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Sleeping Yourself Towards Wellness
Q.What are the best herbs for sleep?
A.Thanks for the great question and I applaud you for asking about natural sleep solutions. Millions of Americans are sleep deprived. That impacts their health, stress levels and even how safely they drive.
Nature provides us with botanicals, categorized as “nervines,” which are frequently used for sleep support. Herbs such as Valerian, Hops, Passionflower and Skullcap allow the body to relax and unwind, yet preserve the ability to dream. Dreaming, often called REM sleep, is a very important part and outcome of restorative sleep. Dreaming is how a person processes the day or week’s events, and allows defragmentation of the hard drive in your brain, decreasing the burden of excessively carrying yesterday’s thoughts and events into tomorrow.
Many over the counter drugs, prescriptions and even alcohol can impact the dream cycle and rob the body of a pivotal part of the sleep cycle. Sleeping is not just lying in bed with your eyes closed, it is a complex process that needs to be nurtured gently. Your immune system, memory, longevity and whole-body health depends on getting “restorative” sleep.
When selecting herbal sleep aids there are two options that I recommend to my patients:
(1) Choose a certified organic formula that offers a blend of nervine herbs (read about the benefits of a blend below).
(2) Experiment with a single, organic herb that supports sleep. (refer to the descriptive list below). Each herb has its own profile and uniquely works with a person’s individual chemistry, which is why I recommend experimenting.
Benefits of a Blend:
A master blend of sleep optimizing herbs harnesses the benefits of several herbs that have been traditionally used for hundreds and often thousands of years to help with both the quality and quantity of sleep. Unless a person has a history of being highly sensitive to herbal blends, a combination formula is designed to address more than one aspect of sleep difficulty.
Single Herbs for Sleep Support:
If you are more of a purist and want to discover how a single herb works with your individual chemistry, try one of these popular nervines used for sleep:
- Skullcap: As the name suggests, this herb can help with the function of brain. In clinical practice it is commonly used to lessen anxiety in addition to its ability help with insomnia. An anxious or active mind is not a friend of a good night’s sleep. Skullcap is also a popular nerve tonic with unique historical uses, including helping with aches, pains and tight muscles, which can also make it hard to sleep.
- Passionflower: This herb brings an extra benefit for women experiencing hot flashes and night sweats, while at the same time calming the nervous system allowing one to more readily slip into a good night’s rest. It can also support your body as it copes with inflammation, which can make it hard to find that comfortable position when sleeping.
- Hops: Unlike fermented hops, a dried herb or liquid extract allows for the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of hops to work without the central nervous burden of consuming a large quantity of alcohol. The most popular quality of hops relative to sleep is that they help the body relax and can help calm an overactive mind.
- Valerian: This delicate plant beauty is well known for its ability to help the body restore a state of calmness. Research has shown that it can help with the effects of GABA, a naturally occurring calming brain chemical (neurotransmitter). It has also been popularly used to help with menstrual cramps and anxiety.
- Chamomile: Enjoying herbs as tea is always a great idea after a stressful day, and Chamomile is a perfect choice. Studies show Chamomile is calming and soothing in many areas of the body, including the nervous system, intestinal tract, digestive tract and mucous membranes. It's a soothing way to end to a not-so-perfect day.
Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., has 24-years of experience practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, Oregon. He is dedicated to using his vast knowledge about alternative medicine to help his patients and generously give to those in need. He has written over a dozen books and 100's of national articles, and was named Naturopathic Physician of the Year in 2003 by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Read more about Dr. Meletis here. Or, visit our "Ask Dr. Meletis, N.D." page for additional articles.
*Statements herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and are not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or health condition. The information on this website, and provided by Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is recommended that patients check with their doctors before taking herbs, to ensure that there are no contraindications with prescription medications. There is additional information linked within this site to HealthNotes®, a third party educational source, containing the latest research on health and supplements. Oregon's Wild Harvest will not be held accountable for this information and consider it an education reference only.