There are a variety of herbs which help combat sleep problems. Naturopath Oliver Bassler tells us which herbs are good sleep remedies and how to use them correctly.
Mr Bassler, they say a warm glass of milk with honey helps when you can’t get off to sleep at night. Is that right?
The warmth of the milk does actually have an effect on the body and makes you tired. Milk also contains tryptophan, which affects sleep. If you look at it that way, it’s actually true that milk makes you sleepy. The honey also stimulates the production of tryptophan, which is why they can be taken together. But they can also be consumed separately, of course. Lots of people used to drink this concoction as children and that’s why a glass of milk with honey can also conjure comforting memories from our childhood.
Which herbs should I keep at home that could help me with sleeplessness?
I’d recommend lavender, lemon balm and valerian. Brew them into a tea, take them as a tincture or, better still, use lavender or lemon balm as an essential oil. But the oil should be completely pure and not synthetic.
What can help when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep? Is there a kind of “emergency herb” I can take?
Unfortunately, there’s no natural sleep remedy that works straight away. In any case, I recommend you don’t stay lying in bed in these situations. You should get up. Read a book, listen to music, massage lavender oil into your skin. This can help make you start to think about other things and make you tired again.
Can I take some herbs as a preventive measure so I don’t have any trouble sleeping in the first place?
Of course, you can use the herbs I mentioned before even if you don’t have any problem sleeping. But it’s more about the ritual itself in this case. Like drinking a tea before you go to bed every night, for example. Massage an oil that promotes sleep into your feet, back or hands. As I said before, it’s the ritual and the rhythm that play an important role here.
Can herbs that make you sleepy have side effects or can I take them without worrying?
Here, we’re not talking about side effects so much as reactions. That means that not every remedy triggers the same reaction in everyone. For example, oats help people who find it difficult to switch off and are generally nervous. You can try herbs in tea and see what effects they have. For lingering sleep problems, by which I mean cases that last longer than two weeks, I recommend going to see a professional if herbs are not having the desired effect. A naturopath can help you find out which herbs work best for you.
Can I mix herbs any way I want?
Valerian is an ideal herb to combine with others. I wouldn’t go mad and just mix things at random. That’s not recommended.
Is it also perfectly fine for children to take these natural sleep remedies?
I would generally give herbs to children as a tea. There’s no problem with that at all. Other than that, it can also help children to develop a bedtime ritual such as massaging their feet with an oil. As a general rule, it’s very important to find out why children are having trouble sleeping and see whether there may be any organic causes.
And what about pregnant women?
Pregnant women can also take these kinds of herbs that help with sleep without worrying. Sleep problems can be caused by hormonal changes, which, as we know, can happen during pregnancy. But here, you need to remember that, if you have trouble sleeping over a long period, consult your gynaecologist.
What do you do if you have trouble sleeping, Mr Bassler?
I rely on rituals too. For example, it helps if I massage my feet with lavender oil.