Sleep is as important to the body as food and water. It is one of our most precious resources and cannot be underestimated in its importance for maintaining and recuperating good mental and physical health. Just like regular exercise and good nutrition, restful sleep provides a solid foundation for quality of life and longevity.
However, it seems that many Kiwis are not getting enough of it. According to a 2015 survey, almost one quarter of New Zealanders feel tired or fatigued every day, with this figure rising to 36% among people under 30 years.
Factors that can affect sleep or sleep requirements include illness, pain, noise and light interference,emotional stress, pregnancy, menopause, and the time of year (some people need more sleep during the darker winter months). If you’re feeling tired when you first wake up, then this can be a sign of insufficient or lack of restorative sleep. Six to eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults, and too much or too little can have an adverse effect. Whilst we all occasionally experience a bad night’s sleep, which has little long-term consequence, persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting health.
Getting enough sleep is vital to regenerate the body and mind and to support cognitive functions such as mental clarity and focus and a balanced mood. Sleep also plays an important role in a healthy immune system and blood sugar balance.
Whether you need support to help falling asleep or staying asleep, or you’re waking up feeling unrefreshed, plant-based remedies offer scientifically researched options that are suitable for adults and children, including babies.
Whether or not you get a good night’s sleep starts during the daytime. Excessive stress during the day can lead to nervous overload and adrenal exhaustion, which in turn causes sleep difficulties. Addressing your sources of stress, regular exercise and supporting your nervous system can help to keep stress hormones balanced throughout the day, leading to a calm and relaxed mind and body when it’s time to go to bed. This is an area where plant remedies can offer support. Some plants that help to nourish and relax the nervous system include Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate), St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Taking these plants as a tea remedy is ideal as liquids, and their nutrients, are very quickly and effectively absorbed. Plus the process of making and drinking a tea is very calming in itself – a little ritual of self-care, and a chance to take a deep breath.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a well-researched plant remedy that supports quality and duration of sleep. It combines well with other plant remedies like Hops (Humulus lupus), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate), Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and Woodruff (Galium odoratum) to support regeneration and rest at night. It works best in people who experience sleep problems due to stress and tension, worry, restlessness and mental and physical overload. It can be used as additional support in people with degenerative conditions or hormonal issues (e.g. in pregnancy or menopause). Furthermore, these plants are entirely non-addictive and suitable for all age groups. Plant remedies for sleep support are best extracted in hot water and taken as a herbal infusion 30 minutes before bed.
Plant remedies have something to offer whether you need support during times of severe stress and sleep deprivation, or simply want to ensure you’re getting the most restorative sleep possible.
One last thing to remember is that not all teas are created equal. Despite the enticing names, herbs found in common supermarket tea bags may not have been harvested and processed with the necessary care to retain the active compounds of the plant. When choosing a tea remedy, make sure you look for high-grade, certified organic plants that are formulated by an experienced medical herbalist.
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Always read the label and use as directed. If symptoms persist, see your healthcare professional. Artemis Ltd, Dunedin.