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Herbal Remedies for Chronic Insomnia

To sleep or not to sleep? That is the question I ask on long nights when my obstinate mind wanders and my restless body twists until I finally give in and turn on the lights.

Being unable to sleep is not just a cruel affliction: it’s a habit-forming one. Insomnia disrupts your biological and psychological rhythms and has damaging effects on your body and psyche. Over time, its cumulative stress has a tiring and aging effect.

Over-the-counter chemical or prescription sleep remedies can be just as harmful. Not only are they potentially addictive, but many also have serious side effects and can cause health problems.

Do herbal remedies really work? To get some answers, look to Matthew Hosein, a licensed nutritionist with a large following and over two decades of experience in organic remedies at legendary Bell and Bates food store.

Hosein is now a vitamin specialist at A Matter of Health, an upscale health food store on the Upper East Side. Hosein finds sleep disturbances a very common complaint among his clients. They often result from stress and the body being over-tired. He provided some wonderful recommendations for herbal supplements.

For falling asleep with a cold…

Hosein recommends Gaia Quick Defense, a supplement that strengthens your immune system and reduces late night coughing and sneezing that may keep you awake. Its herbal ingredients quickly treat inflammation in the sinus, nose, and throat.

For uninterrupted sleep…

Try Gaia SleepThru, and Gaia Sleep and Relax, which relax nerves and muscles. The recommended dose is one capsule 30 minutes before bedtime. These excellent products contain Passion flower, Valerian root, Lemon balm and Magnolia bark.

Passion flower is excellent herbal sedative with no side effects, and has traditionally been used to calm the nervous system and relieve stress. It should not be used during pregnancy. Valerian root, a popular and effective herbal sedative, is available as a tincture or tea, as well. Lemon balm is an ancient and proven remedy for sleep disturbances. Recognized for its ability to induce sleep, it’s particularly powerful if combined with valerian root extract. It is also known to reduce anxiety, promote a sense of calm, and alleviate upset stomachs. Magnolia bark has been used in Chinese medicine for many years to reduce anxiety and induce a sense of well-being. While this herb typically has no side effects, pregnant or nursing women should avoid it and excessive use can cause vertigo. Finally, magnesium relaxes the nerves.

For reducing stress…

Consider adding a spoonful of Poppy seeds to a glass of warm milk. Poppy seeds come from the same plant as the more intense opium drug. A nutrient rich food, these seeds soothe anxiety, ease pain, relax muscles, and help you sleep.

Another anti-stress option is Solaray’s Holy Basil. Holy basil is a member of the mint family, and native to tropical Asia and other tropical locations. The plant is legendary in India where it has long been considered one of the most sacred plants. In addition to its association with the goddesses of ancient sacred Indian myths, it was widely used in ancient systems of medicine including Ayurvedic treatments. Holy basil is a powerful antioxidant with proven antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties useful in treating respiratory infections and digestive disorders.

Recently scientists have studied whether holy basil can be used to treat cancer or diabetes. The results were inconclusive but the medical community has found holy basil to be effective in relieving stress and inducing relaxation. Apparently, various extracts of this plant decrease stress hormone levels, corticosterone in particular.

For reducing milder sleep disturbances…

Chamomile is a great choice. Its calming effect makes it popular in tea, but it’s not likely to work if you have serious sleep disturbances.

For a general sense of calm…

Hosein suggests skullcap, which is a muscle relaxer. It comes in two variants – a Chinese and North American type – and is often used with valerian root to calm your mind, reduce anxiety, and promote vivid dreaming. Do not use this if you are pregnant.

And, if herbs are not enough…

Consider adding Melatonin or Tryptophan to your diet. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by the body’s pineal gland. Released in the evening, melatonin increases drowsiness and subtly induces sleep. Melatonin is also available as a nutritional supplement in both health food and select drug stores. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is a sedative nutritional supplement imported from Turkey.

Sweet dreams!

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