Bring Me A Dream… A Sleep Story
SLEEP. We all know how important Sleep is for brain function, hormonal balance, injury repair, mood stability, and metabolism — whether (or not) you know the science of it or how it is influencing your body. It is REAL.
More often than not, quality of sleep is something most Patients wish to improve, when they begin with my care.
This weekend, we are getting ready to “fall back” by turning our clocks back one hour. My own perspectives regarding the impact of these time changes twice per year would require an entire post of its own (and then some!) — so I wish to focus on a different aspect to Sleep Disruption, from a Patient Story perspective.
As I mentioned, the impact of sleep disruption — for whatever reason — has far-reaching impact upon neurological, emotional, hormonal, and metabolic processes. It can be a trigger point that sets imbalances into motion — or it can be in response to an imbalance. (It matters not which came first, because my quest is to dig deep and discover the CAUSE.. and then address it in BOTH directions)
Peeling apart the layers to the cause of a Patient’s sleep issues is complex. It often requires me time to get to know the person and deep-dive with honesty into subtle influences that add up.
Today’s story is something that I found fascinating, early-on in my years of practice.
A patient reported a recurring trend - every 4 weeks - when she seemed to have sleep disturbance. It lasted anywhere from 2-3 consecutive nights.
What was the recurring trend?
A FULL MOON!
That’s right: this celestial body that controls the tides of our oceans, as well as influencing our emotions and brain + body hormones, seems to reveal its influence over our sleep cycles.
While troubleshooting the disruption with this Patient — she reported that she tended to have trouble falling and staying asleep in the days surrounding a Full Moon (there have been additional influences she reported upon other occurrences of sleep disruption - such as stressful phases that occur along the way of life)!
[A Little Backstory]
She had a Full/Complete Hysterectomy in her 30s due to Ovarian Cancer, so we couldn’t match the monthly sleep changes to Menstrual cycles — but we were able to discover the trend alongside lunar cycles. Equally, we had additional hormonal considerations to factor-into assessment, in determining what was happening at this particular phase in-question.
Some women are keenly in-tune with the Moon via hormonal cycles — having their menstruation in-sync with these 4-week phases. Curiously, many women give birth in the days surrounding a Full Moon.
Much folklore surrounds the cycles of the Moon — and we are affirming them via science.
Time change — through travel, changes in bed/wake times, and when the clocks shift an hour in one direction or the other — are proven scientifically to have lasting hormonal impact. This is often dismissed as "occasional insomnia", "short term", or “just an hour difference” but science is now confirming what many people find impactful upon their daily functioning.
Back to that Patient story…
On an herbal remedy perspective, many people reach for popular teas that promote sleep-inducing herb blends; However, this particular Patient was frustrated when she seemed to feel even LESS sleepy when taking these teas (whether or not it was a Full Moon)!
I had asked her to read me the ingredient list, because I already suspected a specific potential culprit, so I asked about this specific plant.
Lo, and behold!
As it turns out, I was already keen to the potential that some people have an OPPOSITE response to a very popular herb for sleep enhancement: Valeriana officinalis (Valerian root).
It is wildly popular in references as a calming plant (and it IS -- for many people and various symptoms beyond insomnia!), however, it is largely overlooked as potentially working against the goals of sleep improvement -- in some individuals (and we never truly know who will have this atypical response -- until we try it and observe response).
As a result of this experience and finding other Patients over the years who express the opposite of ‘calming’ after taking a tea or preparation with Valerian root, I end up not reaching for this herb as often when formulating for my Patients.
In fact, it is something I will delay adding to a formulation, in-favor of applying other options first -- notably when they have expressed trying these popular retail teas without success.
There are plenty of alternative medicinal plants that I will reach for when compounding a custom medicine for sleep issues — matching nuances of the plants' activity in the body to other hormonal and metabolic features in a Patient’s medical history.
With certainty, one size does not suit all.
I don't often provide teas as remedies.
Suffice to say, when you take a dried plant and consume what you can extract only through steeping in boiled water or cooking the plants in water for a period of time, you pull out mainly the water-soluble components from the plant. This leaves behind many of the active and medicinal fat-soluble, resinous, or volatile components (so its only a partial picture of a plant)!
For providing all of those medicinal components with more reliable concentrations, I apply extracts created more comprehensively than simply boiled water -- and typically beyond a simple alcohol+water “soak and press” tincture. (What does that mean? Ah, that is another post for another day... let us say that further small-batch non-factory extraction methods act to maximize concentration of the entire plant composition in its natural balance -- and provides more reliable effectiveness with far less volume)
Teas are lovely -- however, for a number of reasons -- they are best used as a compliment to supporting the body in their own way, but perhaps less "medicinal" than concentrated extracts; They CAN be relaxing and support nutrition!
I am writing this post on a Full "Blue" Moon, Halloween, 31 October 2020. It is safe to say that I anticipate many who will have less affinity toward sleep this weekend (whether from the energy influence of the Full Moon, holiday excitement, festivities, sugar intake -- or a mix of everything!).
Fortunately, this year, Halloween and this Full Moon comes on the weekend — and then we turn the clocks back an hour.
You may feel a sense of “jet lag” in this first week of November — but remember — we do “have an [herbal] app for that” if you continue to feel like a Zombie long after All Hallows Eve!
Tami Bronstein, Medical Herbalist-Physiologist