*Disclaimer: this is an article about my personal experiences. It is not medical advice, and should not be taken as such. Please consult a medical professional before taking any herbal remedies or changing any medications. Thank you.

SLEEP:

For quite some time, about a decade for me, sleep has been an elusive thing. I believe, for me, that it is partly due to stress, and partly due to genetics (my mother is a terrible insomniac and has been for as long as I can remember.)
Recently I began doing some research into natural/herbal remedies to try to reduce my stress levels, and increase my sleep levels.
I made some changes in my personal life as well – such as re-locating and working less, and working in a different field.
The main point of this article, however, is the herbs.
For starters, I am sure almost anyone who has struggled with sleeplessness, shift work, and the like, have heard of melatonin. Melatonin is our body’s natural chemical which tells us it’s sleepytime basically. Many people recommended this to me right away, almost presenting it as if it were a no-fail option. WRONG. If sleep was my only issue, then perhaps melatonin on its own would have been effective. But for me this was so much more – it was a racing mind, clenched jaw, rapid breathing, tightness in my chest, sweaty palms… Trying to sleep had reached a whole new level for me. The anxiety from not being able to fall asleep was overwhelming. So I began my search for something to help with the anxiety first, and sleep second.

First and foremost, some of the things that I have discovered to physically help me sleep are that doing some simple, relaxing stretches (yoga-style) while I am sitting on my bed, lights off, sleep-ready, helps immensely. It is relaxing, and helps to gently ease away some of the tight, tense muscles from the day. Also, not eating or drinking for a few hours before bed. Bonus: if you can get your significant other, or a sibling, or a roommate, or SOMEONE to give you a bit of a massage to relax you. So helpful. I find a bit of a massage on the neck/shoulders or the hands and wrists especially soothing. Also, cover any light from an alarm clock, turn your cell phone on “silent” – yes your alarm will still go off in the morning – cover your window with dark curtains or even a dark sheet or towel, and make sure the temperature is just right. I prefer to sleep in a room that is a little bit on the cooler side.

Now – for my precious herbs!
Something that I take throughout the day is an acid called GABA. I lied, it is not actually a herb. Sorry. But it is still natural! It is in capsule form, and when I say acid I don’t mean it burns or gives me  heartburn or anything like that. In simple terms, it is an acid produced in our brain that hinders anxiety. GABA reduces over-stimulation of the brain, kind of our own natural calming agent. This one does not cause drowsiness, so I usually take one in the morning and one in the evening to help me relax. The bottle says to take it without food, but I do what I want, and haven’t noticed any negative side effects if I take it close to meal time. I believe it absorbs more slowly if you have a full belly though.
Melatonin is something that I also take, however I find this really only works occasionally for me. Perhaps when my anxiety is better managed it will have more effect.
Now for the good stuff – 2 herbs were continually mentioned to me by those who I chose to seek advice from. Passionflower extract, and valerian root. In the “olden days”, valerian root was chewed in the evening as a sleep aid. That is its main purpose. I believe the Passion Flowers were eaten, and were used for anxiety and as a sleep aid. The capsules I take are a mixture of Passionflower, Valerian Root, and Catnip. Due to the quantities of each in these capsules, I can take one throughout the day if I am feeling extra anxious and it will not make me extremely sleepy. Just a nice relaxation feeling. In the evening, I will take one or two of these capsules, and sometimes a bit of melatonin and/or GABA. It all depends how I feel. I try to “check in” with my body and see how I feel before taking any supplements. If I don’t feel that I need anything, or that I need more or less, I listen to my body as best I can. If I try to go to sleep without any help, and find after about half an hour to 45 minutes, that I am not drowsy or sleepy, then I will start with some melatonin and the Passionflower mix capsules. I have found a great improvement in my sleep patterns from these natural remedies. I went from the chance of sleep being a 50/50 toss up, and only a few hours at a time, to more of an 80% success rate and being able to sleep a full night more often. I still have trouble STAYING asleep, but that is a whole other monster. Right now I am happy with a few solid hours each night. And I think it is kind of a round-about thing – the more sleep you get, the less anxiety you will have. You know?
Oh and I forgot to mention another sleep aid that I use – it is actually an App for my Android phone (go Samsung!) called “Lightning Bug”. It is kind of like a “wave machine” for your phone. It’s really clever actually. You can choose waves, rain, or a few other options, and for how long it will play once you start it. It also will “fade out” the sound so it does not abruptly shut off and startle the senses. It includes an alarm clock also so it can cover your whole sleep/wake schedule. I find it really helpful also, and best of all, IT IS FREE 😀

So in conclusion, the products that I have personally found to help with my sleep and anxiety battles are:

  • GABA – brand: AOR classic series GABA
  • “Relax and Sleep” (the passionflower/valerian one) – brand: Jamieson Natural Sources Relax&Sleep
  • Melatonin – brand: does not matter, I have tried multiple different types (usually whatever one was on sale) and have found little to no difference between any brands as far as how effective the are) melatonin

My routine:
This is roughly an average day of how I take these supplements. Keep in mind I often alter this routine, taking into account how I feel each day.
Morning: 1 GABA capsule with a full glass of water. (also usually a multi-vitamin.)
Mid-day:
nothing much, if I am feeling more anxious I may include another GABA or a “Relax and Sleep” capsule with another glass of water.
Evening:
at least 1 hour before bedtime I take 1 “Relax and Sleep” capsule. If I am not feeling very drowsy by the time I am getting ready for bed, I will take 1 more of those and about 6mg of Melatonin and then do some gentle stretches for about 15-20 mins.
Overnight:
If I am still wakeful throughout the night, I may take another 3 mg of Melatonin. (the maximum recommended dosage is 9mg/night)

I’d like to note that if you have difficulty with swallowing capsules, I know for certain that Passion Flower extract is available in a liquid form as well. And if you can get your hands on raw valerian root, it can be chewed.

So there you have it – my slow path to better health! I hope you found this article interesting and informative. These are just some things that have worked for me, and sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting and mix-and-matching to find something that works for you. I did this with the help of a herbalist to ensure that the things I am using are not harmful when combined.
Let me know in the comments section any tricks or tips you have used to help with insomnia or anxiety! Thanks everyone!

 

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