7 surprising sleep remedies
1. Herbalism and aromatherapy
Many herbs are particularly associated with improving sleep and curing insomnia. Here are some of the best-known and most effective,
California poppy This plant has a reputation for being a non-addictive alternative to the opium poppy. Native North Americans used it to relieve toothache. Known as a sedative, it is useful for calming over-excitable children. It is used in infusions.
Hops An infusion is made for relieving anxiety, stress, and pain. This plant acts as a tranquilliser, sedative, and digestive aid, and may decrease our desire for alcohol. Some herbalists say hops induce sleep faster than valerian. Hops should not be taken if you are depressed.
Jamaican dogwood The bark of this tree, which grows in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Texas, is dried for use in liquid extracts and powders. A strong remedy for sleeplessness, it should not be taken if you are pregnant or have heart problems; follow instructions from a qualified practitioner.
Lavender The scent of the oil has anti-depressant and antispasmodic effects and is particularly beneficial in improving the sleep of people who are suffering from depression, or sleeplessness in the elderly. The oil can be added to baths or used in aromatherapy massages.
Chamomile (Roman) Used primarily for their antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, the flowers of this plant are made into a herbal tea to make a gentle sedative that can help relieve anxiety and insomnia.
Valerian Recognised as a sedative in both natural and conventional medicine, the roots of this plant are used in infusions, tablets, or capsules. Research shows valerian improves sleep without the usual ‘hangover’ associated with sedative drugs. It can also be used for nervousness, anxiety, headaches and cramps.
2. Yin-yang bathing
According to traditional Chinese medicine, a method of stabilising the flow of qi (energy) and promoting sleep is a hydrotherapy footbath just before bedtime. Fill two large bowls, one with hot, the other with cold water. Make sure that the water level reaches above your ankles. Place both your feet in the hot water for three minutes, and then immerse them in the cold water for 30 seconds. Repeat this procedure four times. Then, dry your feet and put on warm socks before going to bed.
3. Stroke away tension
When you are stressed and tired from lack of sleep, the tell-tale signs show first in your face. Giving yourself a pre-sleep face massage can release tension and improve your appearance by increasing the circulation to the skin: not only will you sleep more deeply, you will also wake up feeling and looking more refreshed.
1. Prepare by having a warm, soothing bath, or listening to some relaxing music.
2. Sit on the floor or a chair; support yourself with cushions so you are comfortable.
3. With arms bent out and to the sides, put the index and middle fingers of both hands flat on your forehead between your hairline and eyebrows. Making small circular movements, rub your forehead for one to two minutes.
4. Using the same rotating movements, massage your temples, taking care to apply a lighter pressure to this sensitive area. Continue for one to two minutes.
5. Place your index and middle fingers on your cheekbones and rub them for one to two minutes, again using small circular movements. (This part of the massage is particularly helpful if you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth during sleep.)
6. Gently press your thumbs under the tops of your eye sockets on either side of your nose. Hold this position for approximately 10 seconds. Repeat five times.
4. Inhale calm
When you need to sleep particularly well – for example, on the eve of a job interview – try the following inhalation exercise, which is especially effective when you are relaxed after a bath. You will need some Eaglewood (Lignum aquilariae agallochae), which is renowned for its sleep-promoting effects when inhaled, and some incense charcoals – both can be purchased from Chinese herbal stores.
1. Prepare the Eaglewood by grinding it into a powder, or breaking it into pieces. Place the charcoal in an incense burner or a non-inflammable dish, and set it alight.
2. Sitting near the burner, sprinkle the Eaglewood onto the charcoal. Close your eyes and breathe deeply for two minutes as the fragrance is released around you.
3. Now open your eyes and lean over the charcoal (keeping your face about 50cm above it) and gently inhale the smoke. Breathe deeply and rhythmically. After a few minutes you should feel a great sense of calm. Focus on this feeling for one minute.
4. Extinguish any remaining charcoal and go straight to bed.
5. Try candle-flame meditation
One of the most common causes of sleeplessness is an inability to ‘switch off’ our racing mind. An effective way to train ourselves to do so is to use a pre-sleep, single-point meditation. This exercise guides you on how to focus your mind on a candle flame, whose endlessly varied flickering can promote deep relaxation.
1. Light the candle and sit in a comfortable position in front of it. Relax your shoulders and soften your focus so that you are not gazing at the flame, but as if to see through and beyond it.
2. Bring your attention to the corona around the flame. Notice how the edge of the flame distils into a gentle haze. Squint your eyes a little – notice how doing so causes shafts of light to seem to throw themselves from the flame, like the last, warm rays of sun as it dips beneath the horizon. Make a connection in your mind between this image and thoughts of bedtime.
3. Close your eyes and imagine the warm glow of the flame filling your consciousness. It is calm, safe, and comforting. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. (If your attention wanders, open your eyes and bring your focus back to the real flame, then close your eyes again.) Once you feel calm and your mind is empty, slowly open your eyes, blow out the candle, and get ready for bed.
6. Clap out trapped qi
Trapped qi (energy) in the bedroom creates an imbalance of yin and yang, which adversely affects sleep. Qi might become trapped under the bed and bed covers, in wardrobes and drawers and in the corners of the room. One space-clearing technique used by Feng Shui practitioners is “clapping out” such stagnant energy.
1. Look round your bedroom. Try to assess any areas where qi might become trapped – look especially corners formed not just by two abutting walls but by items of furniture against walls. Similarly, look for gaps under furniture.
2. Begin at the entrance and work your way round the room anticlockwise. When you come to a corner formed by walls, face it and raise your hands above your head. Clap gently (the bedroom, a peaceful place, needs soft claps) twice, then lower your arms to chest height and clap gently twice again. Repeat at waist level and then move on to the next qi trap. Clap down the height of corners formed by furniture and walls; crouch down and clap gently at the mouths of gaps under items of furniture. Open wardrobes and drawers and clap inside.
3. At the bed, pull back the covers and clap twice at the head, middle, and foot of each side of the bed. Crouch down and clap gently under the bed on each side.
4. Once you have finished, wash your hands under running cold water – this will remove the static build-up of stagnant energy on your hands.
7. Find your palette
Colours vibrate (like sounds) at particular frequencies that affect our wellbeing. So, it is not surprising that certain types of music evoke certain colours in the mind of the listener. This exercise helps you pinpoint which colours make you feel most sleepy. (You will need some white paper and coloured pencils or crayons.)
Pick out pieces of music from your collection that promote each of the following moods: happy, inspired, excited, meditative, sad, reflective. Each evening, listen to one piece of the music you selected. As your mood responds to the sounds, express your feelings with the pencils or crayons. (If you are not artistic, you can just draw blocks of the colours.) For example, perhaps ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah makes you draw red, or Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel brings the colour blue to mind.
Continue to express yourself in this way until the music finishes. After you finish drawing, note on the back of the paper the mood you were in before you played the music, the feeling you thought the music would evoke, and how listening to it actually made you feel. When you have listened to all your musical mood-categories, review your drawings. Which colours make you feel most relaxed?