This month Lucy Jones of the Myrobolan Clinic looks at issues relating to sleeplessness.
Everyone suffers from the occasional sleepless night when mulling over a difficult day, or worrying about the events in the day ahead. This is perfectly normal. However if you suffer from insomnia on a regular basis then you need to do something about it.
As a holistic practitioner it always surprises me that the most common approach to insomnia is to take a sedative such as benzodiazepine, which doesn’t address the underlying cause of the problem. Long term taking of sedatives is a bit like hitting your head repeatedly with a hammer while taking a pain killer for the pain. If something is out of balance it needs to be addressed not suppressed.
Herbal medicine has a long track record of successfully treating insomnia through tackling the root cause. For example if your body has developed a degree of insulin resistance you may find that you are waking early in the morning due to low blood sugar. Mormordica charantia (bitter gourd) and Cynara scolymus (artichoke) can help to support the pancreas allowing your body to last longer without needing a top up of fuel.
If you are suffering from nervous exhaustion you may be ‘too tired to sleep’. Your body is so full of adrenaline and you are so depleted you are literally unable to get into a relaxed state to prepare for sleep. Avena sativa (oats) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice) will nourish and tone the adrenal glands and help reverse the state of nervous exhaustion.
Insomnia can also be caused by hormone imbalances such as those which can accompany peri-menopause. There is no one size fits all approach, but herbs like Vitex agnes castus (chaste tree) and Smilax ornata (sarsaparilla) can make a huge difference. Menopause is not an illness and those in good health sail through it with the minimum of symptoms, but if your system is out of balance it can be a struggle to cope. Unfortunately not sleeping well compounds the problem so it is important to understand the nature of the imbalance in your particular case and address it.
Allopathic medicine does not have the monopoly on sedatives, there are herbal sedatives too. These can be helpful for short term problems, like those stressful life events that crop up every now and then. My herbs of choice for these stress induced blips are Valeriana officinalis (valerian) and Lactuca virosa (wild lettuce). Valerian is the most widely available for self medication and very effective it is too. You can buy capsules, tincture or tea. The tea has a characteristic pungent odour, beloved of cats, so if you are drinking a cup before bed you may find that ‘Tibbles’ is unusually affectionate towards you. Wild lettuce is more difficult to get hold of for self medication but it is a wonderful sleep inducing herb, particularly good for resetting one’s sleep pattern after jet lag. It contains opiates so Peter Rabbit’s mother was quite right when she sent him to bed with a cup of lettuce tea to calm his nerves after a run in with Mr MacGregor.
If you are suffering from long term insomnia here are some things that you can do to help yourself. Make sure that your bedroom is calm and relaxing and don’t watch late night violent movies or work on your laptop while you are in bed. Cut down on your intake of stimulants in coffee and fizzy drinks and reduce the amount of simple carbohydrates in your diet to stabilise your blood sugar. Take regular exercise and try breathing exercises, tai chi, yoga or meditation. Don’t worry about things you don’t have control over and relax with a mug of valerian tea before bed. Put a little in a saucer for the cat – he will love you for it and you will both sleep well.
If the self help suggestions above don’t work then you may need help with unravelling the root cause of your problem. Understanding the root cause of insomnia means that it can be treated sustainably and effectively, and gives you the ability to get back on track again if you start to slide back into your old ways.
A registered medical herbalist will take a detailed case history and help you understand what you can do to avoid the problem as well as giving you a targeted individual herbal prescription.
Lucy Jones is a registered medical herbalist with a clinic in West Dorset. Lucy trained in Tibetan Medicine as well as Western Herbal Medicine and is a fully accredited member of the URHP. Her unique approach takes into account both scientific advances in herbal medicine as well as ancient knowledge of energetics, bringing her patients the best of ancient and modern holistic healthcare.
Lucy takes time to understand the unique situation that each patient presents, because although the name of a health condition may be the same, every patient has a different experience of that condition. Herbal prescriptions are blended individually for each patient.
Lucy has experience with successfully treating a wide range of conditions, often in cases where allopathic approaches have not been effective. These include inflammatory conditions such as IBS and colitis, gastric ulcers, skin conditions, hormonal imbalances, stress, anxiety and depression, insomnia, cardio-vascular conditions such as hypertension, blood sugar imbalances, fertility issues, joint inflammation and migraine. Current patients come from a wide area, even as far afield as France!
For more information please visit www.myrobalanclinic.com