Tagged: Insomnia

Essential oils for sleep – part 9

I love essential oils and have been using them for years. They are powerful tools in a herbalist’s armoury. They are great for inhalations on tissues, diffused in a room, adding to base oils and creams and, for emotional and physical health.

Essential oils are strong, concentrated extracts from specific plant parts – often the fragrant flowers but not always.

So, how can these beautiful remedies aid your sleep?

Many of the essential oils suggested here are also used as whole plant herbal remedies. Just like with herbal remedies, blends of essential oils are a great way to partner and amplify the benefits of each oil.

Choosing the right oils for you can be a bit of an art. If you read up on an oil, look at all of its benefits and find the best fit for you. After all, plants are complex and full of wonderful and often differing actions.

Oils for insomnia: Lavender, Marjoram, Mandarin, Clary sage, Valerian, Hops, Chamomile roman, Sandalwood, Lemon, Cistus.

Choose based on liking the smell as well as its potential action. Hops are very bitter to taste and don’t smell all that great to me and as a result, it woudn’t be high up my list. However, they are cooling and oestrogenic so could be very useful for eg insomnia due to menopausal hot sweats. I don’t find lavender soporific but it does help clear my mind and I love the smell so I would put it in a blend for churning mind insomnia.

As I am not an aromatherapist, I have borrowed some recipe blend suggestions for insomnia of specific causes from Valerie Ann Worwood’s marvellous book ‘The Fragrant Mind’

  • Nightmares: Lavender 15, Chamomile roman 5, Mandarin 10 drops.
  • Noise waking you: Lavender 10, Lemon 15, Vetiver 5 drops
  • Restlessness: Vetiver 10, Clary sage 10, Lemon 10 drops
  • Fitfulness: Marjoram 5, Lavender 15, Lemon 10 drops
  • Anxiety: Chamomile roman 10, Sandalwood 15, Lemon 5 drops
  • Worry: Cistus 5 drops, Lavender 15 drops
  • Exhaustion: Valerian 5, Lemon 10, Mandarin 10 drops

Exercise caution and use only 1 drop of a blend when you first try it out – I find that too much of a smell, however much I like it will keep me awake as I have a keen sense of smell. Blends can take a little while to settle after making them so don’t give up if you think ‘yuck’ immediately after blending.

please source essential oils responsibly. Like any plant, they need to be grown sustainably in order for all of us to continue benefitting from them.

Essential oil companies I like to use: Materia Aromatica, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Aqua Oleum. I also source from herbal suppliers. Buy from your local health food shop as they will have thought carefully about whose ranges they choose to stock.

CAUTION: most essential oils should be put in a carrier oil for application to the skin, most are not suitable in pregnancy unless under practitioner direction and none are suitable for self-directed internal ingestion.

Just as an aside, essential oils have become very popular recently and the company promotes internal use of oils. This is not a good idea unless you are trained in medicine and pharmacology. It upsets me greatly that people are being invited to put multiples of drops in drinking water as a regular thing. It is commonplace eg in France to take essential oils internally but they are bought in pharmacies, produced for that purpose and have regulations surrounding them.

12 top sleep tips – part 8

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sleeping well, it’s that, the harder you chase it, the more elusive it becomes.

So, my top tips for sleeping well are:

  1. Avoid caffeine after 12pm – the half life of caffeine is 12 hours so if you drink a coffee at 2pm, you will still have half that caffiene in your body at 2am. And, even if you have become used to its effects and don’t notice it, the caffeine will impair your sleep quality
  2. Avoid alcohol – I know, it seems boring and predictable but, alcohol impairs the quality of your sleep too so, it’s just not worth it – at least not daily!
  3. Set a ‘time for bed’ alarm chances are, you have an alarm to wake in the morning but having a bedtime, like for children is really useful for adults too. Work out how long it takes you to get ready for bed, how long you are usually awake before you get off to sleep and how long you need to sleep for to feel refreshed when the alarm goes off. THAT’s your bedtime.
  4. Get ready for bed after dinner – if you struggle to go to bed in good time because you’re too tired to make it there, do all the things you need to to be ready earlier in the evening. Brush your teeth, get your pyjamas on, get cosy, breathe nice and deep and let the day drift away.
  5. Screens… yes, they feature in our lives, yes, they have an addictive allure but, they are likely to be impacting on your sleep. Blue light filters help.
  6. Relax during the day – good nourishing relaxation during the day enables us to store up the energy required to get a good night’s sleep. Watching TV does not count! #sorrynotsorry TV is passive zoning out and whilst it’s fabulous and has its place, it isn’t relaxation. Zoning out just puts us in a different brain space for a while. Once we then climb into bed, the to-do list, the argument you’re turning over… all come flooding into your brain again. Trying breathing exercises or guided meditations and any other things which bring you out of your mind and into your body are really key. My favourite is the 6:6 breathing – breathing a long slow in-breath for 6 seconds and then a long slow out-breath for six seconds and repeating that, ideally for 20mins. It slows your body right down and gets you into a nice calm and relaxed space. The counting and focusing on doing it really slowly keeps your brain busy.
  7. Write a to do list for tomorrow loooong before you get into bed so that your brain is not turning over all the things you need to remember as you start to relax.
  8. Journal… or do something to work through the events of today so you’re not up all night replaying conversations and more.
  9. NO SUGAR! Sugar is also a stimulant so eating sugary snacks (including raisins, grapes, dates and bananas) in the evening is not a great plan. It’ll fill your blood with fizzy energy which needs to be burned off before your body is ready to sleep.
  10. Sleep time is ‘me-time‘ – if you’re drawn into another episode of your fave TV show or feel desparate for that little bit of time alone once everyone else is in bed, but end up dragging yourself through the day, reframe sleeping as the ultimate in self-care me-time. It’s the chance to recharge your batteries and renew so that tomorrow really is another day.
  11. Nasal breathing – yes, ensuring you focus on breathing through your mouth for most of the time you’re awake and asleep, will probably improve the quality of your sleep. It certainly has for me.
  12. Watch your inner dialogue – how often do you tell someone “I’m such a bad sleeper” or “I’m a terrible insomniac”. When you think about this, you don’t give you or your body the opportunity to be anything other than those things if constantly reinforcing the negative. It’s not that it might be very true but it remains the truth the more we reinforce it. So, listen to yourself and your words and how you speak about it. Worth a try, eh?

Not all of this will be helpful if you struggle to get to sleep, stay asleep and more of those thing associated with insomnia and most of it won’t be a miracle cure but, stick to it. It’s really worth it. After 4 years of poor sleep length and depth which was interrupted easily and frequently, I have just had 6 weeks of mostly great sleep. I am a transformed woman. So, I know it’s possible.

If you want more help, join me for The Sleepy Sessions, my fortnightly Wednesday event.

Cowslip – sleep part 7

Should we re-name these flowers ‘Cowsleep’?

These pretty flowers literally litter the grassy banks of the A41. Until recently they were protected as they had been wild harvested until near extinction – hard to believe when you see the swathes of them between the M25 turning for Hemel Hempstead and then at the slip road going back on at Hemel!

Like so many herbs, all the parts of the lant are useful medicines but, it’s the yellow corolla – the flower part of the flowering heads – which are particularly sedative.

I have recently begun using the flower as my main herb for sleep mixes. I always combine several herbs in order to address the multiple aspects of sleeplessness that the person I prescribe for is experiencing. It has a light taste which I have read described as aniseed-y but I don’t agree. Or, certainly not as a tincture. I see the point but if you don’t like aniseed don’t be put off as it’s really not that strongly so!

As with all sedatives, the ideal is that they wouldn’t be taken over a long period of time. That they be used for a short burst during a temporary sleep disturbance. If your sleep continues to be poor quality, slow in coming, short in duration, disturbed and more, it’s a really good idea to begin the journey to address why that is.

That’s what we do together. There’s loads of research about sleep and what happens to our bodies when we don’t get enough. We still don’t fully understand why we sleep or what really happens when we do. But, I have only heard it said in one place that in order to sleep and sleep well and gain good nourishment from it, we need to have plenty of energy. In chronic sleep deprivation and chronic fatigue states, we become so depleted that we don’t have enough energy to sleep!

The daytime is as important as the night! Nourishing yourself with good foods, avoiding depleting stimulants, and getting really goot relaxation are all key to replenishing the stores for better sleep.

Cautions: This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women, patients who are sensitive to aspirin, or those taking anti-coagulant drugs such as warfarin. Long-term use may also be inadvisable if taking hypotensive medications – PFAF

Wild harvesting: Please don’t pick these flowers yourself as we don’t want to get into the situation where they are near extinction again. It’s fine to pick a small handful to try out as a tea but if you want a plentiful supply, I suggest buying them from a sustainable source. I stock them as both a dried flower and tincture.

Sleep Part 3 – Stop trying!

You’re not sleeping well. You feel like you haven’t had a proper night’s sleep in a long time. I hear you. It’s an awful feeling. You know that everything in your body is not functioning optimally and you are putting yourself at higher risk of every ailment and serious disease going.

So, what do you do?

First things first, the research shows that the more we worry about not getting to sleep or having enough sleep, the less well we sleep! So, STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT!

Problem solved.

What do you mean that didn’t work?

It’s so much easier said than done. I remember right in the midst of my new-baby no sleep phase that I felt like I was broken. That my ability to sleep had been broken. I thought I would never sleep again. And, I thought I would die through lack of sleep. I felt terrible. I spent so long teetering right on the edge of being asleep but as soon as I noticed, or my partner moved, or the radiator creaked, I would ping back into wakefulness. I lay awake in my bed for hours failing. It became a place I loathed.

So, how do we stop thinking about not sleeping? How do we shift out of being ‘a bad sleeper’ into being someone who doesn’t have a label for their sleep, they just do it.

Warning: no quick solution!

We start with the daytime. We listen to our inner voice and hear how we are talking to ourselves. How are we mentioning our sleep? What do you hear?

What do you hear?

‘I’m such a bad sleeper’ ‘I’m an insomniac’ ‘I just can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep’

I think our brains and our thoughts are very powerful. When we tell ourselves these things repeatedly even if it seems as though it is just the truth of the situation, how can our bodies do anything but continue to obey?

I think this is a very powerful concept and one I use a lot when I work with my herbal patients and EFT clients.

I needed a lot of extra help to get back the skill of sleep. I wish I had known of the tools I now have and use with my patients. I think I would have been in a very different situation from the one I actually found myself in. And, in spite of that wish, I know that I learned a huge amount from my experience as that drove me to look for more tools. I also firmly believe that the best we can do with our toughest paths is to find the silver lining and use it to our eventual advantage which is where I am now. I know that my skill set is so suited to that kind of situation that I can help more and more people who feel like they are beyond help.

Read Part 5 in my series on sleep to hear about how I help myself and others to get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep Part 4 – Over-The-Counter remedies

Over-The Counter remedies

There are lots of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep preparations. They can really help and some are excellent. There are two things about them which I don’t like:

  • They are often standardised extracts rather than full profile herbs
  • They usually contain valerian root
  • They may not actually have all that much herb in them.

Valeriana officinalis is a go-to sleep herb for many people and lots of herbalists. However, if you’ve ever taken it and found yourself MORE AWAKE after taking them than before, the chances are you’re like me (and roughly 5% of people), and you react in the opposite way to valerian!

Wow. Yes, it is possible to take a sleep herb and be more awake.

That kind of experience tends to give herbs a bad reputation. If you take something and it doesn’t work, you’re then likely to assume that all things like it also don’t work. After all, it’s been manufactured and then sold in a pharmacy, so it must be good.

Also, valerian root can leave people feeling a little muggy the day after, like they have a bit of a hangover. So, taking larger quantities may not be a great idea.

I prefer that the herbs I take are whole plant. If it is root, then I mean all of the root rather than pulling out the known constituent from the herb which is currently shown by research to be the active one. As a herbalist, I like the synergy which occurs between the constituents and how they inter-react. This is something which is hard to quantify and get scientifically accepted proof for. But, it has been shown that for example, the plants from which we can derive salicylic acid have constituents which protect stomachs unlike the synthetic derivative known as aspirin. There is an intelligence in the full spectrum of the plant and I prefer to have that in its entirety in my medicines.

I like collections of different herbs in a sleep mix. Then you get the benefits of a range of different ways in which your sleep is improved. It might be that you need to still your mind, relax your body or cool down from overheating.

I talk more about the different ways to improve your sleep in further posts on sleep. Look for Parts 5 and beyond.

Do you want to work on your sleep? Please get in touch as herbs are a gentle, non-addictive way to really improve the quality and length of your sleep.