Stress and Sleeplessness

by Dee Atkinson, Medical Herbalist, MNIMH

Many of the health problems I see in clinic originate in the emotional spectrum and then develop into the physical. One of the big underlying issues is stress. Stress is part of many people’s daily lives and this is especially true in our modern fast pace of life and with the stresses caused by the economic downturn.

Short-term stress can be useful in achieving goals and overcoming challenges but long term and prolonged stress can be damaging to your health. It challenges your immune system leaving you prone to colds, flu and allergies but also is implicated in more serious health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, mental illness, stroke and adrenal gland exhaustion.

There are however many ways to minimise the negative effects of stress, using a combination of diet, herbal medicine, relaxation and exercise and I have outlined this in our stress section. A balanced, nutritious diet based on wholegrains, fresh fruits, vegetables and good quality protein is very important. Many people find it is helpful to avoid too many stimulants such as tea, coffee and sugar as these can lead to irritability and insomnia. Try drinking herbal teas instead, there are many new brands and flavours on the market now.

I regularly recommend my clients to make sure they include oats in their diet. Oats were used (especially in Scotland) both as a food (porridge) and as a medicine. Oats act as a tropho-restorative (meaning to restore back to the original state) to the nervous system and are also included in Duncan Napiers original Nerve Debility Tonic. Today we now know this as Scullcap, Oat and Passionflower Compound. Scullcap, Oat and Passionflower Compound contains over 20 different herbs, including Scullcap, Oats, Passionflower, Jamaican dogwood, Limeflowers and Valerian.

Another side effect of stress can be sleepless nights. To help break the cycle of stress and sleep loss I recommend Passiflora (Passionflower). This is the traditional remedy to aid sleep and uplift mood and is the main ingredient of Sweet Dreams, which is our sleep mix formulation. It’s an easy to use licensed formula and an alternative to capsules and tablets.

Regular exercise is also a great way to control stress levels and keep blood pressure and cholesterol down. You don’t need to join an expensive gym - a brisk 30-minute walk everyday will improve your sense of wellbeing. Swimming, yoga, stretching and cycling are all great ways of taking exercise.

It is important to take a break. Get out of the house or office. Setting time for you to relax can also be a bit of a challenge. But many of us do really need this time to charge our emotional batteries and it is equally important for men. Go to see a film, read a book, and take a long relaxing herbal bath.