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Sleep difficulties – seven natural sleep remedies

Sleep difficulties and insomnia

Insomnia is defined as the inability to fall or maintain sleep for as long as desired. Sleep difficulties and insomnia affect young, old and many in between. Studies suggest levels of insomnia of between 10% and 48% exist in the normal UK population, depending on how this is defined. If you suffer, you are not alone. Suffering in silence is also NOT the answer.

Essential hormones and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) are replenished. The cells and tissues of our bodies are repaired and rejuvenated during the latter phases of our sleep pattern. 6-8 hours of sleep for adults, and more for children depending on their age each night is a vital part of maintaining good health. Research suggests a plethora of health risks and longevity limitations if you suffer with insomnia or chronic insomnia. A lack of sleep depresses the immune system, increases tumour cell growth, accelerates diabetes, depression and cognitive ability and not sleeping increases your risk of dying from all causes. In brief the sooner you get back to restorative sleep, the better.

How much sleep is enough?

Take the sleep tests

Stanford Sleepiness scale

Epworth Sleepiness scale

Causes of Insomnia questionnaire

Most people typically fall into either “sleep-onset” difficulties, “early waking” or “sleep-maintenance” difficulties. I believe many sleep difficulties can be improved by addressing one or all of these 3 areas.

A) Environment

B) Habits

C) Balancing the constitution

There is a vast amount of information available on addressing the “environment” and “habits” to facilitate sleep. The constitution is where homeopathy and natural treatments may be of benefit. Below are 7 of the most common and useful natural home treatments for insomnia. Homeopathic treatments are individualised so would need to be tailored and prescribed by individual.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Is a herb with generations of use and some double blind placebo controlled studies provide scientific evidence that valerian is as effective as benzodiazepines. Many over the counter preparations can be bought (often at a premium!) throughout Europe and the UK, or the basic herb itself can be taken. Studies suggest it increases neurotransmitter levels, without the addictive side effects or daytime sleepiness of many chemical sleeping agents.

Hops (Humulus Lupus)

Those who enjoy a good pint of real beer or ale, will be familiar with this herbs wonderful calming effects. Hops has been successfully used for insomnia, anxiety and as a mild sedative. Trials on animals show hops induces sleep and is sedative in animals. Human trials have mostly been done with hops and valerian combined.

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

Wild lettuce is more widely used for anxiety, headaches and muscle, joint or traumatic injuries. There is some evidence to suggest it’s effectiveness in calming restlessness. There are suggestions wild lettuce may even reduce restless legs. It is best taken just before bed.

Calcium and Magnesium

Both of these boost sleep, and when in combination are most effective. The potential risk of cardiac problems is reduced when Magnesium is taken with calcium, rather than calcium taken alone. I prescribe an age specific dose each day with food.

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP is and amino acid and is a precursor to serotonin, one of the “well being” and “happiness” hormones in the brain. The conversion of this amino acid occurs in the brain. It’s understood serotonin is a very important catalyst in initiating sleep. As such it’s best taking 5-HTP 20-30 minutes before bedtime preferably with a carbohydrate snack.


L-theanine is an amino acid which originates from green-tea. Like many other natural sleep medicines, it has clinical evidence to support it’s use by naturopathic physicians and nutritionists. It not only helps users to maintain alert and calm during the day, but also appears to support a deeper sleep at night. You would need to drink a huge amount of very concentrated green tea to obtain clinically relevant levels of L-theanine, and this would also likely come with more waking to use the bathroom, so a suitable active supplement is advised.

Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)

Making use of real lavender essential oil may not sound like an effective treatment for chronic insomnia suffers, reports suggest this may be an inexpensive, non-toxic way of supporting your sleep-inducing protocol. Apply a spray to pillows or rub a suitable oil onto the temples before bed.

My health philosophy is about treating the person, not the disease. It’s unwise, from my experience, to simply replace a synthetic agent or treatment for say sleep, with a natural treatment, homeopathic remedy or herb. Crucial to achieve any lasting success is to remove any obstacles to “cure” and treat that whole patient and the true cause of their disease.

Treating sleep difficulties is no different. Why not make contact with me or Sussex Natural Health to see how an individualised sleep treatment may help you or your loved ones get more sleep.

Disclaimer - This article is intended to offer general advice to the reader, and is for information only. This article should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Sussex Natural Health as taken all reasonable care in writing and compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. In order to keep the format succinct and accessible to members of the general public, articles have not been specifically referenced in the standard scientific format. References are however available on request. The advice offered, or any general suggestions made in the article are not intended to replace specific advice given to you by either one of the Sussex Natural Health team or another professional healthcare practitioner. It is always advised to seek specific advise and guidance, individually in preference to following general advice.

Sources for this article

  1. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Murray, M. Pizzorno, J. Atria Books 3rd Edition, July 2012
  3. The Clinician’s handbook of Natural Medicine, Pizzorno, J.E. Murray, M.T. Joiner-Bey, H. Churchill Livingston 2nd Edition, 2008.
  8. Roth, Thomas (15 August 2007).“Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etilogy, and Consequences”J Clin Sleep Med 5 Suppl): S7–S10.PMC1978319.PMID17824495