Natural remedies for relaxation and better sleep

Whether it’s because of work stress, financial worries, or because there’s a global pandemic getting in the way of your plans, it’s no fun laying awake at night when all you want to do is sleep.

Having struggled with insomnia on and off since childhood, I’ve tried all manner of medicines and home remedies to help me drift off – with predictably mixed results. While there’s little that compares to an actual prescription sleeping tablet if you’re really, really struggling, I do think that herbal remedies and a little aromatherapy can go a long way, when it comes to calming your mind and feeling a bit more zen.

Right now, more of us than usual are battling with poor and reduced sleep. A recent survey from The Sleep Council found that Covid-19 is taking a toll on our sleep behaviour, revealing that;

  • 75% of people surveyed said that the unease of the current situation is affecting their sleep.
  • 77% said lack of sleep is interfering with their ability to function normally (for example, causing daytime fatigue, poor concentration, and low mood).
  • 12% of people said that they are experiencing severe signs of depression.

Apparently it takes a ‘normal’ person 10-20 minutes to fall asleep at night, which sounds like absolute fantasy to me – even with medicines and remedies, it has typically taken me at least one or two hours to drift off at night for as long as I can remember. When my insomnia was at its worst, some nights I just didn’t sleep at all.

Right now we’re living through some particularly stressful world events, and it doesn’t surprise me to hear that people everywhere are struggling with their sleep because of it.

It can only be described as a vicious cycle that lack of sleep results in poor mental health, but equally, people with mental health issues are more likely to already suffer with sleep disorders. This illustration from Kalms explains it pretty nicely:

Stress - Sleep Cycle infographic from Kalms

1 in 4 people in the UK report that stress is the main contributing factor in their loss of sleep, and 1 in 3 will experience insomnia at some point in their lives.

Though it is advisable to try the obvious solutions, like having a consistent bedtime routine, switching off devices an hour or more before you need to be asleep, and trying your hand at meditation, the frustration of doing everything you’re told and still laying awake at night can be seriously intense.

With both sleep issues and mental health ailments on the rise, now seems as good a time as any to offer some insights on natural remedies that might help you to sleep better if you’re struggling right now.

Herbal sleep remedies and essential oils

If you’re experiencing an uncharacteristic bout of poor sleeping, something as simple as aromatherapy oils could help to soothe your frazzled brain. Nicole Barton – the consultant aromatherapist and wellbeing writer at Base Formula – recommends these as picks of the best:

  • Valerian Root

    Valerian root is an ingredient in a lot of ‘bedtime tea’ recipes, herbal sleeping tablets and similar natural solutions, so it’s unsurprising that it tops the list for sleep-inducing aromatherapy.

    Though in isolation it has a very distinctive aroma, which isn’t everyone’s first choice, Valerian has been used for centuries as a remedy for insomnia and nervous tension, and is sometimes referred to as ‘nature’s Valium’.

    Apparently Valerenic acid, which is found in Valerian root, helps to inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain – similar to what Valium and Xanax do. Plus, it’s generally considered that Valerian doesn’t leave you feeling as groggy in the morning as other popular solutions.
  • Roman Camomile

    Camomile tea is often suggested to people who are stressed, anxious, or struggling to sleep. So it’s probably not surprising to lean that a Camomile essential oil could aid you in your quest to relax.

    Though the jury is still out on whether Camomile is more than a placebo when it comes to getting to sleep at night, it has been shown to reduce stress levels in the human body. If it’s stress that’s keeping you up at night, there’s nothing to be lost in giving this pleasant-smelling potential solution a go.
  • Lavender

    Lavender essential oil features in pillow sprays, roller balls, and lots of other things you might have seen while searching for a sleep aid. And that isn’t just because it smells so lovely.

    Small studies have found that inhaling lavender oil can reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate and breathing rate, and improve the quality of sleep you get once you drift off. Spritzing it on your pillow, dabbing it on your wrists and temples, or even using a diffuser to mist the air while you sleep, are all ways to try it for yourself.

I use a Tisserand ‘Sweet Dreams’ roller ball (now renamed ‘Sleep Better’) and a spray from Miaroma, but there’s plenty of options out there.

Check out Nicole’s post on the top 10 essential oils for better sleep, if you’d like to see some other options!

If you’d prefer to take a simple tablet, or have a longer-lasting problem and find that soothing oils alone aren’t doing the trick, herbal sleeping pills like Kalms are a good next step.

There are ‘Night’ and ‘One a Night’ options with Valerian Root to help you get a good night’s sleep, along with daytime variants that use lavender for temporary relief of mild anxiety, which can help stop you getting to bedtime hyped up on stress chemicals.

kalms herbal sleep remedies

If you’re suffering with persistent insomnia despite natural remedies and a good routine, I’d always advise speaking to your doctor to see what else can be done to help. Essential oils and herbal cures will work well for some people, and will simply serve to ‘take the edge’ off for others – but don’t be disheartened if they don’t work for you. Insomnia can be a debilitating condition, and shouldn’t be shrugged off as ‘just a bit of difficulty sleeping’ if it’s having a serious impact on your everyday life.

A good night’s sleep each night is a really important foundation for better mental health, and if you’re trapped in a cycle of stress and anxiety > poor sleep > increased stress and anxiety, it’s so important to find something that helps.

It might be a natural remedy, it might be a hyper-drowsy antihistamine, or it might be a proper prescription sleeping tablet. Whatever it is, don’t put off trying something new just because other solutions haven’t worked: what works for some of us won’t work for others, and vice versa.

There will be something that does the trick, and I hope that if you are reading this with a groggy head from yet another night of poor sleep, you find your solution soon. Speak to your GP if natural remedies aren’t working, so that you don’t keep suffering unnecessarily!

Thanks to Kalms and Base Formula for providing insights and images for this post!

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