We all know how important sleep is, and how disruptive it is when we don't get enough restful sleep. Insomnia is variously characterised by ongoing disruptions in our sleep patterns, such that we don't feel rested and it is interferes with our normal waking-hours functionality. In standard biomedicine, insomnia is normally just patient-reported, with little standardisation to the clinical approach.
One of the interesting themes that emmerged from my investigation into herbalists' approach to insomnia is that we differentiate between two forms of insomnia. Onset insomina is when we have trouble falling asleep, and is more typically associated with feelings of stress and anxiety. Maintenance insomnia is the inability to stay asleep for more than a few hours, when it is typical to wake up several times in the night and only get a handful of hours' sleep. It is not always stress-related and there may be other factors involved, such as age or other medical conditions. Insomnia may also be secondary to other factors, such as pain, medications or substancce use.
Interestingly, it transpired that the choice of herbs used for the two different types of insomnia was ever so slightly different. The herbalists were asked to list the herbs they typically used, in descending order of popularity. The composite lists are as follows -
Herbs for onset insomnia: Passiflora incarnata, Lavandula officinalis, Matricaria recutita, Valeriana officinalis, Tilia spp., Crataegus spp., Rosa spp., Humulus lupulus, Stachys betonica, Eschscholzia californica
Herbs for maintenance insomnia: Valeriana, Withania somnifera, Lactuca virosa, Passiflora incarnata, Piscidia spp., Humulus lupulus, Scutellaria lateriflora
Generally speaking though, insomnia is considered to be more of a symptom of underlying imbalances, mainly diet and lifestyle/emotional health, rather than a primary cause. This is very much in keeping with the holistic approach and ultimately defines the herbs used in any given case.