Posts Tagged ‘sleep’

Insomnia is the inability to obtain an adequate amount or quality of sleep. The difficulty can be in falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. People with insomnia do not feel refreshed when they wake up. Insomnia is a common symptom affecting millions of people that may be caused by many conditions, diseases, or circumstances.”   ~ medical dictionary ~ thefreedictionary.com

That definition was for those of you who don’t suffer from insomnia.  Those of us who do already know what it means, and we know that the definition, no matter the source, can never actually explain the entire scope of this affliction.  Let me give it a shot, though.

Insomnia is an affliction that, when you lay down and close your eyes because you are so exhausted you can’t possibly do anything else, your mind springs to life and causes your eyelids to fly open and stick that way, despite all of your best attempts at closing them.  It makes your legs twitch and your brain spasm with a million thoughts.  It inspires you to create great and fantastic things-just as soon as your exhausted body can move again.  It precipitates deep and poetic thoughts that should be preserved in leather-covered tomes – if only you weren’t too tired to write them down.  It tickles the imagination into seeing shapes in the dark, like pictures in the clouds, that you know are really only figments of your sleep-deprived brain.  It makes you count sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and every other animal in a vain attempt to bore yourself into a sleep-induced coma.

Then, when you have finally attained that much-longed-for state of unconsciousness you are suddenly jolted from sleep after an hour -or maybe two or three- to find that you are still hours away from the break of day and everyone for miles around is still sleeping soundly.  It is lying there staring at the clock, counting away the minutes and knowing that the exhaustion is still there, just waiting to overtake you as soon as you have reached the point in your day that is the busiest/most important. By lunchtime, you aren’t quite sure if you want to jump in front oncoming traffic or choke the nearest passerby. Not because they have done anything wrong, but simply because you know that they got a good night’s sleep that was denied you.  For that, they deserve a good beating.

And that’s only one night’s worth of missed sleep.  The second night gets a little hairier.  By the third or fourth night you begin to see the logic behind men like Dexter and Dahmer. Rational thinking is only a dim memory ~ an elusive dream (pun intended).

Do I sound like a commercial for the latest sleeping pill?  I should totally get paid for writing this stuff, right?  Still, anyone suffering from insomnia knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as popping a pill and drifting off to Dreamland. Besides the obvious side-effects of sleeping pills  ~ liver damage, heart damage, kidney failure, ulcers ~ there is the small matter of being able to function the day after.  Sleeping pills, if they even work, make you so frackin’ tired the next day that you might as well have just stuck with your original state of sleep-deprived exhaustion.

So, what is the alternative?  Duh! It’s herbs, of course.  You had to have seen that one coming…

Quit snickering.  Have you tried them?  I don’t mean have you tried a single cup of chamomile tea before bed.  While chamomile has its benefits, to the hard-core insomniac it is like drinking a cup of water.  No, what I’m talking about are the other herbs.

You thought I was talking about marijuana, didn’t you?  While I will admit that I would recommend that particular herb if I lived in the appropriate state, that’s not what I meant.  I’m talking about herbs like valerian and skullcap.  St. John’s wort.  Peppermint.  Vervain.  Mullein. These, my friend, are the magic pill for the true Insomniac.

I’ll be honest.  It took me a while to figure this one out. I did try sleeping pills over the years.  Prescription.  Over the counter.  Under the counter.  Beside the counter.  I didn’t care if there was a chance that I might get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Not one of them was worth it.  It was out of sheer desperation that I put my insomnia to use and spent a few nights coming up with a more natural formula that I prayed would work.  Now, I keep a jar in my pantry and refill it regularly.

Bonus…it works as a pain-killer, muscle relaxant, tummy-soother and mood-stabilizer, also.  Let me explain the how’s and why’s.


Valerian is the bad-boy of sleep aids.  I still maintain that herbs work best when combined with other herbs, but if I were ever to use one by itself, this would probably be it.  It is in the top 5, anyway.  Valerian is actually classified as a nerve tonic because it has the ability to both sooth and heal the nerves.  By soothing the nerves, you allow your body to fall into sleep naturally, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling great.  Valerian goes a step farther, though.  It will actually help rebuild nerve sheaths that have been damaged, making it a great herb for long-term use in diseases that affect the central nervous system and the nerves.  Don’t think valerian is going to suddenly make you fall asleep, though. It doesn’t work that way.  It works by relaxing the entire body and making it possible to sleep.  That means that after you take it, you need to go lay down and close your eyes.  Let your body do it’s thing!

Skullcap, like valerian, is a potent nervine that has been used for centuries with fantastic results.  It is so soothing to the nerves that it has even been used to successfully alleviate the symptoms of drug withdrawal, as well as epilepsy, hysteria, anxiety, nervous headaches and insomnia. Naturopathic doctors often recommend using skullcap as an alternative to conventional ADD medications, also.  Skullcap should not be taken if you are pregnant, as it is capable of inducing a miscarriage.

Mullein is one of those herbs that should be in every medicine cabinet.  It is good for coughs, for pain, for soothing the nerves…the list is long!  Mullein has been described as being ‘hypnotic’ and ‘highly narcotic without being toxic’. That means that, even if your sleeplessness is due to pain, mullein is capable of handling it.  Cough keeping you awake?  Mullein will take care of that, too.

Mullein flower

St. John’s wort is a well-known anti-depressant.  In the herbal world, that means it is soothing to the brain.  It relaxes you by relieving tension, stress and other factors that contribute to restlessness and fatigue.  It is best to take this one over a period of time, and in conjunction with other herbs.  It is also a highly effective pain-reliever and immune-system stimulator.

Vervain is not just for warding oneself against vampires. It has aspirin-like effects that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is a muscle relaxant and mild anti-depressant that helps improve the general action of nerves and enhances the entire system, especially when taken over a period of time.  It is a mild sedative.  Here’s the catch with this herb, though…you don’t want to just grab a bottle of this herb and start eating it.  Vervain works best when it is combined with other herbs that strengthen and relax the nerves, and if you take too much you’ll soon be heaving your guts up instead of sleeping.  Used in the proper manner it is a valuable addition to the insomniac’s medicine chest, but used wrong and it is worse than useless.

So, really….put away the Ambien and the Tylenol PM.  You don’t need them anymore!  You just need a good, trained herbalist (like me) to whip you up a batch that contains these herbs.  Of course, I have a batch already made and waiting called ‘Sweet Dreams’…I’m just sayin’….

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Warning: Please consult a physician before consuming any type of herb or flower, as many of them will interfere with medications. While we at Tamara’s are careful to use only those herbs considered safe, it is always possible that someone will have a negative reaction. None of the statements made are intended to diagnose or treat anyone or anything! If you are pregnant, please avoid all herbs, as many of them can bring about early labor and other problems.

Have you ever browsed the drug store shelves in search of the cure for that nasty headache or relief for your throbbing sinuses? You have a gazillion different pills to choose from! Heartburn? Grab a pill. Cramps? Grab a different pill. Constipated, agitated or still a bit inebriated? There’s a pill for that, too.

The problem with those pills is that they only mask your symptoms so you think you are better. It’s simply a mind (and money) game. If you really want to get rid of those symptoms, there is a better way!

Eat a weed. Or, more precisely, an herb or two.

It took a while, but my friends and family finally realized that if they are coming to visit me, they better bring their own stash of pills ’cause they won’t find one in my house. Not an aspirin, not a Tylenol, not an antacid… If a headache strikes within the walls of my house, they’ll likely find themselves with a cup of hot tea in front of them!

I’m usually met with a strange look, but few people have the nerve to criticize my methods to my face, so they politely sip their tea while trying to come up with an excuse to run to the nearest drug store. By the time they come up with one, though, they find their headache (or belly ache or whatever ache) has disappeared.

Without a doubt, headaches are the most common complaint, which means my Happy Head Tea is constantly at the ready. Granted, it takes a bit longer to sip that cup of tea than it does to pop that pill, but the long-term benefits blow the pill out of the water! Why? Because the herbs work to correct the problem rather than disguise the symptoms, and works just as quickly. Bonus ~ the headache won’t be back in 3 hours!

Second in line for most-used is the Belly Achin’ Tea. This is one of the few herbal teas that even my kids like to drink. Pleasantly minty and fast-acting, this works great when you’ve over-eaten, have excess gas or just over-did it on the junk food.

And, we can’t forget the popular Sweet Dreams Tea. As a chronic insomniac, there have been many nights that this beauty has sent me gently to sleep when I was certain there was no hope. Unlike sleeping pills, you don’t wake groggy and disoriented and it isn’t necessary to have 7-8 hours of sleep before the effects wear off.

Okay, so this sounds like a sales pitch. However, I needed some frame of reference and my teas provided that. The truth is, though, you don’t need to buy these teas from me. The herbs are available at most health food stores and on several internet sites. I would highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for their high quality, affordable herbs. They offer organic and fair-trade herbs at very reasonable prices. Please keep in mind, though, that if you intend to mix up your own blends you need to be careful to research proper dosage and side effects.

Feeling brave? Here are the recipes for a few of my most popular teas and a glimpse of why I chose those particular herbs.


Happy Head Tea:

Catnip, basil, lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, blessed thistle, spearmint, mullein and yarrow.


This is a very mild herb that has been used in many cultures as a sedative, pain reliever and blood cleanser for centuries. It is gentle enough to use on children and potent enough to provide relief to adults. It is also known for its use as a digestive aid. Headaches are often caused by stress, poor diet, improper digestion and accumulated body toxins, so catnip is a perfect choice to include in my Happy Head tea.


The anti-inflammatory action of basil is known to help shrink blood-vessels and swelling that contribute to headaches and its sedative effect helps dull the pain. It is also known to be a system stimulant that helps your organs to function properly, which allows your body to process and release toxins that contribute to headaches.


This herb is known to calm the nervous system, promote relaxation, sooth anxiety and reduce inflammation. It has been used for centuries by the wealthy to ease headaches caused from tension and stress.

Lemon Balm

This herb is unusual because it acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. It invigorates the mind and body, while it soothes the nerves, making it a wonderful addition to headache formulas.


Peppermint stimulates the entire system, helping the body to function as its meant to, and also contains wonderful pain-relieving properties. Its minty scent invigorates the mind and help relieve tension, stress and fatigue.


Belly Achin’ Tea

Burdock, slippery elm, catnip, basil, peppermint, anise, ginger, sage, green tea, hops


While this herb is most commonly known for its use in cough syrups and lozenges, it also a wonderful herb to use for indigestion and other stomach issues. It helps relieve gas and settle an upset stomach. It is believed to have originally been used in ancient times as a seasoning for meat and vegetables, due in large part because of its value as a digestive aid. It is also an anti-spasmodic, which helps relax the muscles of the stomach.


Ginger cleanses the body of toxic waste and calms nausea. It is an aromatic bitter, which means that it stimulates the digestive system. It helps tone the intestinal walls which helps ease the transport of substances through the intestines. Ginger is also and anti-parasitic, which means that it aids in the removal of parasites such as intestinal worms and other little critters that often cause stomach troubles.


Widely known for its many healing properties, sage is valuable when treating any type of stomach disorder including constipation, nausea, gas, diarrhea and intestinal disorders. It also stimulates the appetite, thereby stimulating the digestive system.


Heartburn, gas, nausea, colic, ulcers and general stomach upset have all been treated for centuries by hops. Often used to calm anxiety, this herb helps relax the body, which makes it wonderful for those belly upsets brought on by stress and anxiety, too!


Sweet Dreams Tea

Hops, catnip, peppermint, lavender, chamomile, mullein

You’ll notice that each of these herbs were used in the other formulas. One of the beauty of herbs is that they often have a variety of medicinal constituents. This allows them to treat many different bodily systems in many different ways.

Some herbs, like peppermint, are known for their ability to treat the entire system. Combining peppermint with other herbs enhances a particular aspect of it, for example: combine peppermint, hops and anise to make a powerful remedy for stomach issues. Combine it with lemon balm, basil and catnip and you have a potent headache remedy.

In the case of Sweet Dreams Tea, it is combined with herbs like chamomile, lavender and hops which are all known to relax the mind and body. Easing away tension, stress and over-stimulation will provide your mind and body with the opportunity to drift off to sleep a bit easier. You won’t notice an overwhelming tiredness, as happens with synthetic sleeping aids. This herbal blend works gently, so that all you need to do is add a little darkness and quiet to the mix and you wake refreshed and ready to face the day, rather than groggy and disoriented.


Note: I don’t recommend mixing these blends yourself unless you have studied each of the herbs carefully and understand proper dosage and the benefits/risks of each herb. While each of the herbs used is considered safe, they can affect other medications you may be taking or medical issues that you have. Always consult your medical adviser before taking any herbs.

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