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Searching for Sleep

Insomnia is the inability to obtain an adequate amount or quality of sleep. The difficulty can be in falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. People with insomnia do not feel refreshed when they wake up. Insomnia is a common symptom affecting millions of people that may be caused by many conditions, diseases, or circumstances.”   ~ medical dictionary ~ thefreedictionary.com

That definition was for those of you who don’t suffer from insomnia.  Those of us who do already know what it means, and we know that the definition, no matter the source, can never actually explain the entire scope of this affliction.  Let me give it a shot, though.

Insomnia is an affliction that, when you lay down and close your eyes because you are so exhausted you can’t possibly do anything else, your mind springs to life and causes your eyelids to fly open and stick that way, despite all of your best attempts at closing them.  It makes your legs twitch and your brain spasm with a million thoughts.  It inspires you to create great and fantastic things-just as soon as your exhausted body can move again.  It precipitates deep and poetic thoughts that should be preserved in leather-covered tomes – if only you weren’t too tired to write them down.  It tickles the imagination into seeing shapes in the dark, like pictures in the clouds, that you know are really only figments of your sleep-deprived brain.  It makes you count sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and every other animal in a vain attempt to bore yourself into a sleep-induced coma.

Then, when you have finally attained that much-longed-for state of unconsciousness you are suddenly jolted from sleep after an hour -or maybe two or three- to find that you are still hours away from the break of day and everyone for miles around is still sleeping soundly.  It is lying there staring at the clock, counting away the minutes and knowing that the exhaustion is still there, just waiting to overtake you as soon as you have reached the point in your day that is the busiest/most important. By lunchtime, you aren’t quite sure if you want to jump in front oncoming traffic or choke the nearest passerby. Not because they have done anything wrong, but simply because you know that they got a good night’s sleep that was denied you.  For that, they deserve a good beating.

And that’s only one night’s worth of missed sleep.  The second night gets a little hairier.  By the third or fourth night you begin to see the logic behind men like Dexter and Dahmer. Rational thinking is only a dim memory ~ an elusive dream (pun intended).

Do I sound like a commercial for the latest sleeping pill?  I should totally get paid for writing this stuff, right?  Still, anyone suffering from insomnia knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as popping a pill and drifting off to Dreamland. Besides the obvious side-effects of sleeping pills  ~ liver damage, heart damage, kidney failure, ulcers ~ there is the small matter of being able to function the day after.  Sleeping pills, if they even work, make you so frackin’ tired the next day that you might as well have just stuck with your original state of sleep-deprived exhaustion.

So, what is the alternative?  Duh! It’s herbs, of course.  You had to have seen that one coming…

Quit snickering.  Have you tried them?  I don’t mean have you tried a single cup of chamomile tea before bed.  While chamomile has its benefits, to the hard-core insomniac it is like drinking a cup of water.  No, what I’m talking about are the other herbs.

You thought I was talking about marijuana, didn’t you?  While I will admit that I would recommend that particular herb if I lived in the appropriate state, that’s not what I meant.  I’m talking about herbs like valerian and skullcap.  St. John’s wort.  Peppermint.  Vervain.  Mullein. These, my friend, are the magic pill for the true Insomniac.

I’ll be honest.  It took me a while to figure this one out. I did try sleeping pills over the years.  Prescription.  Over the counter.  Under the counter.  Beside the counter.  I didn’t care if there was a chance that I might get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Not one of them was worth it.  It was out of sheer desperation that I put my insomnia to use and spent a few nights coming up with a more natural formula that I prayed would work.  Now, I keep a jar in my pantry and refill it regularly.

Bonus…it works as a pain-killer, muscle relaxant, tummy-soother and mood-stabilizer, also.  Let me explain the how’s and why’s.


Valerian


Valerian is the bad-boy of sleep aids.  I still maintain that herbs work best when combined with other herbs, but if I were ever to use one by itself, this would probably be it.  It is in the top 5, anyway.  Valerian is actually classified as a nerve tonic because it has the ability to both sooth and heal the nerves.  By soothing the nerves, you allow your body to fall into sleep naturally, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling great.  Valerian goes a step farther, though.  It will actually help rebuild nerve sheaths that have been damaged, making it a great herb for long-term use in diseases that affect the central nervous system and the nerves.  Don’t think valerian is going to suddenly make you fall asleep, though. It doesn’t work that way.  It works by relaxing the entire body and making it possible to sleep.  That means that after you take it, you need to go lay down and close your eyes.  Let your body do it’s thing!

Skullcap, like valerian, is a potent nervine that has been used for centuries with fantastic results.  It is so soothing to the nerves that it has even been used to successfully alleviate the symptoms of drug withdrawal, as well as epilepsy, hysteria, anxiety, nervous headaches and insomnia. Naturopathic doctors often recommend using skullcap as an alternative to conventional ADD medications, also.  Skullcap should not be taken if you are pregnant, as it is capable of inducing a miscarriage.

Mullein is one of those herbs that should be in every medicine cabinet.  It is good for coughs, for pain, for soothing the nerves…the list is long!  Mullein has been described as being ‘hypnotic’ and ‘highly narcotic without being toxic’. That means that, even if your sleeplessness is due to pain, mullein is capable of handling it.  Cough keeping you awake?  Mullein will take care of that, too.


Mullein flower


St. John’s wort is a well-known anti-depressant.  In the herbal world, that means it is soothing to the brain.  It relaxes you by relieving tension, stress and other factors that contribute to restlessness and fatigue.  It is best to take this one over a period of time, and in conjunction with other herbs.  It is also a highly effective pain-reliever and immune-system stimulator.

Vervain is not just for warding oneself against vampires. It has aspirin-like effects that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is a muscle relaxant and mild anti-depressant that helps improve the general action of nerves and enhances the entire system, especially when taken over a period of time.  It is a mild sedative.  Here’s the catch with this herb, though…you don’t want to just grab a bottle of this herb and start eating it.  Vervain works best when it is combined with other herbs that strengthen and relax the nerves, and if you take too much you’ll soon be heaving your guts up instead of sleeping.  Used in the proper manner it is a valuable addition to the insomniac’s medicine chest, but used wrong and it is worse than useless.

So, really….put away the Ambien and the Tylenol PM.  You don’t need them anymore!  You just need a good, trained herbalist (like me) to whip you up a batch that contains these herbs.  Of course, I have a batch already made and waiting called ‘Sweet Dreams’…I’m just sayin’….

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