Q.: I have had trouble with insomnia since my wife’s passing. I am so desperate because I simply cannot function in the day without enough sleep at night. I have tried a sleeping pill before but had a reaction to it and don’t like the idea. I am a single dad with two sons and they might need me in the night and I am worried that a sleeping pill will knock me out! A colleague at work suggested a herbal valium. Is there such a thing? I need to know more. Thank you for your help. P.B.
DR ARIEN VAN DER MERWE REPLIES:
You are quite right: Sleep (six to eight hours in darkness and quiet) is critical to health, general sense of well-being and longevity; it is a vital physical need to restore and replenish our bodies and minds. We require sleep for survival just as we need food, water and oxygen.
There are a number of herbal and homeopathic remedies you could try, but the most important ‘remedy’ is to learn to relax before you go to bed, as it is the thoughts, and emotions elicited by these thoughts, that keep you awake, as well as the fact that you’re not used to sleeping alone.
As a starter, I’d recommend a sleeping ritual to convince and prepare the left hemisphere of your brain that you’re serious about a good night’s rest! Quieting down the beta wave monkey chatter from the left hemisphere (e.g. I hope I sleep tonight; I’m so tired; I can’t bear not sleeping) is essential to drifting into the cycles of alpha, then theta and delta brain waves for a deep, restorative sleep.
Calm down before you go to sleep: add 5 to 10 drops of aromatherapy oils of orange blossom, rose geranium or lavender to your bath water; add one of the same oils to the water of a burner with a tea light candle to soften the light while listening to calming, soothing music; do some gentle stretching yoga exercises to prepare and calm your body and mind; meditate or do some relaxation exercises (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing) before you go to bed; or listen to guided visualisations on a CD next to your bed.
The herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is very effective without the side effects associated with prescription sleeping pills. It also doesn’t cause any form of dependency. Herbalist tradition has long recommended both hops (Humulus lupulus), used in beer manufacturing, and valerian root together for relaxation and as a sleep support.
The following herbs can also help: lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, passion flower and bitter orange. These remedies can all be taken as a tea (adding some honey, if required) before bedtime, or as a tincture or in capsule form. They are available as sleep supports or calming combinations from most pharmacies and health shops.