Additionally, serotonin is a natural chemical whose production by the body has been associated with inducing sleep. Sometimes, deficiencies in tryptophan, vitamin B6 [6 subscript], niacin, magnesium, or other nutrients can prevent the formation of this hormone.
Daytime stress: Many of my patients apparently need to get wound up to achieve their goals during waking hours. But trouble occurs when stress built up during the day is released while they sleep and awakens them. That's when they lie in bed with their brains racing, unable to shut off the mental background noise. In Chinese medicine, this type of insomnia is called disturbed shen qi, or a disturbed mental spirit. Some stimulants, such as caffeine, can also encourage this type of insomnia. To combat it, I've found that managing one's day to minimize stress or release it before bedtime by taking a brisk walk or a warm bath is more effective than taking a sedative. And be aware of the amount of caffeine or other stimulants you're ingesting during the day; try cutting back on them and see whether that relieves the problem.
An herbal route to sleep
Here's a typical herbal regime that I use for insomnia when other methods fail. Dosages depend on the individual. I start with a capsulized reishi extract. Then, for particularly rough times, I might add a combination formula that includes valerian, kava, hops, skullcap, passionflower, and/or lemon balm. If a person is experiencing tight, contracted muscles or is suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome I would prescribe the reishi and kava-kava root extract.
Sleep surroundings: The sleeping environment can have an important bearing on both types of insomniacs. Noise, an uncomfortable bed, a noisy partner, and light are obvious distractions, but there are others. One often overlooked factor is temperature. Most people sleep more soundly in a cool room. However, wind, changes in barometric pressure, and sudden weather shifts can wake a person up even if the room temperature is ideal.
Sleep surroundings play an especially important role for those who do shift work. An irregular bedtime schedule can upset the body's natural rhythms. Finding or creating a dark, cool, quiet location to sleep will help establish conditions that promote falling asleep despite an irregular schedule.
Herbs for sound sleep
As an herbalist, I find most of my solutions for insomnia in the plant world. I most often recommend reishi mushrooms, hops, valerian, skullcap, passionflower, lemon balm, or kava-kava. The type of herb and the dose depend on a person's specific condition; the dosages listed here are those recommended by the official Commission E of the German government unless otherwise noted.
- Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is the plant material I use most often to relieve insomnia. While it's not traditional in Western herbalism, reishi seems to resolve disturbed shen qi, calm a person during the day, reduce anxiety, help overcome environmental distractions, and regulate sugar metabolism. A tall order for a single herb, but reishi has also been shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, strengthen the heart, and stimulate the immune system.
Reishi's active ingredients include polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system, and triterpene acids, which reduce hypertension, among other things. The health benefits of this herb have been demonstrated in many studies, both in the lab and clinic, which gives me great confidence in it.