I'm fascinated by sleep and dreams, and so always on the lookout for information and insights related to this realm.
As it turns out, I didn't have to venture far the other day, when I did research on hop flowers, which grow on the trellised fence of our orchard. As I harvested some and set about to dry them, I also brushed up on the research of this botanical known for its slumber-inducing and calming properties.
If hops (Humulus lupulus) sound familiar it may be because they are most known for the flavor they impart to beer. Yet, their virtues extend far beyond that, with their health-promiting properties have been extolled since the 9th century, used in health system worldwide, including Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, Cherokee medicine, and others.
Hops is widely known for its relaxing and sedative properties, and thought to be a sleep aid. In fact, the Commission E, the German equivalent to the U.S. FDA, has approved the internal use of hops for "the internal use of hops for mood disturbances such as restlessness and anxiety as well as sleep disturbances.”
How hops helps to inspire better sleep isn’t yet clear. Some researchers note that it lowers body temperature, which catalyzes the body’s sleep cascade. It’s also thought to increase activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter essential to the process of slumber, with low levels found to inhibit the deeper phases of sleep.
Should you be looking for a natural aid that may help you sleep, enjoying hops is certainly not limited to drinking a cold pint of beer or even its non-alcoholic kin. And fresh and/or dried hops can be found in natural pharmacies, beer-making stores, and other outlets so if you don’t have them growing by you, no worries.
Some ways to use hops including making a tea, a sleep sachet, and incorporating it into recipes.
Pour boiling water over 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried or fresh hops and let sit about 15 minutes. Alternatively, if you have a French press coffee machine, you can make it in there.
Put some dried hop flowers in small muslin bag and tuck it in or under your pillow. (It's said that King George III would use hops as a sleep aid in this manner.) Add some dried lavender, chamomile or mugwort if you'd like to inspire its fragrance and effect (some people do find hops to have a strong bitter scent).
Of course, hops are also available in an herbal supplement form, often accompanied by another anxiety-calming herb, valerian, as research has shown the benefit of this duo. Yet, in my mind, taking supplements and incorporating an herb as a dietary ingredient are two different avenues, owing not only to the intentionality but also the dosage. As such, if you want to use hops as a dietary supplement, I'd suggest doing more research, including talking to your healthcare practitioner who may be able to give you insights, including if it has any interactions with current medicine you are taking.
Just a note: while I've highlighted hops for its sleep-inspiring properties, its traditional uses are a little bit more varied, while it's also currently being researched for other benefits, such as alleviating menopausal symptoms.
Wishing you ease of sleep and inspiring dreams,