The most widely accepted theory relating to sleep issues is that being too stressed, wound-up, or wired makes it difficult to settle down and get to sleep. This type of sleep-inhibiting stress is commonly associated with high cortisol levels in the evening which, normally, should be winding down as the sun sets.
The logical solution would be to calm down or sedate the nervous system in order to turn off the mind and turn on a good night’s sleep. On the surface, this solution makes sense, but in practice, it turns out to have limited effectiveness.
In my clinical practice, I’ve observed that most people with sleep issues may seem wired, but are actually deeply exhausted and often physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted. Exhaustion, while caused by stress, is also a cortisol-surging stressor. According to Ayurveda, the body needs energy to settle itself down in order to sleep. Without such energy, the nervous system may respond by continuously releasing stress hormones. A person at this deep level of exhaustion may not have enough energy to settle their mind and, although tired, may stay wired and be unable to truly rest.
Those of us who struggle with getting a good night’s rest will try just about anything. Sedatives, be they herbal or pharmaceutical, may only be sedating an already sedated or exhausted person—offering short-term, symptomatic relief at best.
I have had much greater success addressing the lack of energy with deep herbal rejuvenation.
The 4 Best Herbs for Sleep
There are a handful of herbs that I use in my practice that naturally support a healthy response to stress while acting as nervines, tonics, or adaptogens for the nervous system. Be careful, as many herbs commonly used for sleep are actually too calming, causing lingering tiredness throughout the day.
My rule of thumb for identifying a true nervous system tonic is to be sure it supports both sleep at night and healthy energy during the day—making it neither a stimulant nor a sedative. Here are my favorite “four horsemen for sleep,” which make up my Sleep Easy formula in the LifeSpa online shop.
Brahmi (Centella asiatica)
Brahmi is one of my favorite herbs for deep nervous system rejuvenation. It has shown to be rejuvenating for the nervous system with a long history of supporting healthy sleep. (1,2)
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is considered one of the most well-studied adaptogens, and is used to help reset healthy sleep/wake cycles in those with circadian imbalances. (3) As a deep rejuvenative for the mind, body and mood, it supports energy during the day while under stress, and also supports the body’s ability to normalize cortisol levels so that they are in sync with natural daily circadian cycles. (4)
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap is another well-studied adaptogen, nervous system and mood tonic that can support healthy daytime energy and the ability to settle the nervous system in the evening. (5,6)
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passionflower is the final piece of the four horsemen of adaptogenic herbs used in my Sleep Easy herbal formula. Passionflower supports healthy mood and energy during the day while supporting normal sleep cycles at night. For centuries, it has been used as a nervous system, mood, and sleep tonic. (7,8)
Suggested Use of Sleep Easy
For best results, take 1-2 capsules at 9pm, 1-2 capsules at 9:20pm and 1-3 capsules at 9:40pm, and then bed no later than 10pm.
Disclaimer: A sleep disorder is broadly defined as a physical or psychological problem that impairs your ability to sleep or causes increased sleepiness during the day. Everyone can experience sleep problems from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder and should consult your primary healthcare practitioner if:
- You regularly experience difficulty sleeping
- You are often tired during the day, even if you slept for at least seven hours the night before
- You have a reduced or impaired ability to perform regular daytime activities
- Your partner has told you that you snore loudly and sometimes seem to stop breathing.