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Sleep latency: This term refers to the delay between getting into bed and actually falling asleep. The most common way to address this is with sedatives. The problem with relying only on sedatives is that they inevitably wear off (some sooner than others), and can often lead to dependence. And while they work on the mind, they often neglect the body. As herbalists, we take a holistic approach; where we focus on the relaxing powers of passionflower and Kava, to ease our nervous system into a restful state, where we then support it with a small amount of sedating qualities from california poppy and a little hops.
Often, falling asleep isn’t the problem. Sleep can also be disrupted by waking up way too early—difficulty with sleep maintenance. We all can experience this occasionally: the mind goes around in circles, and restlessness follows – sometimes at 1am, 2am, 3am. Very few sleep aids help with this; the strategy instead is just to use a long-acting sedative that knocks you out for eight hours. Other options, especially if the body’s sun-based sleep-wake rhythm is disturbed (like in jetlag, or for night-shift workers), include remedies like melatonin: this hormone can help reset our body clock and improve sleep maintenance if we’re out of sync with the sun. But there are also excellent herbs that help maintain normal, deep sleep throughout the night: california poppy is one of the best, which is why we include it in Hit the Hay.
The restless mind can really interfere with both sleep latency and sleep maintenance. Our thoughts about the day ahead and our regrets about the days behind can keep us from falling asleep both early on and if we wake in the middle of the night. Most sleep remedies try to address these complaints by “shutting off” the mind for various lengths of time. One of the problems with sedatives is that you can’t really take them in the middle of the night, as you will feel quite sedated the next morning. We focus instead on passionflower, which relieves the stress of the day and allows the mind to gently relax without knocking you out. Plus, it won’t leave you feeling groggy if you take it in the middle of the night, and it has long-lasting effects.
Often neglected in the conversation around occasional sleeplessness is the level of tension in the body. We know that body and spirit are linked: when there is tightness in one, the other feels tension, too. Have you ever noticed tightness in your neck and shoulders as you lay down to rest? Take some deep breaths and you might even notice that neck tension is keeping your head from fully relaxing into the pillow. Most sleep remedies don’t address body tension at all, but we recognize the importance of relaxing away the physical tension of the day to support normal sleep. This is why we use the herb Kava: by gently encouraging relaxation, it lets the body forget stress-induced tension. This effect synergizes with the effects of hops and passionflower on our spirit, and helps you fall asleep fast.
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