There are a number of herbs referred to as nervines (calming to the nervous system) and therefore listed as being effective for sleep disorders. While this may be true in part, I’m sure that many people have tried various proprietary herbal sleep mixes without gaining a complete and lasting return to a normal and healthy sleep pattern.
The reason for this is that while any given group of people may suffer from insomnia, the reasons for the condition and the types of insomnia that they suffer from will invariably differ from one person to the next.
The shotgun approach of prescribing a mix of nervines will often gain an improvement in the patient’s condition, but those improvements will tend not to be deeply effective or long-lasting.
If real change is to occur, it is necessary that the particular type of insomnia the patient is suffering from be assessed. The nervine that is specific for that person can then be prescribed. While nervines will be prescribed together, there will always be one nervine that is specific for each person.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is not specific for the type of insomnia sufferers who cannot get to sleep. Rather, it is more for those who are chronically light sleepers.
To their partners, it may seem as though light sleepers are blissfully snoring away, but these people can usually recount every noise that was made throughout the night: the neighbors as they returned home after midnight or the cat that knocked over the garbage bin at 2 a.m.
Their bodies are asleep, but their minds never quite completely switch off. The mental fatigue that results can cause problems with concentration, and they often have difficulty with speech. It is not unusual for them to be written off as slow learners early on in life as a result.
Quite the opposite is the case for these types, however, as they are usually highly intelligent individuals whose linguistic clumsiness and apparent lack of concentration belies an incredibly agile and creative mind. It is usually not until the late teens or early 20s that the creative brilliance of these types becomes apparent.
Another characteristic is a highly developed awareness in the five senses. Bright lights will affect them, and they will often put on sunglasses before they go out the door.
Sound, smell, taste, and touch are also more sensitive than usual, and this overstimulation is a contributing factor in their inability to turn off at night when it comes time for truly restful sleep. Sleepwalking is also common in childhood and sometimes continues into adulthood.
For this type of person, mugwort is the herb that will bring a night of real sleep, with the accompanying energy that can be expected from being truly rested.
Mugwort is high in phosphates of magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which are essential for the health and resilience of the nervous system. Vitamin B6 is also present, making mugwort a nerve tonic and antispasmodic, as well as giving it a role in regulating pituitary and adrenal hormones.
Mugwort’s affinity for the nervous system is utilized in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine in the practice of moxibustion. The moxa cones are made from the fluffy white underside of the mugwort leaf and are burned above the skin, either on a piece of ginger, salt, or on the tip of an acupuncture needle over an area of weakened nerve signal.
Do not self-medicate with this herb. A well-trained herbalist can prescribe the nervine that most fits your constitution, eliminating the need for the shotgun approach and large doses.
Luke Hughes is a classical Western herbalist and horticulturist based in Sydney, Australia.
Image of Mugwort via Shutterstock