Q: Does chamomile really help with insomnia? And, are then any other foods that do the same?
Michael J. Sale, Revere, Massachusetts
A: According to Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit's mother knew that an antidote to a stress is a soothing cup of chamomile tea. There's endless evidence to support this, but better yet, try it out your self.
Herbal sedatives reduce tension by soothing and tranquilizing. While chamomile specifically acts upon the digestive system, it also helps reduce anxiety and stress because a relaxed tummy invites deep sleep.
There are numerous herbal tea blends on the market that support sleep. While chamomile may be the best known ingredient, other sedatives and relaxants include basil, cat nip, hops, St. John's wort, kava, linden, marjoram, passion flower, oats, skullcap, valerian and vervain. Experiment with the ready made blends to see which makes you yawn, or purchase herbs from the bulk department of your natural food store and customize your own formula. The good thing about herbs unlike prescription or over the counter sleep aids that when properly used there are no negative side effects. Some herbs, however, are contraindicated during pregnancy or when taking specific medications.
While an overall healthful diet supports a good night's sleep, specific foods that may help insomnia include lettuce, nuts, poppy seeds and spinach. Additionally, favor foods high in the amino acid, tryptophan. This acid helps produce serotonin, a chemical that supports normal sleep. Tryptophan rich foods include bananas, dates, fish, grains, kefir, legumes, turkey, spirulina and yogurt. For many people, supplementing with calcium and magnesium is effective.
A warm bath helps you relax, however, don't soak in a hot tub for two hours before sleeping as such a soak will raise your body temperature and an elevated temperature interferes with sleep. A foot or hand bath before sleep is effective. Add a few drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil or even a cup of chamomile tea to your bath supports unwinding after a busy day.
Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet (that means no TV.). If your mattress, pillow or bedding is anything less than ideal, please upgrade it. Pure cotton sheets and nightclothes enable your skin to breath better and this supports sleep.
Things to Avoid:
Caffeine, and caffeine-like substances are notorious for exacerbating insomnia. Avoid chocolate, cocoa, coffee, cola, green and black tea, yerba mate and over the counter pills like Anacin, Excedrin, Midol or NoDoz. Also avoid refined foods especially sugar, and any drugs or chemicals. Don't eat three hours before bedtime and enjoy a quiet, restful activity, like easy reading, before retiring.
A stressful lifestyle or illness may contribute to sleeplessness. Chronic worry, depression, chronic pain, infection, fatigue, lack of exercise or an irregular schedule may also be triggers. Likewise, a sluggish colon and/or liver interfere with sleep.
For kitchen remedies for insomnia please visit the accompanying article.
May you be well nourished.
Remedies for Insomnia
By Rebecca Wood
1. Herbal tea.
Herbs are most effective when pulsed or taken once per hour for two or three times. Thus, as a sleep aid, enjoy the same herbal blend after dinner and again before bed. My favorite insomnia formula is a teaspoon each of chamomile, passion flower, skull cap and valerian. Steep in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes, strain, sweeten to taste and savor hot or room temperature.
2. Hot milk.
Possibly the most comforting and soothing bedtime toddy is a cup of steaming milk. Use the best quality milk available (preferably fresh, unpasteurized goat milk or quality soy milk) warm it and sweeten with 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup per cup of milk. Whisk until frothy to aerate the milk. Serve with a dash of freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon. When nerves are especially jangled, sweeten with molasses and season with vanilla. Serve hot.
3. Smell an onion.
This is a simple but effective remedy. Just before climbing into bed, slice an onion, hold it to your nose and deeply inhale. This always makes me yawn. Or, if your tendency is to awaken in the middle of the night and remain wakeful, then put an onion slice in a covered jar and keep it on your bed-table. When you awaken, sniff and then snooze.
4. Dream Pillow.
Fill a tiny pillow with aromatic herbal sedatives and relaxants and place it under your head at night. You'll be amazed at how these sweet floral scents invite repose. You don't have a small pillow? That's no excuse, fill a clean sock with dried herbs or purchase a dream pillow from a gift shop. Combine all or several of the following herbs: basil, catnip, hops, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram and mint.
May the fruit of our lives be bound and sealed to Thee,
O Mother, O Woman Eternal
who holdest the inmost life of each of Thy daughters
between the hands upon Her Heart
We swear by Peace and Love to stand,
Heart to Heart and Hand to Hand.
Mark, O Spirit, and hear us now,
confirming this, our Sacred Vow.
~Druidic Prayer of Unity~