Five Herbs That Help Cure Insomnia
Purslane is nature’s richest source of melatonin, the hormone that anticipates the daily onset of darkness and induces sleep. Allegedly Purslane was also Ghandi’s favorite food, and while the sour, succulent plant is actually a weed, it’s commonly sold at Farmers Markets across the country in hot-weather months like July, because it likes growing in the heat. Because of its high water content, purslane makes a welcome addition to any salad or stir-fry served at dinnertime, and it doubles as an all natural sleep-booster.
Vervain is a mild sedative said to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the amount of time the body spends in REM sleep. Often prescribed by herbalists to quell nervous tension, anxiety, and the kind of stress that can often lead to sleeplessness, vervain– a flowering plant in the family Verbenaceae– can be chopped and boiled with water to make tea. (That’s a picture of it above.) Traditionally known as a “sleepy herb” (I know, it sounds questionable, but it works!) vervain is especially helpful to individuals who have difficulty unwinding or calming their thoughts. It also acts as a natural tension-reliever, ideally for people who suffer from stiffness in the neck and shoulders.
Passionflower was historically used in the treatment of anxiety, and today it remains one of the most fast-acting herbal supplements for better sleep. Passionflower is used to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep– what sleep psychologists refer to as “sleep latency”– while increasing the depth and restorative capacity of each sleep session. (It also eases nervous tension and soothes irritability.) Passionflower calms the nervous system and increases the activity of GABA (gama-amino-butyric-acid), the main sleep-inhibiting neurotransmitter in the brain. Activating GABA has been shown to improve sleep by stirring the same reaction as conventional sleep medications– without the excess pharmaceuticals.
As Dr. Suzanna Ivanovics recommended in the October 2013 issue of the Toronto wellness magazine Tonic: “An amino acid derived from green tea, L-theanine has the ability to relax the mind and nervous system and induce calming alpha waves in the brain that are associated with relaxation. Studies have found that L-theanine can boost mood, reduce physical and mental stress, and impart a state of relaxation.”
In addition to being a centuries-old staple in the world of brewing, hops are known to have powerful sedative and relaxing effects on both the mind and body. Hops have historically been used in tranquilizers (think about that as you down your next beer) and have anti-anxiety effects, which is beneficial for people who are unable to sleep due to racing thoughts.
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