How Plants Can Restore Sleep Quality

Plant medicine, such as sleep teas, can help improve your sleep. Picture / 123RF

Sandra Clair of Dunedin-based natural therapies company Artemis is a renowned plant medicine expert, Swiss medical herbalist, PhD candidate in health science, medical anthropologist, a former journalist and historian. Here she shares how natural plants can work wonders when it comes to sleep.

"I had a client many years ago who was a busy shepherd on a large farm near Queenstown. He wasn’t sleeping, due to anxiety and work pressures. I prescribed him two medicinal teas, one to calm his mind during the day and one to help him sleep at night. One day, on a muster, he confused the two teas and took the sleep tea during the day by mistake. He woke five hours later, on the side of a hill with his stock nowhere to be seen. He recalled this story to me with great excitement because it was this experience that really hit home; plant medicine works. It’s these experiences that bring me the most joy in my work, when someone sees the true healing nature of plants, when they are genuinely surprised at the result. Of course, I’m never surprised!

"Sleep is something taken for granted, until you have trouble sleeping. Results from a recent Ministry of Health survey showed approximately one-quarter of adults in New Zealand suffer from a chronic sleep problem, highlighting insomnia as a major public health issue. Over time, chronic sleep loss will negatively impact your health. When the natural rhythm of activity and rest is out of sync, your organs, which rely on your normal body clock to do their work, will suffer. Just like regular exercise and good nutrition, restful sleep provides a solid foundation for quality of life and longevity. Eight hours per night seems to be the optimal amount of sleep for most adults.

"Restful and restorative sleep can be supported with medicinal plants. Their effectiveness is proven in hundreds of years of medical use, and is increasingly supported also by contemporary scientific research. The part I love most about using traditional medicines is that you can use several medicinal plants in a formula to address both the sleep disturbance and the underlying cause, for example stress.

"Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) is a well-used medicinal plant that helps with the quality and duration of sleep. It is used for sleeping disorders, restlessness and anxiety, and as an effective muscle relaxant. Valerian can even be used as transition medication when discontinuing benzodiazepines, under practitioner supervision.

"Valerian combines well with other medicinal plants like hops, passionflower, lemon balm and woodruff to induce essential regeneration and rest at night. This is great for people who experience sleep problems due to stress and tension, and mental and physical overload. Remember not all plants are created equal – look for high quality products formulated with medicinal grade organic plants.

"Combine your plant medicine with a wind-down routine each night and you too will be pleasantly surprised with your improved sleep. Most plant medicines are fine to take for self-care, but if you have ongoing sleep problems, consult your health practitioner as to what’s best for you. I recommend seeing a medical herbalist who can recommend a specific formula and programme for your needs."

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