Insomnia is the deeply irritating difficulty in falling or staying asleep, or having disturbed sleep patterns that fail to refresh you.
Stressful life events can result in anxiety and cause short term insomnia or chronic insomnia which is defined as occurring on at least three nights a week for more than one month.
Other causes of insomnia include exercise or drinking caffeine just before bedtime, alterations in the biological clock such as jetlag, depression and medical conditions such as arthritis and asthma which can become troublesome at night.
Sleep deprivation can harm health. Effects on mental health include a decrease in thinking ability and memory, and an increase in low mood and anxiety. Poor sleep quality increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese. Sleep increases the production of leptin, an appetite suppressing hormone, so decreased levels of leptin result in increased appetite. Reduced hours of sleep increase the risk of diabetes, hypertension and reduced immune function.
Drugs used to treat insomnia can be taken for a few days to alleviate short term insomnia resulting from stressful events. These drugs should not, however, be taken long term as they result in the symptoms of tolerance and addiction. In fact, according to a BMJ study, the benefits of drug treatment are limited: they result in only 25 minutes extra sleep but cause problems of day time fatigue and impaired thinking.
A much more attractive option is to make lifestyle changes to improve sleep hygiene and to use Herbal Medicine.
Ways to improve sleep hygiene:
- Ensure your room is dark, cool and quiet, and your bed is comfortable
- Do some exercise each day, preferably in the late afternoon or early evening
- Do not watch TV or look at your computer or mobile phone in bed
- A light snack before bed can be beneficial but not a heavy meal
- Get up at the same time each day no matter what time you went to bed to establish a sleep-wake rhythm
- Do not lie in bed if you cannot sleep get up and do something quiet until you become drowsy.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco before bed
- Expose yourself to natural sunlight in the day
- Try not to rehash the days problems or worry about tomorrow
- When you go to bed relax your muscles, beginning with your feet and working your way up to your head.
Ways to use herbs:
- Herbal tea Drink a cup before bed or if you wake in the night. Herbs which are beneficial include Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Passion flower, Skullcap, Hops, Valerian and St John’s Wort. Teas can be made by infusing 1-2 teaspoons of dried or fresh herb in a cup of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Alternatively sleep promoting herbal teas by companies such as Pukka Herbs can be bought in health shops and supermarkets.
- Lavender essential oil Add a few drops of Lavender oil to a bath before bed or add a drop of Lavender oil to your pillow
- Valerian hot chocolate (livingmedicine.org.uk) Simmer a teaspoon of valerian root in a cup of milk add cinnamon and melt in a square of bitter chocolate, cocoa powder and/or honey. Sieve the liquid and then sip slowly to give a comforting relaxing drink.
- Over the counter herbal remedies Licensed herbal remedies can be purchased from pharmacies and supermarkets
- Visit a Medical Herbalist who will prepare a mixture of herbs tailored to treat your specific symptoms and cause of insomnia