BAY Health & Wellbeing

 with The Herbal Clinic

Sleep

Throughout the winter those long nights leave some of us yearning for a time of hibernation. Now spring is prickling at the edge of perception, we can still capitalise on one of nature’s fortifying ‘cure alls’: a good night’s sleep.

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The Story of Sleep

As light levels fall in the evening, melatonin secretion within the body begins to rise, creating feelings of drowsiness and we wind down our activities in preparation for sleep. Melatonin is a hormone which regulates our day-night cycle and prevents cellular damage whilst we sleep. At around 10pm the body undergoes a rise in metabolic activity which begins a process of repair and restoration. The body moves through different stages of sleep throughout the night, the most restorative sleep occurring between the hours of 10pm and 2am, a lighter sleep ensuing thereafter.

Sleep helps us to thrive – research has confirmed that there are numerous positive effects on immunity, mood, appetite, memory and cardiovascular health. Both poor sleepers and good sleepers experience about the same number of ‘minor stressful events’, but good sleepers find these less disturbing and can view them more positively than poor sleepers 1.

Of course, this story doesn’t work out for everybody. For some, insomnia can be a frustrating ongoing challenge.

System Override

Exposure to light, including computer monitors (which emit a ‘blue’ light that is highly stimulating), television and bright room lighting, reduces the secretion of melatonin and therefore the tendency to feel sleepy. By overriding this natural pattern we seemingly get a ‘second wind’ as the energy that would be used in restoration is absorbed into nighttime activities and mental functioning.

Sleeping Draught

Nutmeg is calming to the mind and can be taken in warm milk to promote sleep. Oat milk can be used

as a substitute for cows’ milk. Both are rich in tryptophan, a protein constituent that is necessary

for the production of serotonin (a brain chemical

that helps sleep).

⅛ teaspoon (250mg) freshly grated nutmeg

⅛ teaspoon (250mg) freshly ground cardamom

1 cup boiled milk.

1 teaspoon raw honey

Mix the ingredients together and drink in the evening before bedtime.

In high doses nutmeg can produce a stimulating effect. Do not increase the quantity.

Breathing Exercise

Lying on your back with your palms facing up, focus on your breath as it enters and leaves the body. Feel the rise and fall of your abdomen. If your attention wanders, draw it back to breathing in and out, deep regular breaths. If you feel restless just acknowledge that this excess energy will pass. Keeping this breath awareness, get into your most comfortable sleeping position. Try to imagine what your body feels like when it is in a deep relaxing sleep and allow yourself to drift into that sleepy state.

The do’s and don’ts of a good night’s sleep

DO take daily exercise – it has been found to improve sleep quality. Researchers in North-western University’s Department of Sleep found that sedentary adults who took up aerobic exercise four times a week improved their sleep quality from poor to good.

DO sleep in total darkness – even small amounts of light can trigger a reduction in melatonin release, signalling to the brain that it’s time to wake up.

DO practice regular self-massage with warm oil, soothing for the nervous system and encouraging peaceful sleep. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil for additional calming qualities.

DO establish a regular wind-down routine for half an hour before bed. Switch the television and computer off, turn the lights down low and tune in to the calmness of the night time.

A gentle walk in the darkness, listening to calming music or simply ‘being’ without light based stimulation; all allow those melatonin levels to rise.

DO keep room temperature cool. There is a reduction in core body temperature which triggers falling asleep.

DON’T consume caffeine. We drink it to stay awake, it should be obvious that it disrupts sleep, yet sometimes it’s surprising how long the effects of caffeine really last. A cup of coffee drunk in the morning can cause a state of excitation in the body that is not conducive to good sleep at night and those who are sensitive to caffeine will even feel the effect from eating dark chocolate.

DON’T eat late – over eating in the evening draws energy to our digestive system at a time when it is best directed to restoration. Carbohydrates can be a particular problem as they raise blood sugar levels preventing sleep.

DON’T drink alcohol late at night as it disrupts the natural sleep pattern, causing fewer deep sleep cycles. Allow a few hours for your body to pro-cess the metabolites before sleeping. 

1. Morin, C.M., Rodrigue, S., & Ivers, H. Role of stress, arousal, and coping skills in primary insomnia. Psychosomatic medicine, 65(2), 259-67.

MEILYR JAMES BSc (Hons) DBTh DAcu AcuC DIr MGNI Registered Medical Herbalist, Iridologist and Acupuncturist

The Herbal Clinic, 32 King Edward Road, Swansea SA1 4LL Tel: 01792 474356

www.herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk / office@herbalclinic-swansea.co.uk

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