Blissful sleep is that rejuvenating, recharging repose in which about one third of our lives are hopefully spent. When sleep is elusive, it is best to determine and change the cause.
1. Being active during daytime helps sleep. Exercise a few hours before sleep if wanting to avoid that all jazzed up feeling. Yoga postures promoting relaxation include Corpse, Cobra, Shoulder Stand and Mountain.
T'ai Chi, meditation, breathing exercises, biofeedback and guided visualizations can all be effective non invasive methods to aid sleep. Take a walk after dinner instead of TV. Keep the feet warm at night. Have the bedroom between 60 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow a bit of fresh air into the bedroom at night, though not directly by the head. Make sure your bed is comfortable and fabrics are as natural to allow skin to breathe. If not allergic, you may find a feather bed, a comfortable addition to the top of the mattress. Electro-magnetic pollution too close to your body (closer than six feet) can stimulate the nervous system. So avoid digital clocks, stereos, cell phone chargers, etc. as close nighttime companions.
Light is a stimulant and if much is shining brightly through your windows at night, get heavier curtains. Set your alarm clock, preferably gradual awakening rather than a shrill piercing sound. I love the Zen Alarm clock which awakens you to the sound of Tibetan bells. The bedroom is best painted a calm color, like blue. Keep your bedroom space sacred and avoid using it as a place to do homework, business or argue.
2. Thoughts can keep us awake. Do problem solving in the daytime. Download errands and mental baggage onto a piece of paper or better yet, engagement book before bed. Lay out necessities for the next morning to avoid worrying about things at night. Prepare clothes, books, papers and even pack a healthful lunch.
3. Caffeinated food and drinks such as chocolate, coffee, black tea and sodas may be stimulating when consumed early in the day. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that promotes sleep, made from the neurotransmitter serotonin. Getting out in the sun for a bit during the day and turning off the lights earlier at night can help trigger natural production of melatonin. Foods that stimulate melatonin include banana, barley, and rice. The pineal gland converts tryptophan into melatonin and foods containing tryptophan include bananas, dates, figs, tofu, turkey, and yoghurt. Avoid late night eating, as food stimulates the adrenal glands and elevates blood pressure. The few foods that can aid sleep include lettuce, oatmeal and yogurt, all high in calming calcium. A traditional folk remedy is to drink a cup of warm milk flavored with a teaspoon of honey and a grating of nutmeg. Sleep doesn't interfere with digestion, but digestion interferes with sleep. Should you wake in the middle of the night, avoid snacking as this can promote bad habits. Return to bed after urinating, if needed, without turning a bright light on which will disrupt melatonin; though a red night light is okay. Breathe deep, thinking of nothing but the in and out of the breath.
4. Herbs have traditionally been consumed in tea, tincture or capsule to aid sleep and have been used for thousands of years by millions of people.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is high in nerve and muscle relaxing calcium, magnesium, potassium and some B vitamins. Chamomile can help a tense person unwind.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) helps induce sleep and provides a pleasant numbing sensation. Hops contain lupulin, a strong, but safe reliable sedative. Hops, a traditional ingredient in beer is the only other relative of Marijuana on the planet. They are both members of the Canabaceae Family.
Kava kava (Piper methyisticum) is an ancient Polynesian remedy for insomnia and nervousness.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) helps relax the mind and calms worried insomniacs. It slows down the breakdown of serotonin and norepinephrine, allowing one to maintain a more peaceful state of consciousness.
Skullcap (Scutelaria lateriflora) has long been used for insomnia, restlessness and to calm emotional upsets. It is rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, and best when used over an extended period of time.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) helps sleep disorders that are the result of anxiety. It is a smooth muscle relaxant Most will dislike the taste of valerian and prefer using it in capsule or tincture form rather than tea. Valerian is best used when needed rather than on a daily basis.
5. An hour before bedtime, run a warm bath. Adding a pound of baking soda makes the water alkalinizing and sedative. Put seven to 10 drops of essential oils in the tub, such as chamomile, lavender or ylang-ylang. Light a candle and soak in the soothing waters, breathing deep their calming aromas. Let the water out and visualize your tensions going down the drain while staying in the tub. A sauna before bed can also help produce a state of calmness. Sex can be a pleasurable prelude to sleep.
6. You may need to utilize earplugs or eye masks to help shut the world out for a while.
Another herbal remedy is in to make a sleep pillow, which is simply a sachet about five by five inches filled with the calming aroma of dried hops, then inserted into one's pillowcase. Other herbs used for sleep sachets include lavender, chamomile woodruff, and lemon balm. Replace every six months. Another folk remedy is to cut a piece of yellow onion and place it in a jar. Cover and place on the nightstand. If you wake up, or can't fall asleep, open the jar and take several deep onion inhalations. Recover the jar, lie back down and you should fall back to sleep within fifteen minutes. Look into homeopathic remedies such as Rescue Remedy Sleep, Quietude or Calms Forte.
7. Establish a regular bed and awakening time and do your best to stick with it. Sleeping with one's head to the magnetic north is said to improve sleep and dream quality. Sleeping on the back gives internal organs the most room for optimum function. Sleeping on one's left side can put excess pressure on the heart. When wanting to sleep, allow no thoughts except the in and out of the breath. Visualization, with one breath relaxing your toes, with the next breath the feet, then the ankles, etc. moving slowly up the body into slumber.
Another sleep technique is to get comfortable in bed and take eight breaths while lying flat on your back. Then take 16 deep breaths while lying on your right side; last take 32 breaths while lying on your left side. Most people are asleep before completing the exercise.
As we get older, requirements for sleep decrease. If you lie awake for more than one half hour, get up and write a letter, or read something not too action packed. Give thanks for the good things in your day. Bless those you love!
Brigitte Mars, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild, is a nutritional consultant who has been working with Natural Medicine for over forty years. She teaches Herbal Medicine at Naropa University, Omega, Boulder College of Massage, and Bauman Holistic College of Nutrition. She has a weekly local radio show called "Naturally" on KGNU and a private practice. Brigitte is the author of twelve books, including The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine, Beauty by Nature, Addiction Free Naturally, Healing Herbal Teas, and Rawsome!. Click here for more healthy living articles, raw food recipes, videos, workshops, books, and more at brigittemars.com.