain: People who don't sleep well don't produce enough of the hormone leptin, which regulates your appetite.
- Circulatory problems: Lack of sleep increases your heart rate and blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
- Mood swings: People who don't get enough sleep can experience irritability, depression, anxiety and other mood shifts.
- Accidents: Being sleepy can make you distracted and clumsy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 6000 fatal accidents a year are caused by drowsy drivers.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
According to a study published(2) in the scientific journal Sleep, adults need a minimum of seven hours a night of sleep. Ideally, they should get eight or nine.
Some people are able to function on just six hours of sleep, and others need 10. The rest of us should aim for that sweet spot of eight to nine.
If you're not getting that much, you could be depriving your body of the restorative sleep it needs to function at its best.
Are You Sleep-Deprived?
- You frequently yawn and feel sluggish in the afternoon.
- You have vivid dreams or nightmares.
- When you go to bed, it takes you five minutes or less to fall asleep.
- You suddenly fall asleep for a few seconds or minutes during the day. This is called microsleep, and it's a clear sign that you're sleep-deprived.
Why You Can't Sleep and What to Do About It
If you're tired of tossing and turning all night, lying awake desperately trying to sleep or waking up in the middle of the night, you may have tried everything from medications to alcohol to help you sleep.
Medications and alcohol have side effects that can harm your health and interfere with your natural sleep cycles. The safest and most effective approach is to use a combination of herbal supplements and lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle Remedies: 7 Tips for Easier Sleep
Give yourself the best chance of falling asleep every day by following these simple lifestyle tips.
- Establish a routine time that you always go to bed and a regular time to wake up.
- Avoid alcohol at night, especially if you are taking other sleep aids.
- Remove TVs, phones and other electronic devices from your bedroom, or at least shut them off.
- Avoid drinking caffeine in any form at least four hours before bedtime. Remember, there's caffeine in coffee, tea, sodas and chocolate.
- Get 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight each day to regulate your circadian rhythms.
- Avoid doing anything anxiety-provoking before you go to sleep. Set aside an hour before bedtime to read a novel, play a game, listen to music or otherwise unwind.
- Sleep in total darkness. Some people use eye masks for this reason.
Herbal Remedies for Sleep
The following herbs have all been tested scientifically. These tests have found that specific herbal remedies work as well as or better than many over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids. If you want a safe, natural remedy that doesn't have harmful side effects, you should add these herbs to your routine.
Valerian is the common name for the Valeriana officinalis plant, a tall, flowering herb that has long been used as a sedative and sleep aid. Most people use the root of the valerian to create a tea or extract.
Valerian is sometimes called “nature's Valium” because it's excellent at helping people calm down, reduce their stress levels and get relaxed enough to sleep.
Research has found that valerian increases the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA in your body's neurotransmitters. GABA is responsible for calming your neurons and reducing mental distress.
A 2000 study (3) found that valerian helped people fall asleep quickly. In addition, “A remarkable finding of the study was the extremely low number of adverse events during the valerian treatment periods (3 vs. 18 in the placebo period). In conclusion, treatment with a herbal extract of radix valerianae demonstrated positive effects on sleep structure and sleep perception of insomnia patients, and can therefore be recommended for the treatment of patients with mild psychophysiological insomnia.”
Passion flower, or Passiflora incarnata, is a bright, showy and beautiful flower. It's also a sleep-deprived person's best friend. Medical practitioners and healers have used passion flower extract for thousands of years.
Passion flower is an intriguing herb because it works in three different ways to help you sleep. First, it increases the levels of GABA in your body, which allows you to feel relaxed. Second, it is a muscle relaxant. Third, it can help ease pain.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study (4) on the effects of passion flower tea found that, “Of six sleep diary measures analyzed, sleep quality showed a significantly better rating for passion flower compared with placebo. These initial findings suggest that the consumption of a low dose of Passiflora incarnata, in the form of tea, yields short-term, subjective sleep benefits for healthy adults with mild fluctuations in sleep quality.”
Another study found that (5) passion flower extract worked as well as the prescription drug oxazepam at treating anxiety. It also had none of the drug's side effects.
Lemon balm, or Melissa officinalis, is a highly fragrant herb that's part of the mint family. It is sometimes called the “honey bee plant.”
Lemon balm has been used for centuries as a calming agent. Many people brew lemon balm tea to help them stay emotionally balanced. In one study (6), people who were in a state of distress were given lemon balm. They quickly reported feeling calm, mentally alert and free of anxiety.
A 2006 study found that (7) the effects of lemon balm were greatly enhanced when it was combined with valerian.
Like other members of the mint family, lemon balm is excellent at soothing an upset stomach and improving digestion.
Did your grandmother advise you to drink chamomile tea for your aches, pains and sleeplessness? It turns out she was onto something.
Chamomile tea has a long-cherished reputation as a calming beverage and a sleep aid. The ancient Egyptians used it as a sedative. Many women have taken it as a way to reduce the pain of menstrual cramps.
Most chamomile tea is made from the German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) plants.
A 2017 study found (8) that chamomile extract was an excellent sleep aid for older people. The study found that the people taking chamomile fell asleep more easily, had better quality of sleep and enjoyed better sleep for several days after taking the chamomile.
Other studies have found (9) that chamomile can ease depression in people who also suffer from anxiety.
Herbs Can Heal Your Sleep
Can herbal treatments heal your sleepless nights? Let's sum up what the research has shown about valerian, passion flower, lemon balm and chamomile:
- They help people relax.
- They eliminate anxiety and depression.
- They induce sleep through gentle sedation.
- They improve the quality of sleep.
- They improve mental alertness.
- They reduce pain.
- They have no harmful side effects.
How Do These Herbs Compare to Sleep Medications?
These herbal extracts have been shown to work as well as some prescription medications. Even more important, they don't have the potentially harmful side effects that these medications can have.
How dangerous are prescription sleep aids?
The Mayo Clinic recommends using them only (10) in specific, isolated incidents, for a short period of time and under a doctor's strict supervision.
The Mayo Clinic warns that these medications can cause:
- Mood changes including irritability and depression.
- Kidney and liver damage.
- Gastrointestinal problems including nausea, constipation and diarrhea.
- Memory and performance problems.
- Difficulty staying awake.
- Weight gain.
- Potential for dependence or addiction.
Get a Great Night's Sleep With the Right Herbal Blend
Why would you subject yourself to all that when safe, natural remedies are available? Some lifestyle changes, regular habits and herbal supplements can get you on a safe, natural sleep cycle that will restore your body and your mind.
These herbs work best in combination. By blending the special benefits of valerian, passion flower, lemon balm and chamomile, you can enhance each herb's benefits. Using these safe, natural and powerful herbs can ensure that you're getting the restful sleep your body needs.