insomnia

Insomnia and Herbal Medicine

“I wonder why I don’t go to bed and go to sleep. But then it would be tomorrow, so I decide that no matter how tired, no matter how incoherent I am, I can skip an hour more of sleep and live.”  Sylvia Plath

We have all felt this way at some point particularly as vibrant, excited teenagers. It was only when I became a mother that I realised the true horror of sleep deprivation. If you have ever been present at a new mums (and probably dads ) coffee morning, you will know exactly what I am talking about. Sleep deprivation soon starts to feel like a death sentence rather than a celebration of living or vibrancy.

There are many causes of sleep insufficiency – some are temporary and solved relatively easily  however some are insidious and can erode away health and well being. To name a few:

children

stress/ depression/ anxiety

alcohol

ageing/ menopause

comfort/ snoring partner

external input/ habits

pain

illness

The long term effects of sleep deprivation are well documented, and can be life threatening.

  • Driving is probably the most common hazardous occupation whilst tired and yet many people have to  drive to work after a poor nights sleep – I don`t think “that a poor nights` sleep” would go down well as an excuse for arriving 2 hours late for work.
  • Of course there are some occupations where being exhausted could endanger many lives, think pilot or train driver. etc
  • Sleep deprivation affects your cognitive brain power, reasoning, memory and problem solving.
  • It can cause serious health concerns including extreme heart conditions, stroke and diabetes.
  • It can lower your libido and affect your sex drive or reduce your interest in sex.
  • Sleep deprivation can contribute to depression and anxiety as you feel less motivation and reduced energy to participate in what you love.Added to this insomnia may be a symptom of depression so it is a vicious cycle.
  • It can be a contributing factor to obesity and weight gain – sleep loss triggers cravings for high fat/ high carbohydrate foods and stimulates appetite.

 

So what can be done about it.

 

  • If your GP has the time in their 10 minute consultation slot to discuss all of the above they may be able to offer advice on lifestyle or sleep habits.
  • There next best treatment option is sleeping tablets (so called z drugs), by the pharmaceutical companies own admission – these are highly addictive and habit forming. They are dangerous if taken with alcohol and contribute to suicide attempts both accidental and non-accidental. Tolerance develops quickly, so more are needed to get the desired  effect.
  • If this does not work after 2 weeks GP s are advised by NICE to refer patients for  CBT counselling – visit  “we need to talk” for more information on accessibility of counselling therapies on the NHS – although it needs updating it makes for interesting reading.

So what can your herbalist do:

  • A herbalist will explore the primary cause of the insomnia and make practical , natural suggestions to improve quality and duration of sleep.
  • They will look at your sleep hygiene (habits) and offer advice on changing these habits which will in turn improve sleep quality.
  • They will take a full medical history to discuss and treat existing conditions which may be contributing to your sleep interruption.
  • They will use natural plant based medications to reduce stress, improve sleep quality and help you build the stamina needed to face the day.

Common plants which may be in a sleep mix given to you by a herbalist .

Valeriana officinalis

Passiflora incarnata

Humulus lupulus

Mellissa officinalis

Eschscholzia californica

However as you can see by the list of causes above chances are if you do not treat the underlying cause of the sleep disorder chances are your sleep is unlikely to improve, so instead we may treat the cause (e.g menopausal symptoms) and you may not get any of the above plants in your mix.

Visit NIMH for a list of your local herbalist.


For more information this is a wonderful timeline developed through Harvard university on Historical and Cultural Perspectives of Sleep http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/history

For more information on sleep hygiene etc visit http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/

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