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Sleep is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle. During sleep, the body performs two very important processes. The first is restoration and rejuvenation, which needs to take place to help the muscles and tissues repair themselves. It also encourages the synthetisation of hormones. The second process happens in the brain. Over the course of each sleep period, the brain encourages the retention of the memories that happened over the course of that day. These memories are then used in the future to utilise the new skills learned.
Sometimes, though, sleep isn’t that easy to achieve. When people go through periods of sleeping troubles, they are suffering from what is known as insomnia. But what is insomnia, exactly? And what are some herbs that help induce sleep? Let’s find out.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition in which a person has trouble staying asleep through the night or falling asleep at all. The condition leads to tiredness throughout the day, problems with mood stabilisation, decreased cognitive function, and low energy.
There are two general types of insomnia. Acute insomnia is defined as sleep that is disrupted temporarily due to certain life stressors, such as work pressure or general stress. When the condition becomes chronic, though, that sleeplessness tends to occur for three or more nights per week for a period of three months or more.
What causes insomnia?
As mentioned above, there are a couple of instances where acute insomnia can occur. If a person is nervous about a big event the following day or has just received bad news, sleep can elude them for a night.
The reasons behind chronic insomnia are a bit more complicated, and the cause can be hard to bog down. Certain life changes, such as shift work or a big move, can cause insomnia to occur more frequently. It can also happen due to medications, clinical disorders such as anxiety and depression, an overactive thyroid, Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Excess intake of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can also contribute to chronic insomnia.
Chronic illness and insomnia
Chronic illnesses have the ability to disrupt every part of a person’s life, including their sleep cycle. People suffering from neurological conditions can be far more susceptible to insomnia because the disorder has a negative effect on how the brain works, thus contributing to its inability to ‘shut off’ for the night.
Medications taken for certain illnesses can also play a factor in how well a person sleeps at night. Anticonvulsants, beta agonists, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and dopamine agonists (contained in Parkinson’s medications) can all lead to sleep disruptions and eventually chronic insomnia.
What is the best herbal remedy for insomnia?
There are plenty of medications that can help someone suffering from chronic insomnia get the shuteye they need, but many clinical medications can lead to dependence and risk making insomnia worse in the long run. They can also lead to other side effects that will lead to decreased quality of life, especially in patients suffering from chronic illness.
The side effects of clinical sleep aids can include next-day drowsiness, dizziness, problems with balance, gastrointestinal distress such as constipation and diarrhoea, and changes in appetite. These side effects can be hard to contend with when already dealing with a chronic illness.
There are other ways to combat chronic insomnia, though. Herbal remedies for sleep have been around for centuries and are a more natural way to fight against sleepless nights. For example, products that contain melatonin can help induce sleep, as can valerian root, magnesium, lavender, and L-theanine.
Herbs that help induce sleep
Melatonin is widely regarded as a healthy sleep aid because melatonin occurs naturally in the body. It’s the hormone that tells the body when it’s time to go to bed. If sleep cycles are interrupted, melatonin can help get them back on track.
Three herbs that can contribute to overall levels of healthy sleep by inhibiting GABA breakdown and encouraging a healthy balance of the neurotransmitter are valerian root, magnesium, and L-theanine. When GABA levels are at their best, the body can get the rest it needs. When GABA levels are off, however, it leads to a heightened level of anxiety and stress, which can turn into a case of chronic insomnia if not treated.
Lavender can help combat the symptoms of insomnia by working as an anxiety reliever and sedative. The aromatherapy in lavender has an effect on the nervous system and can improve mood and lower stress levels, making it a helpful partner in combating chronic insomnia. The two main ingredients used to help lower stress and anxiety, encouraging sleep, are linalool and linalyl acetate.
Can Lyme disease affect sleep?
Lyme disease can affect the entire nervous system if left untreated. When this happens, it can disrupt many of the processes in the body, including sleep. It affects sleep by encouraging imbalances among neurotransmitters that can lead to symptoms such as depression, fatigue, brain fog and insomnia.
This insomnia in patients with Lyme disease can disrupt their recovery process because sleep is essential to the overall function of the body and immune system. The best way to avoid insomnia is to deal with the symptoms that can cause it; the aforementioned herbal remedies could be a good start in the fight against chronic sleeplessness.
If you're looking for more herbal remedies for common ailments, check out our post on herbs that help ease gastric upset!