We all know that sluggish feeling of not getting enough sleep. Sleeplessness is truly a drag, especially since we need to spend about 1/3 of our life sleeping.
During sleep, the body’s parasympathetic nervous system is switched on (“rest and digest”). It is a time during which the body repairs and rejuvenates.
As Dr. Aviva Romm states, “Rest is a critical biological need; individuals with insomnia [lack of sleep] experience significant consequences caused by lack of restorative sleep, including fatigue, exhaustion, depression, irritability, cognitive disturbances, decreased job performance, weight gain, chronic pain, and even an increased rate of accidents, such as motor vehicle accidents.”
The conventional treatment for sleep disturbances ranges from non-pharmacologic lifestyle protocols to drug-based approaches. Some of the non-pharmacologic protocols include practicing good sleep hygiene, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), stimulus control therapy (ex. clients are taught to avoid sleep disturbing behaviors such as watching television before bedtime), and temporal control therapies (ex. the practice of getting out of bed the same time every day, as well as avoiding naps). The above non-pharmacologic therapies have been proven safe and effective.
Dr. Romm discusses how many patients prefer a more natural approach to sleep disturbance- this is often related to concerns of dependency and side effects of pharmaceutical sleep aids. Botanical therapies, along with the above non-pharmacologic lifestyle protocols, are often more safe and effective at improving sleep.
If you are looking to improve your Z’s, you’ll want to get acquainted with the top 3 herbs for sleep: Ashwagandha, Ziziphus, and Albizia. You can try all three with our Ultimate Sleep Enhancing Bundle.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is a time-tested Ayurvedic herb, which today is considered a calming adaptogen. The species name of this herb, somnifera, actually means “sleep-inducing.” This herb has been used for over 3,000 years to help promote balance in body, mind, and spirit.
In Ayurveda, Ashwagandha is considered a rasayana since it is regarded as a longevity tonic. It is known to help strengthen memory, reduce the negative impacts of stress, increase vitality, and promote a deeper sense of calm and peace.
Traditionally, Ashwagandha powder is boiled in milk with a small amount of sugar or honey. This preparation can be a wonderful addition to your sleep routine. You can use any type of “milk”- coconut, almond, hemp, etc.- the fat of the milk is believed to enhance the herbs absorption.
For best results, drink warm ashwagandha milk an hour to 30 minutes before bedtime. It is also a great idea to keep an ashwagandha tincture and a glass of water by your bed at night- so if you wake up in the middle of the night this can aid you in falling back asleep.
Ashwagandha has been shown to enhance endocrine function (this can be helpful in re-balancing hormones which play a role in sleep). Due to its nervine effects, Ashwagandha is effective in the treatment of fatigue, stress-induced insomnia, and general nervous exhaustion (all of which can be the root causes of sleeplessness, as well as the results of sleeplessness).
Ashwagandha happens to be high in iron, which can prove especially beneficial for women. Women are seven to ten times more likely to develop anemia (iron deficiency) than men. Due to its high iron content and nervine effects, this herb has been found helpful with easing muscle pain and brain fog, commonly associated with perimenopausal symptoms.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha is generally regarded as safe for daily use. As always, be sure to contact a qualified health practitioner to determine your individual needs. Ashwagandha is in the nightshade family (same family as potatoes and tomatoes), so be cautious if you react negatively to this family of plants.
Ziziphus (Ziziphus jujuba)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it has long been believed that extreme fatigue is both a cause and result of insomnia. In TCM, the liver is considered the root cause of fatigue. Exhaustion leads to insomnia, irritability, and headaches- all of which indicate excess yang in the liver- resulting in an imbalance of yin and yang.
Exhaustion also causes the inability for blood to adequately nourish the heart, which leads to shen (the heart spirit) to wandering from its shelter; this presents as insomnia with heart palpitations. Ziziphus is both nourishing to the heart and liver.
TCM expert and physician Lu Yong Chang references the ancient teachings of TCM and relays that: “The day is yang, the night is yin. The wei qi circulates the yang during the day and circulates the yin at night. In other words, the yang enters the yin in the night. The meeting of yin and yang creates a peaceful serene state, which is sleep. If the yin is deficient and unable to receive the yang, or the yang is in excess and unable to enter the yin, this causes disconnection of yin and yang with resultant insomnia, as stressed by Zhang Jingyue [a famous physician of the Ming Dynasty]: The insufficiency of genuine yin, essence, and blood will cause disconnection of yin and yang, thus disturbing the peace of the spirit and generating insomnia. The heart shelters the spirit in the house of the yang…Sleep occurs when the wei qi enters the yin and creates a quiet environment. In the words of the ancients, when the yang has a home to return to, the sleep will ensue. When the heart is disturbed by worry and shakes the spirit, restlessness occurs and generates insomnia.”
Ziziphus nourishes the yin and blood of the heart and liver, assuring that yang has a place to return.
Ziziphus has traditional use as a sedative, anxiety reliever, and digestive aid. Modern research supports this ancient knowledge. Studies show that the sedative effects of ziziphus are largely exerted by jujubosides and sponosin phytochemicals.
One murine (rodent) study showed that jujubosides increased total sleep and REM cycles. Ziziphus also influences changes to neurotransmitters, specifically GABA and serotonin, which make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
This herb actually quiets neural activity; research shows that one of the saponins in Zizipus, jujuboside A, helps to calm activity in the hippocampus region of the brain. The same compounds responsible for ziziphus’ sedative effects also play a role in the herb’s anxiolytic effects. This makes sense, as for most people, sleep issues and anxiety are closely related.
Ziziphus is rich in minerals and fatty acids, which can have broad benefits on sleep and overall health. Ziziphus contains vitamins C, B, and A- all of which are considered antioxidants. Antioxidants help to repair cell damage and reduce the impact of oxidative stress and inflammation in the body.
Studies show that ziziphus contains phytochemicals known as saponins, which have powerful anti-inflammatory actions in the body. It is believed that the anti-inflammatory actions of ziziphus are cause for its pain-relieving effects.
Ziziphus is generally regarded as safe. It is a good idea to start with a smaller dose to determine what your body needs. As always, consult a qualified health care practitioner to determine your individual needs.
Albizia (Albizia julibrissin)
In TCM, Albizia is regarded as the “Tree of Happiness” due to its calming and mood-regulating effects. You are sure to feel more joyous with the better quality sleep albizia can bring! Albizia is regarded as nourishing to the heart and calming to the spirit. It has proved useful in the treatment of heartache, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
Studies have displayed the sedative effects of albizia- it has been shown to increase sleep time in mice research. Albizia can help soothe your nerves and mind, calming the body for sleep. Have a restless mind? Turn to albizia! While it helps promote sleep, albizia is not known for causing drowsiness- in fact, it is often used during the day for the natural treatment of depression.
Albizia is also often used to help relieve anxiety due to its nervine properties. It is said that albizia bark helps to anchor the spirit, while the flowers lighten it. Our extract has both!
In TCM, there is a strong connection between the mind and well-being of the heart; a healthy mind supports a healthy heart and vs. versa. It is believed that albizia helps to relieve irritability due to suppressed emotions.
In TCM it is considered a shen tonic; people with weak shen are ruled by their emotions, while people with healthy shen feel balanced emotionally and mentally. Albizia can help people feel more connected to themselves and life.
Current research shows that albizia acts as an adaptogen, promoting a healthy response to stress and supporting the adrenals. This herb helps to promote natural regulation of the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis; in this way, albizia supports the body’s natural balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system- this helps to promote healthy sleep and an overall state of balance. Albizia is also loaded with antioxidants which play a role in preventing aging.
Research shows the antioxidant properties of albizia work specifically in the amygdala (your brain’s emotional processing center, which also plays an important role in memory). These effects on the amygdala may explain some of the anti-anxiety and stress-reducing effects of albizia.
Increase joyful Z’s in your life by taking in some albizia!
Promote Good Sleep Hygiene
Set yourself up for success! Here are some tips Dr. Romm presents in her book, Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, for promoting good sleep hygiene:
- Wait until you are sleepy to go to bed.
- If you are not asleep after 20 minutes of being in bed, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity, such as reading.
- Stick to a nightly routine; do something that relaxes you before bed, such as taking a warm shower or bath. Writing in a journal before bed can help to clear the mind of any lingering worries or thoughts from the day.
- Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up at the same time every morning.
- Stick to a daily routine; aim to eat, exercise, take medications, do chores, etc. at the same times every day.
- Use your bed only for sleep and intimacy- otherwise, the activity can become associated with your resting space.
- Refrain from caffeine after lunch. Do not smoke before bed. Do not drink alcohol within 6 hours of bedtime.
- In general, it is a good rule of thumb to not eat food after 7 pm; however, do not go to bed hungry.
- Get sufficient movement and exercise during the day. Avoid strenuous exercise in the evenings.
- Unclutter your bedroom. Make your bed space relaxing and calm.
- Check for potential allergens: mold, pollen, dust, and mites.
- Ensure that your bed gives you optimal support; make sure you are comfortable with the pillows and blankets you use.
- Use relaxation promoting techniques: listen to calming music, meditate, do gentle yoga, connect to the moon.
- Examine your attitudes and thoughts about not sleeping- are you stressing about stressing?
- Make your bedroom a quiet, dark space. Studies show that people sleep better when their rooms are a bit cooler in temperature.
Nutritional Sleep Supports
Magnesium supplementation has been shown to help decrease stress and support sleep. Dr. Romm recommends 225 mg of magnesium.
Vitamin B6 has been shown to help reduce symptoms of insomnia and depression. B6 is involved in the production of the serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for sleep regulation.
Iron deficiency has been associated with restless leg syndrome (RLS), which can result in sleeplessness. If you are experiencing RLS or sleeplessness, it is a good idea to have your iron levels checked.
Please note: It is important to address any underlying causes of sleep disturbance. Common causes of sleep disturbance include: sleep rhythm reversals, bad dreams, leg cramps, chronic pain, sleep apnea, allergies, psychological stress, depression, anxiety, urinary frequency, gastroesophageal reflux, hyperthyroidism, and the hormonal changes of peri-menopause.
Women are more likely to experience more sleep disturbances than men. Getting to the root cause will help you prevent sleeplessness in the future and will also help to improve your overall sense of balance. Talk to a qualified health practitioner who can help you determine the root cause of your sleep disturbance.
In general, it is recommended to take sleep herbs 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. If you opt to brew a tea with your sleep herbs, make it concentrated so that you are drinking a smaller amount of liquid- this will prevent needing to get up in the middle up the night to use the bathroom.
With the support of the above lifestyle sleep hygiene protocols, along with herbal support, you can rest assured!
Remember: If you are looking to improve your Z’s you’ll want to get acquainted with the top 3 herbs for sleep: Ashwagandha, Ziziphus, and Albizia.
You can try all three with the Ultimate Sleep Enhancing Bundle
Breus, Michael. “Jujube for Sleep and Health.” Your Guide to Better Sleep, TheSleepDoctor, 13 Mar. 2018, www.thesleepdoctor.com/2018/03/13/jujube-sleep-health/.
Dorr, Christopher. “TRADITIONAL THEORY OF INSOMNIA DUE TO FATIGUE.” Zizyphus, www.itmonline.org/arts/zizyphus.htm.
Groves Maria Noël. Body into Balance: an Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Romm, Aviva. Botanical Medicine for Womens Health E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2017.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press, 2007.