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Dr. McCarter's Spotlight on Sleep: Part II


As I mentioned in my previous post, sleep is a key component for maintaining overall good health and a sense of well being. It is estimated that we spend roughly a third of our life sleeping. It is also estimated that approximately 35% of adults, for a variety of reasons, complain of insomnia when visiting their physician. With so much of our time devoted to sleep and a relatively high number of adults having difficulty falling or staying, sleeping, and understanding the adverse impact on health that poor sleep quality and short duration has on our health, this is a topic well worth exploring thoroughly. 

Yesterday we celebrated International Women's Day! This day, (acknowledged during Women's History Month), specifically highlights the achievement of women in all sectors of society.  Throughout the day yesterday I reflected on all the strong, accomplished, seemingly perpetually multitasking women that are in my life. While I am often in awe of all that they seem to get done in a relatively short period of time, I am also reminded of the adage, ""You can't pour from an empty cup".  My interpretation of this is that if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of others. Self-care is critical and is about far more than an occasional spa day. Getting the recommended amount of sleep is self-care! This is important for everyone but for women especially, particularly as we age. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases for women after menopause (natural or medically induced). The decrease in estrogen that accompanies this transition in a woman's life consequently decreases the cardio-protective effects of estrogen. Additionally, one of the most common complaints during this time of a woman's life is a newfound difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. 

Naturopathic medicine, botanical/herbal medicine specifically can be very effective in addressing insomnia in general and specifically when associated with menopause. I have some "go-to" herbs that I frequently recommend, alone in some instances, but most often in combination to address insomnia due to a variety of reasons. The list below is not meant to be comprehensive, in fact, I will just be starting with five herbs and I am highlighting one or two specific actions of the herbs below. All of the herbs have more actions than those that I have listed. 

Note: It is best to work with a licensed Naturopathic doctor or an herbalist as some herbs are not suitable for all and may interact with prescription medications. Additionally, many should be used with caution or avoided altogether during pregnancy and lactation.  There are also specific combinations that work well depending on what the underlies the cause of insomnia that is best to be explore with your licensed Naturopathic provider. 

Avena Sativa commonly referred to as Oats/Wild Oats: this is an herb that I like to use because it is nourishing to the nervous system, particularly when under stress. This is an herb that I would use in a blend particularly for someone that has been under long-term stress. 

Valeriana Officinalis (Valerian-root): This herb acts as a sedative and is a mild muscle relaxant. I would use this in a blend, particularly if there was sleeplessness due to anxiety.

Scuterllaria Lateriflora (Skullcap): This herb also acts as a sedative and is particularly useful in easing nervous tension, it also acts as a bit of a tonic for the central nervous system. This too would be used in a blend for someone that has long-term stress. 

Nepeta Cataria (Catnip): Yes, that catnip! This herb is a mild sedative and antispasmodic, so it can help to relieve muscle tension. 

Lavandual Angustifolia (Lavender): No list of relaxing herbs would be complete without mentioning lavender. Not only are Lavender flowers good for use internally, the volatile oils are great for diffusing. Lavender is a relaxing and is also antispasmodic in action.