A guest post by Atava Garcia Swiecicki. This is the first in a series of articles that will go in depth about all the ways herbs interact with sleep and dreams. But to be able to dream, we first must be able to fall asleep. Insomnia and other sleeping disorders are rampant in the United State, and in fact, according to the Center for Disease Control, “insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic.”1 Lack of a good night’s sleep can lead to problems with memory, concentration, low energy, and coordination. Sleep deprivation can lead to exhaustion, chronic health problems, accidents and injury. That’s the bad news.
Fortunately, the world of medicinal plants offers many remedies to help with sleep. As a practicing clinical herbalist, I have seen many people’s sleep problems be aided by herbal remedies. I want to introduce an herb you probably haven’t heard about, but first let’s take a look at sleep problems in general.
My first introduction to herbs for sleep was personal. As a young adult I suffered from chronic insomnia. I was able to fall asleep but would awaken around 3 or 4 in the morning and be unable to fall back asleep. Luckily, one of my roommates recommended that I try an herbal formula of skullcap and valerian.
I started to take the herbs and was surprised and pleased at the immediate effects. I was able to use the herbs to help me sleep through the night. The quality of my sleep, my dream life and my waking life all improved dramatically.
What’s keeping you awake?
There are many reasons people have a hard time sleeping. Here are some of the top reasons I see in my clinical practice that affect people’s sleep:
- Mental-emotional stress: Including worry, anxiety, depression, mind chatter (repetitive thoughts).
- Physical tension: Many people hold stress in their physical body. Without proper movement and exercise, the body is tight and tense and has a hard time relaxing and going to sleep.
- Emotional pain and trauma: Huge loss, like death of a loved one, can cause problems with sleeping. Sleep can also be disturbed by experiencing traumatic events like accidents, violence, sudden emergencies and natural disasters.
- Digestive problems: Eating too much or too late at night can cause digestive distress that leads to insomnia.
- Chronic deficiency and illness: For some, sleep disturbances are caused by deeper imbalances in the body.
- Over-stimulation: The body and mind can be overstimulated by many things that disrupts sleep. This includes caffeine, electronic devices of all kinds (including television, the computer and video games), bright light, exercising too late in the day, and staying up past one’s natural bedtime.
Herbal allies for sleep problems caused by stress
In herbal medicine, herbs are classified according to their actions in the body. Herbs that work to nourish and support the nervous system are called nervines.
In general, all herbal nervines help to calm the nerves and to release nervous tension and stress. Therefore most nervines can be useful for helping with sleep problems caused by stress. Herbal nervines include many of the popular remedies for sleep including skullcap, lavender, valerian, and chamomile.
Skullcap, scutellaria lateriflora: the remedy for nervous agitation
Skullcap is an excellent remedy to relax the nerves. It has a special place in my heart because it helped to cure my own insomnia. According to herbalist David Hoffman: “It effectively soothes nervous tension while renewing and revivifying the central nervous system.”2
Skullcap is indicated to use when a person feels stressed, edgy and agitated. It helps with all kinds of nervous system agitation, including tics, twitches, spasms and seizures. Skullcap has a broad range of clinical application and is used to treat anxiety, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, nerve pain, and delirium tremens.
Skullcap is an excellent remedy for insomnia caused by stress. It is perfect herbal remedy for someone who can’t sleep because they feel tense and irritable. Skullcap also helps relax the body and mind and to ease restless, interrupted sleep.
Skullcap is a safe herbal remedy for most people. Do not take skullcap if you are taking sedative medications because it can potentiate their effects. Always consult with your health care practitioner before use.
Traditional preparations and dosage of skullcap3
Skullcap can be taken as a tea or tincture. To make a good strong tea, use 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried herb to one cup of water. Place the herbs in a teapot or mug and cover the herb with hot water and let steep for 20 minutes. Take this at bedtime.
A recommended dosage of the tincture is 10-30 drops thirty minutes before bedtime and another 10-30 drops right before going to sleep. In case you wake up at night, keep you skullcap tincture next to your bed. Dosage of 10-30 drops can be repeated when you wake up to help you fall back asleep.
Skullcap can also be taken during the day to calm and quiet the nerves. In this case, I usually recommend smaller dosages so that the person feels relaxed but not sleepy.
Atava Garcia Swiecicki, MA, RH (AHG) is dedicated to remembering and reclaiming the indigenous healing traditions of her ancestors. She has been studying and practicing healing arts for over 20 years and has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a graduate degree from Naropa University Oakland. Atava is also certified in both Acupressure and Jin Shin Jyutsu®, and is a clinical herbalist and member of the American Herbalist Guild.
Atava’s teaching and healing work is a unique and powerful combination of herbal medicine, curanderismo, dream work, energetic bodywork and ancestral healing. She also runs a small herbal product company that specializes in hand-crafted herbal remedies and potions. Her website is www.ancestralapothecary.com.
2 Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press, 2003, pp. 582.
3 These are general recommendations for an average, healthy adult and are not to be considered medical advice. Always consult your doctor or health care practitioner before using herbal remedies.
First Image: blue skullcap by Atava Garcia Swiecicki (c) 2012