Friday, October 15, 2010

A Good Night's Sleep: A Holistic Approach

As a child, I had insomnia.  After my parents were divorced when I was five, for a period that I can no longer remember (one year?  three?) I saw two therapists  - one while I was at my mom's house during the week, and one while I was at my dad's house during the weekend.  I don't know if it helped or not, but I do remember that it all started when I began to have serious trouble sleeping at night.

These days, I sleep like a baby.  Of course, I have nights here and there when my mind is on overdrive and for whatever reason deep sleep seems to elude me, but in general, when my head hits the pillow, I'm pretty much out.

Of course I can't give you a single, definitive reason that I'm such a good sleeper, but I can let you in on a number of non-pharmaceutical tips and techniques that might help you become one too.

(Note:  I don't mean to imply that you have to do every single one of these in order to sleep well - I just want to give you a lot to work with.  Everyone's different, so experiment and see what works for you.)

1.  Don't Panic.  I don't know about you, but when I had trouble sleeping, I'm convinced that the main thing that kept me up at night was worrying that I wasn't getting enough sleep.  People need sleep, I'd think unhappily - I won't be healthy unless I sleep.  Nowadays, I know not to go there.  Instead, I don't even consider whether or not I will sleep.  I just consider how comfortable and luxurious it is to rest.  Ahh, I think, isn't this nice?  It was such a long day, and now I get to just lie here in this comfy bed.  If I don't fall asleep right away for whatever reason, it's OK, because I get to rest, which, when panic is not involved, is almost as good as sleep and is also quite restorative.  

2.  Cover or Remove Mirrors, Especially Large Ones.  Mirrors are very energizing to a room, and I know that for me personally, a large mirror (such as a mirrored closet door) in the bedroom makes it almost impossible to sleep.  If you're not sure if you're the same way, you might try covering large mirrors with a curtain or a scarf for a week or two and see if you notice a change.

3.  Clear out Clutter and Active Items.  In feng shui, one way we determine what's positive to have around and what isn't is that we imagine that everything is alive and that everything is communicating something to us.  This means that a cluttery room is very chatty - i.e. distracting, unsettling, and overwhelming - just as a messy room is.  Also, items such as computers, work stuff, or exercise equipment don't have a very restful message or vibe, and are best kept out of the bedroom.

(I wrote at length about clutter clearing in chapter one of Magical Housekeeping: Simple Charms and Practical Tips for Creating a Harmonious Home.)

4.  Choose Soothing Colors and Lighting.  In general, in the bedroom, warm and earthy colors, and solid colors, are best.  This range includes all browns, soft and deep reds (not bright), peach, and soft/warm oranges, yellows, and pinks (not bright).  Additionally, bright lighting tends to trick our minds into thinking it's daytime, so it's best to have low/soft/ambient lighting in your bedroom at night.

5.  Cover Windows Well.  Substantial curtains, through which you can see no movement and little light, are best for sleeping purposes because, naturally, they make us feel more relaxed and secure.

6.  Have a Comfy and Well-Placed Bed.  I know the comfy bed thing seems obvious, but it's so important that I can't leave it out.  Also, it's most restful and grounding when you have a substantial, wooden headboard, and when the head of the bed is placed against a solid wall.  If you must place your bed under windows, it's especially important to make sure that the windows are covered well (see above).

7.  Employ Aromatherapy.  Essential oils of lavender, chamomile, neroli, vetiver, and orange are all known for their restful properties.  Still, as I've said, everyone's different - so take a whiff of each (and perhaps experiment with others) and see which ones seem to relax you.  Then, you might place a 10-20 drops in a mister of water, shake, and lightly mist your pillow before bed.  Or, you could fill a coffee mug half way with steaming hot water, float a few drops of oil on top, and place it near your nightstand.  (Just make sure your cat won't try to drink it.)

8.  Drink Chamomile Tea.  Chamomile tea, and blends containing chamomile along with other restful herbs such as passionflower and valerian, can be a great help.  Try having a cup before bed to prepare your mind and body for a night of restful sleep.

9.  If the Chamomile Doesn't Work, Try Kava and/or Valerian Supplements.  If you've tried the chamomile thing and it just doesn't seem to do the trick, you might try a little kava and/or valerian, in tea or supplement form.  In general, if you take supplements, it's best to start light and build up to the fully recommended dosage to see what your body works best with.  Personally, I like to have both kava and valerian in my herbal medicine cabinet for those nights when my body feels restless or my mind is going a mile a minute.  (Note: some herbalists caution against too much kava or taking kava on a regular basis.)

10.  Sleep With a Rose Quartz or Amethyst by Your Head.  The energy of rose quartz is like a warm bath or a comforting massage, while amethyst helps you to get into the deeper and more restful levels of sleep.  Placed under your pillow or on a nightstand, either or both will be happy to share their healing qualities.

11.  Burn White Sage Before Bed, or Mist With Rosewater Containing Sage Essential Oil.  White sage smoke, or a mist of rosewater containing a few drops of sage essential oil, can clear the vibes in the bedroom and help you to release the stress of the day.

12.  Take White Chestnut Essence and/or Rescue Remedy White chestnut flower essence helps soothe an overactive mind, while Rescue Remedy helps relieve general stress.  Before bed, simply place two drops of white chestnut and/or four drops of Rescue Remedy under the tongue.


  1. My goodness. Do you have a camera in my house? Yesterday I read the Weight Loss blog and today it's all about sleep...both of which seem to be my issues these days.

  2. Bonnie, that's awesome. You and the blog must be on the same wavelength! :)

  3. It's also useful sometimes to take a cortisol reducing supplement. Or trytophan. And I have this tincture called Pacific Nights. Because sometimes it really is all in my mind, and sometimes my body has its own agenda.

  4. I feel the same as Bonnie! And I often struggle with insomnia so this is definitely helpful. I LOVE your tip about not panicking - that is my most horrible habit.

  5. Yay! So glad you liked it, E. And thanks for sharing the additional tips, (Anonymous)! I didn't know about those ones.

  6. Thanks for the great blog, Tess! Some super suggestions I will definitely be trying. One of the things that helps me is relaxing my body from head to toe - something my momma taught me. Relax each little body part one at a time. I sometimes have to do it three times to get it to work. And sometimes... I need to try some of your suggestions along with it! 8 )

  7. You're welcome, Holly, thanks for reading! And that is an excellent tip - thank you!!

  8. We're waiting for the next installment, Neat Feet

    holistic approach

  9. Hi Holistic! Did you see this one?


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