We’ve all heard that adequate sleep is foundational for good health, yet so many of us struggle to get enough of it. There are many reasons why proper sleep may not be happening, but one of the biggest culprits is stress.
Stress, affects us all but we may not always realize how impactful daily stress is on the quality of our sleep. When we experience stress, the hormone cortisol is released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is one of the key hormones involved in the sleep/wake cycle of the body and works antagonistically with the hormone melatonin. In a “perfect” sleep/wake cycle we would see melatonin peak around midnight when cortisol should be at its lowest point. As the night shifts into daytime, melatonin levels go down and cortisol starts to increase. This natural increase in cortisol in the morning is what gets us up and out of bed; in an ideal situation it would reach its highest level at noon when melatonin is at its lowest level.
If high stress is experienced throughout the day this can impact sleep at night time because cortisol is being released in higher quantities. This not only puts the body into a “fight or flight” response which is highly demanding of the nervous system, but also impacts how melatonin will be released later on in the night.
There are many lifestyle strategies we can implement to manage stress levels in the body such as reducing the consumption of stimulants and balancing blood sugar, but we especially love herbs for regulating stress.
Herbs have a unique capability of addressing stress from multiple angles which compliments stress showing up differently for each person. Here are a few of our favourite herbs to support stress-induced insomnia:
• Ashwagandha: A nourishing and building adrenal tonic that supports the body's ability to cope under stress and pressure. Ashwagandha also helps to regulate cortisol which can be disregulated due to chronic stress and causing sleep issues. Ashwagandha also helps reduce anxiety, emotional agitation and frustration due to high demands.
• Reishi: Nourishes the shen in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is the energy related to the heart that governs a person’s mind, consciousness and emotional balance. This means therapeutically it is helpful for reducing anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, mood disturbance and poor memory.
• Rehmannia: One of the most important blood building adrenal tonics in both Western and Eastern herbal medicine. Rehmannia is helpful to take during or after periods of stress and exhaustion, and helps to reduce inflammation in autoimmune disease.
• Holy basil: An adaptogen that helps to balance blood sugar, Holy basil calms an overactive nervous system and reduces anxiety and stress.
• Oatstraw: A tonic for the nervous system, Oats are rich in B-vitamins and minerals to nourish, calm and support emotional exhaustion after long periods of stress. Oats work well paired with nettle to replenish iron and vitamin C levels. Iron deficiency can be a hidden cause of insomnia so nourishing and building via herbs and foods is key!
• Skullcap: A nervous system tonic that helps to reduce circulating, overactive thoughts at night, anxiety, insomnia and headache. It is extremely helpful to reduce musculoskeletal tension that results in headaches, neck and shoulder pain and teeth grinding.
Getting to the root of stress can be complex, and we often need to think about how we can support our sleep throughout the entire day rather than just what we do before bed. This is where herbs can be so impactful because they deeply nourish and regulate the nervous system all day, henceforth when the evening comes the body feels more prepared to sleep.
If you struggle with stress and/or insomnia, we offer 1:1 in-depth consultations with our Medical Herbalists, Nutritionists and Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and can offer customized herbal medicine or acupuncture tailored to your specific needs.
You can also try any of those herbs individually by clicking the highlighted word and visiting our single tincture library.
Written by Leah Schmutter
Medical Herbalist in training
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