Insomnia - Sleeping Problems

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Finding a good herbalist

Most of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Positive experience

In my first year of practice in 1989, a local Doctor came to see me for her own, rather severe, insomnia. She was understandably averse to becoming addicted to sleeping pills and was open to trying herbal medicines to see if they might help.

As it happened we got a 'hole-in-one'. A simple herbal formula, taken at night before sleep, worked like a charm from day-one and kept working whenever she needed it. She went on to refer many of her own patients who had sleeping problems, which meant I got a lot of practice in this area from early on.

There have been many further positive experiences treating insomnia though by no means have they all been so easy! Every case is different, a remedy by itself is often not enough and you must work with the deeper causes to get a cure.

Get help from Nature

That said, anyone with sleeping problems will be wise to let some help from Nature be the first step. Crucially, this means not only getting the right herbs but also getting them at the right dosage.

Our ancestors worked with herbal medicines for countless thousands of years to find out what works, along with knowing how much is needed for it to work. This point is being emphasised because some people think that they have already tried herbal sleeping aids, but they took doses that were far lower than what we have always used historically.

Think of taking a quarter or an eighth of an aspirin to cure a headache and you will get the idea. Common commercial preparation of herbs might use as little as a quarter, or an eighth, of the amount that we would use in traditional herbal practice. This is partly due to economics, but it is also a lot to do with safety. If you give a small dose you are playing it safe. It is much less likely people will react badly to your product and the fact is that herbs are highly potent, especially when used in the kinds of doses we have learned to use over those millennia.

The following are some of the most important herbal sleeping aids. In practice we often use a combination of more than one at the same time. If you keep an open mind re trying different herbs, and you are careful to take a proper therapeutic dose of whatever it is you do try, then it is almost certain that you will get a positive response from at least one of these time-honoured remedies for sleep.

Herbal sleep remedies


Valerian is one of the best known and highly regarded herbs to help sleep. It doesn't suit everyone but when it is the right herb used in the right dosage, its effects can be phenomenal, more here

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)



Hops are a famous sleep remedy in their own right and they can work particularly well when combined with Valerian, more here


As well as a good strong dose of it, best in tea or tincture, you also must be sure of getting good quality Skullcap, but if these conditions are met, it can have a remarkably quietening effect on an overactive mind or restless nervous system, more here


Passionflower combines especially well with Skullcap and can be particularly helpful for people with too much physical tension that is interfering with their ability to sleep,
more here

Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower)



Kava is a traditional Pacific Island remedy that has been unjustly maligned through inappropriate use. Nevertheless, if you can obtain Kava wherever you are in the world, it can be highly recommended as an effective remedy for both insomnia and anxiety, more here


Withania's Latin name is Withania somnifera, the word 'somnifera' meaning 'sleep inducing' coming from what the ancients consistently observed, which was the initial effect of Withania is to give a profoundly relaxing action to the whole person, more here

Withania somnifera


Empty the in-box

Remember to let Nature take the first step i.e. take strong herbs in strong doses. What follows, for many, is an effective second step and we are now getting into treating what may be at least a part of 'the cause' of the problem.

Many people who have trouble falling asleep have too much in their mental 'in-box'. They have not had time to think about their problems and their worries through the day so, when they finally get to lay their head on the pillow, even if they are exhausted, they start to think, and think, and think...

Another version of the same problem is falling asleep for just a few hours and waking up with an active mind which is already starting to chew over the problems of today, yesterday, or tomorrow.

Many people in the modern world do not have enough time to simply think, let alone worry things through, and as a result the mind finds the only free time available to do what it needs to do, in the night-time. Of course, this has a deeply negative effect on energy and well-being, but such is the importance of working through that 'inbox' that we can sacrifice a large portion of our sleep to do it.

Worry time

There is a better way, and that is to make a 'worry-time' during the day. Ideally this will be a time when you are moving your body in a way that does not require thought or attention. Walking works perfectly for many people in this regard but so does any kind of house-work or craft-work when you don't have to concentrate on what you are doing but you are free to think. The main thing is that you don't try to sit or lie still while you do the worry time!

When we actually work through the 'inbox' of all the things that are worrying us we do not turn into neurotic wrecks, quite the opposite. An inner calm and quiet comes to us when we work through the worst-case scenarios one at a time. Our worst fears very rarely come to fruition, but they are there nevertheless. It is far better to look at them when you are awake and alert than during the night when you need to sleep and relax. Moving your body helps you to not become stuck in an anxious frame of mind, you can move through the problems just as you are literally moving with your body.

Work with, not against it

The method of what you actually do in the worry time is simple but powerful. Take any subject at all and start thinking 'what is the worst thing that could happen?'

Don't pretend to do this exercise, really do it. Imagine the worst, of anything and everything, and then work through it, start with whatever is bothering you the most right now and go from there.

Ask yourself 'what would I do about that?' How would I deal with it, who might I ask for help if I really needed it, how would I survive... what would I do?'

Being able to worry has been extremely important to our survival throughout evolution. Worrying helps us to avoid many things that can cause us harm or to eventually deal with those stresses that are unavoidable in a better way.

The problem with worrying about things when you should be sleeping is that you get all of the emotional content, i.e. tension, agitation and sleeplessness, and none of the intellectual value from the worry, i.e. logical-thinking and problem-solving. Work with the worry, not against it, and you will empty your inbox enough to get a good sleep when you need it.

Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap)


Other potential physical issues in the way

Herbs that relax the nervous system and consciously emptying the 'in-box' will be enough to see good results in many cases however, some people have other physical issues that are disrupting their sleep and may need to treat those causes for a lasting cure, for example:


Any kind of chronic pain can negatively impact on sleep. Back pain is one of the most common issues and an article specifically on this subject is found here

If any kind of pain is disrupting sleep, then it may be of much benefit to obtain some, entirely legal, Californian poppy and work with it as described here

Something else that may be of help is a spoken commentary called 'relaxing with pain' found here

Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs are a significant cause of insomnia for some people, more here

Hormonal imbalance

Some women's sleep is badly affected by the hormonal changes of the menopause, more here


Dysbiosis is a chronic infection of the digestive system and it is a more common cause of disturbed sleep than people realise until they finally deal with it. The symptoms that could point to this being a potential issue are getting very hot at night and experiencing a lot of abdominal bloating, more here

Piper methysticum (Kava)

Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences. There's a brief introduction here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd