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Letter on insomnia November 2013

InsomniaI have trouble with insomnia since my wife’s passing. I am so desperate because I simply cannot function in the day without enough sleep at night. I have tried a sleeping pill before but had a reaction to it and don’t like the idea. I am a single dad with two sons and they might need me in the night and I am worried that a sleeping pill might knock me out! A colleague at work suggested a herbal valium. Is there such a thing? I need to know more.

Thank you for your help.

Dear __________ Dr Arien van der Merwe replies:

You are quite right: Sleep (6-8 hours in darkness and quiet) is critical to health, general sense of wellbeing and longevity – a vital physical need to restore and replenish our bodies and minds. We require sleep for survival just as we need food, water and oxygen.

There are a number of herbal and homeopathic remedies you could try, but the most important ‘remedy’ is to learn to relax before you go to bed, as it is the thoughts and emotions elicited by these, that keep you awake, as well as the fact that you’re not used to sleeping alone.

As a starter, I’d recommend a sleeping ritual to convince and prepare your left brain that you’re serious about a good night’s rest! Quieting down the beta wave monkey chatter from the left brain (e.g. I hope I sleep tonight; I’m so tired; I can’t bear not sleeping) is essential to drift into the cycles of alpha, then theta and delta brain waves for a deep, restorative sleep.

Calm down before you go to sleep with a warm bath, adding 5-10 drops aromatherapy oils of orange blossom (neroli), rose geranium and lavender to the water or in the water of a burner with a tealight candle to soften the light, while listening to calming, soothing music; do some gentle stretching yoga exercises to prepare and calm your body and mind, and then a meditation or some relaxation exercises (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing) before you go to bed, or listen to guided visualisations on a CD next to your bed.

The herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is very effective without the side effects associated with prescription sleeping pills. It also doesn’t cause any form of dependency. Herbalist tradition has long recommended both hops (Humulus lupulus) used in beer manufacturing, and valerian root together for relaxation and as sleep support.

The following herbs can also help, taken as a tea (adding some honey) before bedtime, tincture or in capsule form, available as a sleep or calming combo from most pharmacies and health shops: lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, passion flower and bitter orange.

There are many homeopathic sleep drops and tablets, such as Dr Reckeweg, Natura and Pegasus available.

Excerpt from Dr Arien’s Health Info book on Fatigue ManagementHealthy sleep habits

  • Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
  • Develop a pre-sleep routine where you deliberately relax, drinking a sleep drink of hot milk with a pinch of ginger and cinnamon, with a bit of honey, or a sleep inducing herbal tea, tincture or capsules. Eat a banana and some nuts to increase sleep inducing tryptophan (precursor amino acid to serotonin).
  • Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep.
  • Optimise your sleeping environment:
  • Calm, soothing colours in your bedroom: blue, turquoise, lilac – avoid red, orange, yellow
  • Cooler temperature
  • Dark (to optimise melatonin production from the pineal gland)
  • Quiet and no TV’s or computers in your bedroom
  • Avoid going to bed hungry, but no heavy meals within 3 hours of sleep.
  • Get regular exercise but avoid heavy exercise within 3 hours of sleep



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