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Do you sleep well?

If not, you are not alone. Sleep problems are common and can lead to, or contribute to, chronic health problems.

There are many good suggestions for improving sleep and most health practitioners have a long list of helpful ideas that they are able to hand out to weary, sleep deprived clients. These ideas have been used successfully in many treatment plans.

Some of these suggestions include:

  •  Daily gentle exercise e.g. walking in nature and parasympathetic activities like yoga and meditation can assist with relaxation and in lowering stress and anxiety.
  •  Including tryptophan (an amino acid) rich foods in your diet along with good carbs. Tryptophan helps synthesis of relaxing serotonin. Food such as eggs, cheese, turkey, oats and many more are high in tryptophan.
  •  Meditation/sleep techniques at bedtime (Apps: e.g. Headspace; Calm; insight Timer; Smiling Mind; Relax Melodies etc. on iPhone or iPad).
  •  Shutting down computers etc. well ahead of sleep time and relaxing for an hour at least either reading, listening to music or meditating.
  •  Trying to eat at least 3 hours before going to bed. Digesting food takes several hours and & the digestive system is working when it should be resting.
  •   Avoiding caffeinated drinks after dinner as these are stimulating.
  •  Trying warm milk/almond milk with honey and nutmeg as a soothing, relaxing bedtime drink.
  •   Breathing exercises if you are having trouble falling asleep or getting back to sleep when awakened e.g. breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 2-4, and then breathe out for 5. Belly breathing-switches on the parasympathetic    nervous system (calming). Try placing hands palm down on the lower belly, breathing in and out through the nose if possible. In slowly, out slowly, feeling tummy rising and falling with the breath.
  •  Having a warm bath or shower shortly before bed relaxes tense muscles and warms the body.
  •  Including supplements such as Sour Cherry juice which boosts melatonin levels thus assisting sleep, and Magnesium, a natural relaxant.  

Herbal Medicine also offers some wonderful options to help you achieve better sleep. Some of my favourite herbs to help with either sleep onset (getting to sleep) or sleep maintenance (staying asleep) or both, are listed below. These can be prescribed in combinations as liquid formulas, or as tablets or capsules. They can accompany lifestyle and dietary suggestions and nutrient supplements.

Look for these herbs in herbal sleep supplements: Eschscholzia californica (California Poppy); Matricaria chamomilla (Chamomile); Humulus lupulus (Hops); Piscidia erythrina (Jamaica Dogwood); Piper methysticum  (Kava); Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm); Valeriana officinalis (Valerian); Avena sativa (Oats green/seed); Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower); Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap); Hypericum perforatum (St John’s Wort); Withania somnifera  (Withania/ Ashwagandha); Zizyphus spinosa (Zizyphus)

Pamela Nelson is a Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist at Health Space Clinics Lane Cove

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