Sleep problems affect millions of Americans. The results are sleep deprivation, crankiness, and a wide range of health problems including an increased likelihood of death according the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Lack of sleep has been implicated in everything from hyperactive children to nuclear meltdowns. Effective solutions to sleep problems are a personal and professional necessity.

In the following excerpt from Secret Food Cures authors Joan and Lydia Wilen share natural sleep problem solutions to help you rest better.


Yaaaawn! Not getting enough sleep can really make you tired! Most people have trouble sleeping every once in a while—but for others, the problem is chronic. If you have trouble dozing off (or staying dozed off), try these remedies.


• A popular folk remedy for insomnia is counting sheep. We once heard about a garment manufacturer who had trouble sleeping. Not only did he count the sheep, he sheared them, combed the wool, had it spun into yarn, woven into cloth, made into suits, which he distributed in town, watched as they didn’t sell, had them returned and lost thousands on the deal. Of course, that’s why he had trouble sleeping in the first place.

Treating Insomnia

We have some other remedies to help the garment manufacturer—and you—get a good night’s sleep.

• In England, it is believed that a good night’s sleep will be ensured if you lie in bed with your head to the north and your feet to the south.

• Nutmeg can act as a sedative. Steep half of a crushed nutmeg (not more than that) in hot water for 10 minutes, and drink it a half-hour before bedtime. If you don’t like the taste of it, you can use nutmeg oil externally. Rub it on your forehead.

• Try drinking a glass of pure, warmed grapefruit juice. If you need to have it sweetened, use a bit of raw honey

CAUTION: Grapefruit can interfere with certain medications—check with your doctor before trying this remedy. In addition, diabetics and people with honey allergies should not use honey.

• This Silva Method exercise seems to… zzzzzzz. Where were we? Oh yes, once you’re in bed, completely relax. Lightly close your eyes. Now picture a blackboard. Take a piece of imaginary chalk and draw a circle. Within the circle, draw a square and put the number 99 in the square. Erase the number 99. Be careful you don’t erase the sides of the square. Replace 99 with 98. Then erase 98 and replace it with 97, then 96, 95, 94, etc. You should fall asleep long before you get to zero.

• Michio Kushi, pioneer of the macrobiotic diet and founder of the Kushi Institute in Becket, Massachusetts, says that when you can’t sleep, put a cut, raw onion under your pillow. No, you don’t cry yourself to sleep. There’s something in the onion that scurries you off to dreamland.

Cut a yellow onion in chunks and place it in a glass jar. Cover the jar, and keep it on your night table. When you can’t fall asleep—or when you wake up and can’t fall back asleep— open the jar and take a deep whiff of the onion. Close the jar, lie back, think lovely thoughts and within 15 minutes…zzzzzzzz.

• A relaxing bath may help you fall asleep. Before you take your bath, prepare a cup of sleep-inducing herb tea to drink as soon as you get out of the tub. Use chamomile, sage or fresh ginger tea. Then take a bath using any one or a combination of the following herbs—lavender, marigold, passionflower or rosemary. All of these calming herbs should be available at health food stores.

By the time you finish your bath and the tea, you should feel wound down and ready to doze off.

• A gem therapist told us about the power of a diamond. Set in a silver ring, it supposedly prevents insomnia. The therapist also said that wearing a diamond—in any setting—protects the wearer from nightmares. Well, there’s one of the best arguments for getting engaged!


• A glass of elderberry juice, at room temperature, is thought of as a sleep inducer. You can get pure elderberry concentrate at health food stores. Just dilute it, drink it and hit the hay.

• According to the record (please don’t ask us which one), King George III of England (1738–1820) was plagued with insomnia until a physician prescribed a hop pillow. Hops have been known to have a tranquilizing effect. Lupulin, an active ingredient in hops, has been used to treat a variety of nervous disorders.

Here’s how you can use hops to help you sleep better—buy or sew together a little muslin or fine white cotton bag. Fill it with hops and tack it to your pillow. Change the hops once a month.

• You may want to try placing a pillow, filled with flaxseed, on your eyes to help you fall asleep. Many health food stores carry them, and you can find them online. The eye pillow applies just enough pressure to the eyes and orbits to help you relax.

■ Recipe ■

Elderberry Pie

2 1⁄2 cups elderberries

3 Tbsp lemon juice

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1⁄8 tsp salt

19″ double crust pie pastry

Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a 9″ pie pan with pastry.

Combine berries and lemon juice. Pour into pie shell.

Mix sugar, flour and salt. Sprinkle over berries. Cover with top crust, then seal and flute edges. Cut a few small steam vents in the top. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350° F and bake 30 minutes longer.


From Baaa to Zzzz

• A naturopath we met has had great success in treating patients who suffer from severe insomnia—with goat’s milk! He recommends they drink six ounces before each meal and six ounces before bedtime.

Within a week, he has seen patients go from getting two hours of sleep a night to sleeping eight restful hours night after night. Some supermarkets and most health food stores sell goat’s milk.

The Rabbit Sleeps Tonight

• Galen, a Greek physician, writer and philosopher (129–216 AD), was able to cure his own insomnia by eating lots of lettuce in the evening. Lettuce has lactucarium, a calming agent. The problem with eating lots of lettuce is that it’s a diuretic. So, while it may help you fall asleep, you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

Avoid Sleep

• Worried about not being able to fall asleep? Okay then, don’t let yourself go to sleep. That’s right—try to stay awake. Sleep specialists call this technique “paradoxical intent.” (When we were children and our father used it on us, we precociously called it “reverse psychology.”) So, take the worry out of trying to go to sleep, and try hard to stay awake. We bet you’ll be asleep in no time.

• Keep the temperature of the room cool and your feet warm. Wear socks to bed, or rest your feet on a hot water bottle.

According to a study done at the Chronobiology and Sleep Laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, sleepiness is caused by a drop in core body temperature. That happens as your body heat slowly dissipates through dilated blood vessels in the feet. Aside from falling asleep faster, warm feet are more comfortable for you and your bedmate.

Sleep Lives of the Rich and Famous

Renowned British author Charles Dickens (1812–1870) believed it was impossible to sleep if you crossed the magnetic forces between the North and South Poles. As a result, whenever Mr. Dickens traveled, he took a compass with him so he could sleep with his head facing north.

American statesman, inventor and writer Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) believed in fresh-air baths in the nude as a sleep inducer. During the night, he would move from one bed to another because he also thought that cold sheets had a therapeutic effect on him. (At least, that’s what he told his wife!)

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), the 16th president of the United States, took a midnight walk to help him sleep.

Celebrated American writer and notorious wit Mark Twain (1835–1910) had a cure for insomnia—“Lie near the edge of the bed and you’ll drop off.”

According to American journalist and radio personality Franklin P. Adams (1881– 1960), “Insomniacs don’t sleep because they worry about it and they worry about it because they don’t sleep.”

• Exercise during the day. Get a real workout —take a class or follow an exercise plan from a book or a videotape at home. Do not exercise right before bedtime. And be sure to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

• Try using an extra pillow or two. This works for some people.

• Stay in one position. (Lying on the stomach is more relaxing than on the back.) Tossing and turning acts as a signal to the body that you’re ready to get up.

• In a pitch-black room, sit in a comfortable position with your feet and hands uncrossed. Light a candle. Stare at the lit candle while relaxing each part of your body, starting with the toes and working your way up. Include ankles, calves, knees, thighs, pelvis, stomach, waist, midriff, rib cage, chest, fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, lips, cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, forehead and top of the head. Once your entire body is relaxed, take care to extinguish the candle properly and go to sleep.

• Take your mind off having to fall asleep. Give yourself an interesting but unimportant fantasy-type problem to solve. For instance—if you were to write your autobiography, what would be the title?

• Steep one teaspoon of chamomile in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes and sip it right before bedtime.

• Do not go to bed until you’re really sleepy, even if it means going to bed very late when you have to get up early the next morning. Nothing will happen to you if you get less than eight, seven, six or even five hours of sleep just one night.

• Get into bed. Before you lie down, breathe deeply six times. Count to 100, then breathe deeply another six times. Good night!

• An hour before bedtime, peel and cut up a large onion. Place the onion in a heat-resistant receptacle and pour two cups of boiling water over it. Let it steep for 15 minutes. Strain the water, then drink as much of it as you can. Do your evening ablutions (which might include freshening your breath) and go to sleep.

Tryptophan Toddy

• Folk-remedy recipes always include warm milk with 1 ⁄2 teaspoon of nutmeg and one or two teaspoons of honey before bedtime to promote restful sleep.

The National Institute of Mental Health ( believes this concoction works because warm milk contains tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (link of protein) that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to send messages from brain to nerves and vice versa.

The advantage of a tryptophan-induced sleep over sleeping pills is that you awaken at the normal time every day and do not feel sleepy or drugged.

• The feet seem to have a lot to do with a good night’s sleep. One research book says that before going to bed, put your feet in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. If you’re brave (or silly) enough to try this, please proceed with care. Talk about getting cold feet!

• Try a little Chinese acupressure. Press the center of the bottoms of your heels with your thumbs. Keep pressing as long as you can—for at least three minutes. (Well, it beats sticking your feet in the fridge.)

• If you’ve reached the point where you’re willing to try just about anything, then rub the soles of your feet and the nape of your neck with a peeled clove of garlic. It may help you fall asleep—and it will definitely keep the vampires away.

• Prevent sleepless nights by eating salt-free dinners and eliminating all after-dinner snacks. Try it a few nights in a row and see if it makes a difference in your sleep.

• It is most advisable, for purposes of good digestion, not to have eaten for two or three hours before bedtime. However, a remedy recommended by many cultures throughout the world as an effective cure for insomnia requires you to eat a finely chopped raw onion before going to bed.

• Having an orgasm is a wonderful relaxant and sleep inducer.

That said, totally satisfying sex can help you sleep. But unsatisfying sex can cause frustration that leads to insomnia. So (with apologies to the wonderful English poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson), is it better to have loved and lost sleep than never to have loved at all?


If you’ve ever woken up with a start—heart racing and sweating—you may have had a nightmare. These scary dreams can be frightening but are generally harmless.

• Right before going to sleep, soak your feet in warm water for 10 minutes. Then rub them thoroughly with half a lemon. Don’t rinse them off, just pat them dry. Take a few deep breaths and have pleasant dreams.

As you’re dozing off to sleep, tell yourself that you want to have happy dreams. It works lots of times.

• This nightmare-prevention advice comes from Switzerland—eat a small evening meal about two hours before bedtime. When you go to bed, lie on your right side with your right hand under your head. Then dream of the Alps…

• Before you go to sleep, drink thyme tea and be nightmare-free.

• Simmer the outside leaves of a head of lettuce in two cups of boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink the lettuce tea right before bedtime. It’s supposed to ensure sweet dreams and is also good for cleansing the system.

• Lightly sprinkle essence of anise (available at health food stores) on your pillow so that you inhale the scent as soon as you lie down. It is said to give one “happy” dreams, restful sleep—and an oil-stained pillowcase.


•A Russian professor who studied sleepwalkers recommended a piece of wet carpeting, placed right by the sleepwalker’s bed. In most cases, the sleepwalker awoke the second his or her feet stepped on the wet carpet.

Snoring/Sleep Apnea

A friend told us he starts to snore as soon as he falls asleep. We asked if it bothers his wife. He said, “It not only bothers my wife, it bothers the whole congregation.”

Actually, snoring is not a joking matter. Chronic snoring—that is, snoring every night and loudly—may be the start of a serious condition known as sleep apnea.

Apnea is Greek for “without breath.” During the night, the windpipe keeps blocking the air as the throat relaxes and closes, making it difficult to breathe. After holding one’s breath for an unnatural amount of time (anywhere from 10 seconds to a couple of minutes), the snore occurs as the person gasps for air. The person wakes up slightly each time it happens, and it can happen dozens and dozens of times during the night, without the person realizing it. The interrupted sleep causes that person to be tired all day.

If you have this condition, it is dangerous to drive a car, operate heavy machinery or just cross a street. Aside from the daytime accident aspect, sleep apnea may lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and stroke.

If you think that you may have sleep apnea, ask your doctor to recommend a sleep specialist right away. There are sleep clinics throughout the country.

For bouts of routine snoring, here are some helpful remedies to try…

• You may want to sew a tennis ball on the back of the snorer’s pajama top or nightgown. This stops the snorer from sleeping on his or her back, which prevents snoring.

Three Strikes Against Snoring

All snorers can minimize or completely eliminate their nighttime noise three ways…

If you smoke, stop! Let your smoker’s inflamed, swollen throat tissues heal.

If you drink, don’t! Alcoholic beverages relax the respiratory muscles, making it harder to breathe and, in turn, promoting snoring.

◆ If you’re overweight, trim down! Fat deposits at the base of the tongue may contribute to the blocking of an already-clogged airway. You should also wait a couple of hours after you’ve eaten before going to sleep, and avoid eating anything that will create additional congestion.

• Snoring can be caused by very dry air—a lack of humidity—in the bedroom. If you use a radiator in cold weather, place a pan of water on it, or simply use a humidifier.

Snore Stopper

• Lightly tickle the snorer’s throat and the snoring should stop. Of course, the laughing may keep you up.

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