A dear friend of mine called recently. As a mother of two young children and a caretaker of ailing parents, she had been through a particularly stressful few months and hadn’t been sleeping more than a couple of hours here and there. She said, disheartened, “even the drugs don’t work, and my acupuncturist thinks it may take awhile before my system resets enough for herbs or drugs to have any effect.”
I have never suffered from that sort of chronic, debilitating insomnia. But I’m no stranger to stress and have had my share of 3 a.m. blender-brain awakenings. I know how easily the cycle becomes self-perpetuating: lack of sleep makes you more stressed, which makes it hard to sleep well. Considering the health implications of poor sleep (heart disease, obesity, even cancer) and what a widespread problem it is—Americans fill 59 million prescriptions for sleep aids annually, and sleep and stress supplement sales reached $116 million last year—we need to ask: How are we missing the mark?
De-stressing is key, but finding a workable remedy depends on factors unique to each person. According to herbalist Roy Upton, treating the symptom (sleeplessness) can miss deeper, underlying issues. “From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, if a person has a qi [“chee,” or energy] deficiency then she might need a tonic, even one associated with increased energy, to help her sleep.”
If you suffer from insomnia, look to the gentle remedies in Sleep Solutions. And if you simply can’t get the recommended eight hours of shut-eye, try restorative herbal adaptogens, says retailer and supplement expert Adam Stark. My personal favorite is rhodiola; Stark also recommends ginseng, eleuthero, and ashwagandha.