Each year, roughly 60 million Americans are affected by a sleep disorder. Scientists haven’t come to an agreement on the best ways to treat this epidemic: prescription medications, melatonin, warm milk, a warm bath, a cool room, background noise or whatever you may have tried, insomnia is a tough nut to crack.
There are three distinct categories of insomnia: onset, maintenance and termination. People with onset have a hard time falling sleep. People with maintenance awaken frequently throughout the night. And people with termination wake early and cannot get back to sleep. It is possible to have more than one of the three types.
So why do we even need sleep? There are many theories as to why we need sleep, but no definitive answers as of yet.
Inactivity, energy conservation, and restorative theories all try to explain why we need sleep. Although we can’t explain why, we do know that without sleep, an individual is unable to function. Therefore, it would appear that sleep is a sort of sustenance or nourishment that supports our life function.
If we consider sleep nourishment for the body-mind, are there nutrients we can give to the body-mind to bring on sleep? Scientists have discovered that calcium and manganese are minerals that help the body-mind to maintain sleep, and a lack of either of these minerals seems to be a possible cause of insomnia.
Further, it appears that anxiety, depression and shallow breathing affect our sleep cycles. What we need are natural methods for inducing a natural state of sleep.
As an herbalist and naturopathic doctor, I always use chamomile to help my clients relax. Chamomile is an herb that contains calcium and magnesium, as well as other nutrients and volatile oils. Chamomile contains a bioflavonoid compound, apigenin, which has been found to reduce anxiety and acts as a mild sedative.
As an aromatherapist I recommend using this volatile essential oil. It doesn’t cure insomnia, but it does help to counteract the symptoms. Using the oil, we breathe in the scent through our olfactory system, which is part of the limbic system. The limbic system is the primitive part of the brain located near the brain stem, and is where all our basic functions take place.
It is here that the hypothalamus regulates our hunger, thirst, sexual behavior, body heat, and our sleep and wake cycles. When we breathe in volatile oils through the nose, we are moving the essential elements of the oil through to the most direct passageway to the brain, affecting the response of the hypothalamus. This is how aromatherapy works.
Now scientists tell us that yoga, breathing and meditation are great tools to help us deal with the symptoms of insomnia. When we are anxious and stressed our breath tends to be shallow. This further causes tension throughout the body-mind. Deep, concentrated breathing can help to break this cycle.
Along with breathing, posture is important. When we are stressed and anxious, we tend to slouch. Slouching compresses the diaphragm, resulting in shallow breathing and tension through the neck and back muscles.
So, if we start by having a cup of chamomile tea and then add aromatherapy, breathing and a simple yoga pose, we might just have four great natural methods for reaching a state of relaxation. And it just may lead to a good night’s sleep.
Here is an easy yoga approach to relaxation while adding a little aromatherapy. Start by enjoying a cup of chamomile tea. Next put a few drops of chamomile essential oil on a tissue. (Chamomile oil can be bought at any health food store.) Sit cross-legged on the floor in easy pose or in a chair with your spine straight and your hands resting in your lap, left palm up and your right hand resting on top of the left palm, making a cup. The tissue is placed into the open palm of your right hand. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply. Sit quietly and breathe for about five minutes.
The chamomile tea will deliver relaxing nutrients to the body, the chamomile oil will regulate the sleep cycle in your brain and the deep breathing and yoga pose will relieve your stress, and then welcome the quiet nature of your soul toward a good night’s sleep.