The season is changing quickly in Northern New England- the colorful leaves are all but fallen from the trees, the rain is cold, the sky is nearly dark when I get home, and its very dark in the morning when I rise. I'm finding my usual easy waking and easy to sleep pattern of summer undergoing as much transition as the landscape around me. Compounded by recent life changes, extra work, and emotional upheavals- I've found myself getting less than my optimal 9 hours of shut eye at night. I'll admit, I'm not beyond a cup of coffee in the morning to give me a little boost, but I know well it is no substitute for adequate sleep on a regular basis (as shown by my recent foray into the land of the autumn sniffles). Thus I'm going to share with you the ways I've found helpful to make sure I get the rest I need, and get back to sleep when racked with a sudden wash of strong emotions, keyed up from working a bit too late, or just seasonal transitions that make it tough to adjust your schedule.
Remember that everyone has different sleep needs, many folks feel fine getting by on 6 hrs of sleep, and others really can't function unless they get 9 or 10. But do note that getting BY on 6 hours chronically can set you up for a long term sleep debt that creeps up slowly, and burns your candle at both ends. Most people really do need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep for the body to properly heal, rejuvenate and perform nightly functions that ONLY happen while asleep. The hours of sleep before midnight are especially important to maintain proper metabolic functions.
* Set yourself a schedule that you can adhere to 80% of the time to get the rest YOU need. If you are the kind of person that really does need 9 or 10 hours, don't skimp! Good health starts with good self care, and making you and your needs a priority. We all have many hats to wear, jobs to juggle and people to tend to in our lives, so find something that works for you -weather it is a family sleep routine, an extra hour of sleep in an afternoon nap, or getting a little extra help from a friend or family member.
* Set up a night time calming routine. About an hour or 90 min before bedtime you should start to wind down for the day. This means before bed e mail, tv shows, or exersize are probably not the best choice.
-Turn down the lights to low, or light candles to stimulate the body's natural production of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep.
-Practice a calming yoga routine with deep breathing.
-Take a lukewarm bath for 15-20 min (not too hot, the body temperature bath is extremely calming to the nervous system).
-Don't eat for at least 2 hrs before you lay down. Food sitting the stomach when you go to bed is a recipe for all sorts of sleep troubles and prevents your body from doing much of its nightly repair work under the influence of human growth hormone. It can also lead to heartburn, poor digestion and subsequent gas, nausea or metabolic irregularities. Especially if that snack is sweet or sugary, you are pumping up your cells to use the energy, and it might keep you awake fidgeting! If you are a nighttime snacker and have trouble with sleep, it may be time to rethink that habit.
-Decaffeinate early. Everyone has a different tolerance for caffeine, and some folks can drink all day and don't have a lick of trouble with their sleep, and others can't drink a cup in the morning without feeling jittery half the night. Learn your tolerance. Have your cup of joe in the morning, but cease beverages with caffeine by mid afternoon. If you have a mid afternoon slump on a daily basis that you need a cup of coffee to get through, it may be time to look deeper into why. Are you getting enough protein at breakfast? Have you been snacking on sugary or carbohydrate rich foods all day, cycling through energy bursts and sugar crashes? How many hours of sleep are you really getting? Would something else make you feel alert (a quick walk in the fresh air, a glass of water, a deep breathing break (oxygen is important for alertness!)?
-Journal- if you don't already, try writing down your thoughts, feelings, and especially your gratitudes at night before you sleep. This doesn't have to take long- just 5 or 10 min to jot down anything remaining on your mind as you hit the pillow. I use this technique especially when I have a lot of things to remember to do. Writing them down helps me relax and feel as if I'm not going to forget something! Making sure to end the day with positive thoughts of what I'm grateful for always helps me feel more peaceful and positive, even when the day has been hard, I've been emotionally upset, or I'm worried about something in particular.
-Begin to take herbs for calming and sleep at least 90 min before bedtime. I've heard from many people over the years, 'Oh I tried valerian and it didn't help me sleep at all." Usually, this is a result of not enough, too late. Herbal sleep helpers almost always work better, in my experience, when pulsed frequently over a period of time before bed. So, whatever herb you like to use for calming and sleep, begin by taking a dose every 30 min before bed starting 90 min before, and once as you get into bed. This will be 4 doses of your sleep herbs. Tea or tincture, your choice. Just take it several times in reasonable dose.
If you find yourself waking in the middle of the night and have trouble falling asleep you can use herbs to help you deal with your feelings and get you back to sleep, but if this happens on a daily basis, it may be time to dig deeper.
Scullcap- Scutellaria lateriflora
California Poppy-Echscholtzia californica
Herbal Allies for Restful and Rejuvenating Sleep
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the herbs that may be helpful for insomnia, emotional upset that keeps you awake at night, or trouble falling asleep at night, but its a good place to start. Remember that everyone is different and what works for one person may not work the same way for another. Each type of situation is different and will likely respond better to the plant that is uniquely appropriate for that type of situation.
Valerian- Valeriana officinalis is kind of the go to standard when folks think of herbs for insomnia, and it does work well for some folks, the other folks it tends to agitate. If Valerian doesn't work for you, never fear, there is another herb that will be more appropriate for you. Valerian is good for folks who tend to be cold, have poor circulation, and are restless, nervous or agitated at night. It is also useful if pain is keeping you up, but will need to use larger doses. I have found that sometimes folks become a little dependent on Valerian, so you may want to use it occasionally rather than daily. Dosage for adults is 15-45 drops of tincture pulsed at 30 min intervals 4 times before bed.
Hops- Humulus lupus is another standard for insomnia, but which is significantly more sedative and soporific for most folks, and too much can cause a hops hangover in the morning. I reserve hops for really stubborn cases of insomnia that don't respond well to other treatments, or when there is something severe enough emotionally going on that you desperately need to let go of the situation and just sleep. It is very bitter and great for folks who have weak digestions, eat too much before bed are generally stubborn and tense and hot! Dosage: 10-40 drops of tincture tincture pulsed at 30 min intervals 4 times before bed. Start small and find the smallest dose that works for you.
Passionflower- Passiflora incarnata or other spp- Passionflower is the medicine I give to folks whose thoughts run around and around and around and around in circles endlessly all night long, sometimes accompanied by a racing heart or irregular heart beats. This puts some people to sleep right away, and others it gently brings them to a more peaceful state of mind to allow sleep to come naturally. Dosage: 15-45 drops of tincture pulsed at 30 min intervals 4 times before bed, or drink 4 oz of tea per dose. Tea is 1 tbsp dried herb per pint, steep covered in hot water for 30 min.
Scullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora Scullcap is a good choice for folks who are tense and emotionally brittle, and have nervous systems that are somewhat depleted and weak. Its not that everything is so overwhelming, its that their system is overloaded- from long term stress, long term emotional upheavel, sleep debt. They tend to hold on to tension as a compensatory measure, steeling themselves against the world, expected or chronic pain (physical or emotional). This one is good for both mental and physical tension that keep folks awake. Large doses can appear to make one feel lethargic. This is okay if your trying to lay down and sleep. Dosage: 10-30 drops of fresh plant tincture pulsed at 30 min intervals 4 times before bed.
California Poppy- Escholtzia californica - Calfornia Poppy is one of my all time favorite herbs for sleep problems associated with pain. It is in the poppy family, but is generally considered safe for even small children. (Often used for teething pain topically). This herb gently but effectively reduces the perception and sensation of pain, while relaxing tension and spasms in the musculoskeletal tissues. Dosage: 20-60 drops pulsed 4 times at 30 min intervals. Use lower doses for insomnia with minor pains, reserve larger doses for serious trauma and pain.
Rose -Rosa spp -The versatile rose has unending help for wearied souls and broken hearts. I rarely use rose alone for insomnia, but I have consistently found that it is indespensible when added to formulas for sleep problems that are about emotional heartache- grief, sadness, depression, heartsickness, longing- rose soothes, heals, comforts and brings back that sweetness that the heart craves. I usually use rose elixir for most purposes, because it is sweet, delicious, and soothing, but roses in tea are stunning and lovely as well. Use rose freely and abundantly whenever you have heartache that needs soothing.
Motherwort -Leonorus cardiaca -Motherwort, again, by itself isn't exactly sleep inducing, but is helpful for those times when your on the verge of emotional hysteria, can't stop crying, feeling fear, anxiety and worry. She is the lion-hearted mother and steps up to protect, calm and soothe. I find motherwort can be a great ally for nightmares that are accompanied by racing heart and a sensation of panic. Motherwort is another bitter herb, and not very palatable in tea. Dosage: 15-60 drops as needed. You can start with a small dose every 10 or 15 minutes until you find the dose that works for you.
Vervain -Verbena hastata and other spp Vervain of many uses- she is truly an indispenisble personal ally of mine. Vervain is the plant I turn to most often when I have trouble sleeping- sometimes paired with another friend, depending on what my situation is at the moment. Vervain is appropriate when chronic tension and stress is stored in the neck, shoulders and digestive organs. People who respond well to vervain tend to expect more than is reasonable from themselves, and sometimes others, they can get irritable, cranky and emotional when they don't give themselves enough self-care and 'me' time. At night this looks like someone who can't get to sleep because they are up worrying about work, projects, 1001 other things they 'need' to do- yesterday! Dosage: 10-60 drops pulsed before bed, or as often as needed. Dosage varies from person to person, some people feel bowled over and utterly relaxed with 5 or 10 drops, others need a larger dose.
Wood Betony - Stachys betonica Wood Betony is an underused nervine herb that I find to be a gentle and effective ally for occasional sleeplessness. I equate it to curling up with your favorite warm blanket for a cozy night, warm and safe. I use Wood Betony for anyone troubled with bad dreams and nightmares, it is especially protective, and helps people stay grounded in their body and present moment, rather than get carried away in imaginary or otherworldly fears and worries. Tea or tincture are both fine ways to take this medicine. Dosage: Tincture 15-60 drops pulsed every 30 min 4 times before bed, or as needed in the night. Tea 4 oz of tea pulsed 4 times before bed. 2 tsp per 8 oz cup, steep 20 min.
Ashwaganda - Withania somnifera While Ashwaganda isn't an herb I turn to the night I have insomnia is a wonderful aid to people who chronically have trouble sleeping. It is usually appropriate for people who are adrenally exhausted, weak, depleted, and need to rest, rejuvenate and replenish. Ashwaganda nourishes the endocrine system on many levels, and for many people restores balanced energy levels during the day, ability to relax and sleep well at night, and improves endocrine functions (adrenal health, thryoid function, libido, mood and more.) It works best over the long term, and should be used on a daily basis for 4-6 weeks to start to see results. Best results come over 3-6 months or more. Tincture dosage is roughly 30 drops 3-4 times a day, but not right before bedtime. You may also want to use 1 tsp powdered ashwaganda mixed in milk, with honey, cinnamon and ghee once or twice daily. This is an especially nourishing and tasty way to take ashwaganda and is more traditional than tincture.
Milky Oats- Avena sativa - This is another herb I don't really use acutely for insomnia, but find to be immensely beneficial for people who are really burned out, emotionally brittle and reactive, stressed out, or otherwise a 'crispy critter'. Oats nourishes and restores nervous system tissues, and is so soothing to emotional swings and cravings associated with the withdrawl of addictive substances. This could be nicotine, opiates, sugar or alcohol. Here only the fresh tincture of the milky seeds is what I am referring to. Dosage is 30-60 drops 3-4 times a day. Infusions of the oatstraw or dried tops are also nourishing and deeply mineralizing, but I do not find have quite the same restorative effect that the fresh tincture does.
New Products at Blue Turtle Botanicals
Cold Sore & Herpes Healing Balm
I developed this cold sore balm to speed healing and reduce pain from cold sores and herpes outbreaks. This is perfect for oral or genital herpes, in addition to shingles and even chicken pox.
It includes the classic pairing of St Johns Wort and Lemon Balm, antiviral, soothing and healing- along with licorice another proven viral fighter, and the soothing pain relieving birch, alder, and plantain. Cooling and soothing Peppermint, Sweet Birch and Tulsi Basil essential oils top off this amazing healing salve. Clients and customers love the way this soothes and speeds healing when used at the first sign of outbreak, and relieves the pain of an outbreak already erupted.
Herpes is a virus that lives in the nervous tissue of the body, for prevention herbalists generally reccommend managing stress, using nervines daily (I perfer lemon balm and St John's Wort), and a diet low in Arginine.
All organic or wildcrafted herbs! Gentle and soothing.
Available at Poppy Swap and Etsy in a generous 2 oz jar or a convenient lip balm tube to take anywhere!
A kaliescope of memories of plants and summer inspired this Blessing from the Earth, to nourish and pamper your skin.
Highly nourishing, emollient, antiinflamatory, toning and protective- most appropriate for dry and sensitive and reactive skin or soothing skin irritated by cold weather, wind burn, extremes of heat and cold in winter weather.
Nourishing and emollient olive oil infused with the fragrant healing and toning medicinal properties of black birch twigs and leaves, and wild rose flowers. Combined with generous amounts of nutrient rich raw, fair trade shea butter.
Antiinflammatory essential oils including rose, frankinsence, blue yarrow and patchouli, with a hint of the bright woodsy note of birch.
Generous 2 oz of cream in a glass jar.
Banish the Blues Tea
For those times when you can’t seem to chase the blues away, bring back the sunshine and sparkle with this cheerful ruby red infusion, full of spirit-lifting, happy-making and delicious herbs.
Contains: Lemmon's Marigold, St John's Wort, Lemon Balm and more!
2 oz of loose tea in a beautiful and reusable tin!