Sleep, it can be so elusive, yet it is so important. Our Western lifestyle prides itself on going at full speed, with lots of caffeine and very few breaks. This runs counter to how we in the Dharma Kitchen feel best. (Those of you who say pish-posh to sleep, that you can sleep when you're dead—you're the ones I worry about. Hmm.) There is so much to be regained when we sleep, but the most important thing for me is the direct impact it has on your immune system. From what I have read, interruptions in sleep mean reductions in immune response. And from what I have seen in my own life, it's absolutely true. I say this not to put extra pressure on you if you or make you feel even more stressed out if you aren't sleeping well. It's just to say, well, we've had our issues, sleep and I. I'm with you. They are surmountable. They are not permanent. This, too, shall pass.
I'm just sharing with you what has worked for me and those I know and love. I am not a doctor nor an herbalist; please consult a doctor, chiropractor, naturopath, herbalist, whatever self-care medium works best for you. I've had a long haul to discover what's been interfering with my sleep. If you are having issues, whether they are intermittent or chronic, you owe it to yourself to take it seriously. And I cross my fingers that have a physician or other wellness providers who can take your problem seriously, too, and not just throw a script for Ambien at you, which may be a temporary Band-Aid but possibly not a long-term integrative solution. I went through a series of adrenal and thyroid hormone testing before we determined what was affecting me, and I sought the wise counsel of my doctor and the herbal experts at Nature's Way in Easton.
Some of these may provide a more immediate response than others; some of these ideas are more systemic and will likely require a more long-term use before you start to feel different when your head hits the pillow. (My favorite? Valerian, which I wrote about in a different blog post.) The first thing you can do, and this is so obvious that I can't believe I didn't think of it, is to set your intention for a good night's sleep but be open to whatever surfaces.
1. First and foremost, try to turn off or lower the lights and shut off all screens at least an hour before bed. Don't watch anything overly violent or stimulating. It's just going to make it difficult for your body's sleep hormones do their work. I find that reading has been the most consistent, helpful thing, when I feel like I've got the attention span for it. I prefer to read things that are positive and uplifting; I just finished the new Elizabeth Gilbert book Big Magic. It sets me off to bed in a good frame of mind.
2. If you've got some manner of muscular issue keeping you up, whether it's keyed up shoulders or a sore psoas from yoga class or whatever you do, chewable Cal-Mags can help. I often give them to the boys when they are a little too keyed up at night. Many of us are deficient in calcium and magnesium; especially if you are drinking coffee or tea, which inhibits absorption of such nutrients. (Oh yeah, this goes without saying; cut back on your caffeine...but if you are smart you already know this.) I get mine through Shaklee, an absolutely phenomenal natural nutrition company whose products have changed my health and that of my family, for the better.
3. Any kind of meditation or any pranayama (control of the breath) will do wonders to change your breathing and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us relax. It may not happen overnight, but the benefits are there. There are tons of meditation apps out there and lots of different ways to approach it, but for end-of-the-day winding down, I like Jennifer Reis and Yoga Nidra/Divine Sleep. You can download or purchase a CD and listen to it before bed. (It's not yoga in the hatha/asana sense.) And if you fall asleep during the meditation, that's kind of the whole point. You still feel the benefits of the meditation. It all sinks in—it's sneaky that way. Some people like to meditate in the morning, and I used to do be that way, but I find it's more effective for me to practice at night right now. (Instead, I like to practice what Dana Velden calls a "tea meditation.")
4. Epsom salt baths. These are one of my secret weapons. I try to get a good soak in at least once a week. Epsom salt baths are so healing, detoxifying and restorative. I like DIY blends that combine herbs, essential oils, sea salt and/or baking soda. (If you're feeling a little under the weather, Epsom salt baths are great for that too.) When I do, I invariably sleep better. The key is to soak in the tub with the lights off and candles lit, because it signals to your body that it's time to start producing melatonin. Stumble out of the bath, dry off, put on something warm and comforting and shuffle off to bed. Do not pass go. Do not turn on more lights. Do not look at your phone.
5. More tinctures and teas! I like this tincture from our friends at porTchtea, as it combines hops (so no, it ain't gluten free) and apple cider vinegar. Don DeVault, the inspired farmer behind these creations, also makes tea bags you can toss into the bath (a curious experiment; I mix mine with Epsom salts) and teas with language that balances cheeky and nurturing; not an easy vibe to pull off. I'm also a big fan of porTchtea's Bongwater Dog Blend, which encourages you to "Chill out. Be Happy." Lately, this is my go-to before bed. This one has chamomile, valerian, St. John's wort and more. It also manages to taste good, which is not something you can always say for herbal teas blended for a more therapeutic benefit.