Article provided by Pamela Spence
I am hearing from many of my patients that sleep is being disturbed at the moment, in this strange new world we are living in.
I have noticed that it is happening in two very different ways. Some people are sleeping a lot more than normal and finding that their energy levels are very low. I was reading a psychologist’s view on this and agree with them that it is almost like a collective trauma response. We are all under unprecedented levels of stress right now even though, conversely, we are probably doing a lot less than we usually are. The body uses sleep to process – think of the deep sleep and fatigue of grief, for example. It is normal for us to sleep more when we are processing. This is perfectly normal.
Of course, many people are affected in completely the opposite way and are unable to sleep well at this time. This is often because they are experiencing the current stresses as anxiety. There are several ways in which our sleep can be disturbed. We may have trouble getting to sleep. We may get to sleep ok but wake at the slightest noise. We may wake up and find that our internal radio – what I call Radio Pamela – is already up and running and chattering away. However, it is that your sleep is being disturbed, it is not only exhausting, it wears away at our coping mechanisms and can even lower our immunity.
So, what can we do to help? Well, thankfully there are some key steps we can take to really make a difference. If you are sleeping a lot at the moment, I would say, go with it when you can. Of course, look out for signs of depression, such as prolonged periods of sleeping or feeling like you can’t get up and face the day. But for the short term, sleeping to process is something we don’t often have the time to honour and it’s important to do so if you can.
If you are in the disturbed sleep camp, firstly have a look at your caffeine levels. I see so many posts on social media around drinking more caffeine in the day than usual. Cut back (or out if you can) real coffee and opt for tea as a less strongly stimulating drink. You can swap to decaf products if you like but you could also make your hot drinks really work in your favour and choose to drink an herbal infusion that is likely to help your situation. This is particularly important at night. There are plenty of blends available in the supermarkets now and their names will guide you to what they are good for. Relax, Unwind, Moment of Calm are all very well suited to drinking during the day. There are also blends created specifically to help us sleep. These blends often have chamomile, passionflower and perhaps even valerian in them. All traditional herbal drinks to soothe us to sleep. Passionflower is particularly important for deepening the quality of sleep and managing mild insomnia. Look for California poppy if your brain feels like it never switches off and humble chamomile even contains the chemical apigenin that not only reduces anxiety but also promotes sleep.
Sleep hygiene is very important so this means no screens in the bedroom, sleep in as total darkness as you can manage, to allow melatonin levels to build up quickly. If you do have to get up to go to the loo in the night, try to do it without turning on any main lights – a nightlight at floor level is perfect for this. Light switches off melatonin production, which is the chemical that allows sleep, so trying to keep things dark (but safe!) is also important.
My last thought would be that some people swear by lavender essential oil to get a good night’s sleep and while this is a great idea – be careful not to use too much! Lavender in large doses is actually stimulating, so rather than going for a lavender bath, candle, tea and pillow spray, just a couple of drops of essential oil on your pillow will do the trick. With herbs it is often the case that less is in fact more!
About the author
Pamela Spence is a Medical Herbalist. Find out more here: http://www.pamelaspence.co.uk/
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