To medicate or not to medicate?
Plenty of people who use prescription medication to help them sleep are perfectly well aware that it is not an ideal solution for insomnia, and may well make things worse and add new health problems to the mix in the long run. But what to do? Insomnia is a problem that impacts not only your own life, work and wellbeing, it also has a ripple effect on those who are close to you.
When it comes to sleep recovery, our standard medical system is not very helpful. Hard medication is the only “solution” doctors have at their disposal, and it is a blunt and non-curative one. Worse, these drugs are also highly addictive. The fact that they are meant to be taken for no longer than twenty-one days is rarely shared from doctor to patient. And even then, prescriptions are often extended indefinitely.
Over many years treating patients for their inability to sleep, both at Blue Phoenix Wellness NYC and at Somnus, my dedicated Sleep Clinic in Brooklyn, one thing has been consistently clear. The thing about sleep issues, they do not occur in isolation. They are always linked to and symptomatic of other conditions such as digestive issues, stress, pain and anxiety [links]. Successful treatment depends on getting to the bottom of the big picture.
But meanwhile you need some rest. And this is where herbs provide a wonderful starting point. Good quality herbs form an important part of any long term sleep repair program but the great thing about nearly all of them is, you can start using fine herbal remedies straight away. The following herbs, listed in my book Rewired for Sleep, are very easily available. They may not deal with the deeper rooted problems underlying your insomnia on their own, but they will help you get some fast relief:
Hops (Humulus lupulus):
Hops as a reputation for being a sedative specifically for insomnia due to worry or jangled nerves. Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 30-40 drops 2-3 x daily.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis):
Six percent of Americans use Valerian for insomnia, nervousness, and restlessness. Used mainly by those who are having a hard time falling asleep, it’s said to also reduce nighttime waking. May be used in combination with California poppy, skullcap, hops, and passion flower. Dose: Tea, 1 cup; Tincture, 2-5 droppers-full 2-3 x daily.
Kava (Piper methysticum).
Native to the western Pacific region, indigenous cultures have used Kava for over three thousand years. It’s often used to treat sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Not recommended if you are taking antiplatelet medications; anticoagulants (Coumadin) or antipsychotic medications. Dose: Tea, 1 cup; Tincture, 3-4 droppers full 2-3 x daily.
Safe for children and adults alike. In tea form, it’s often used for insomnia, restlessness, and irritability. Chamomile oil can be put in bath water (5-6 drops) to soothe nerves, diluted to two percent to make an excellent massage oil, or used as an inhalant (S).
Dose: Tea, 1 cup 2-3 x daily; Tincture, 30 drops 3 x daily.
Passionflower has been used for hundreds of years for its ability to reduce anxiety, or stress-related insomnia. Excellent for people experiencing emotional volatility.
The latest kid on the healing block. Cannabidiol is often touted as being able to treat a wide range of conditions, from neurological disorders to chronic pain and depression. Some swear it reduces anxiety and helps them sleep; others report that it has a caffeine-like effect on them. Dosages vary despite what may be indicated. As of this writing, CBD is being given a green light as the new answer to all that ails us. Among the sleep disorders for which it has shown to provide relief are Circadian Rhythm disorders, which often affects people with night-time jobs.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum):
A commonly found European herb, many people use St. John’s Wort to alleviate mild depression, as well as for treating chronic insomnia. The herb may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. If you take this herb, try not to expose your skin to direct sunlight. Dose: Tincture, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon 2-3 x daily; powdered extract, 1-2 tablets or capsules 2-3 x daily. Allow 2-3 weeks for the full therapeutic effect to develop.
Can provide mental calmness, decrease anxiety, and ease restless feelings. Often used as a tincture, you take 30-40 drops of it before bed each night.
Cordyceps helps those suffering with stress-induced adrenal fatigue, which is often tied in with insomnia. Traditional healers recommend the fungus/mushroom as a general tonic to improve energy, appetite, and endurance, and to stabilize sleeping patterns.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Roseae):
In Siberia, it is said, “Those who drink Rhodiola tea regularly will live more than 100 years.” Another useful botanical medicine to support stress management, Rhodiola rosea (arctic root) is a popular plant in traditional medical systems in Asia, where it is used to help combat fatigue and restore energy.
Modern research has confirmed these effects and its adaptogenic qualities. Research in Russia has shown that Rhodiola can increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters by 30% and decrease the activity of the enzyme which breaks down serotonin and dopamine by 60%. Rhodiola is used in Russia for the treatment of depression and anxiety often without the simultaneous use of Western medical antidepressants.
Why do some suggest that it helps one live more than 100 years? Because Some of Rhodiola’s other beneficial effects are that it increases blood oxygenation, reduces serum cholesterol, improves physical endurance, and increases mental clarity, attention span, memory, and mental performance. No side effects have been reported in clinical trials, but at higher dosages, some individuals might experience greater irritability and insomnia.