Natural Solutions for Chronic Anxiety and Insomnia in Codependency

By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, AD, DN-C, RH.

We live in an uneasy world. The pace of life continues to increase, and our whole civilization becomes more and more frantic. We are a nation of insomniacs, unable to shut off our mental chatter. To make matters worse, people in codependent relationships are especially likely to have sleep issues. The emotional pain makes sleeping yet more difficult, sleep deprivation and anxiety embellish the pain, and the cycle continues.

Anything that you can do to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep will stand you in good stead in your life.

Eschscholtzia californica (California poppy):

This little plant masquerades as a charming backyard ornament, but is in fact potent medicine. A Native American herb, California poppy is a member of the Papaveraceae family, and a distant relative of opium poppies. California’s state flower, it is one of the most beautiful and distinctive American wildflowers. You will find it growing abundantly throughout the lower altitudes of California, southeastern Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona. It covers wide expanses from coastal dunes to arid valleys. In spring meadows, it’s often found complementing purple lupines. In boom years, Western grasslands wear a solid golden mantle of poppy flowers. Early Spanish explorers were so dazzled by its beauty that they called its native range the “land of fire.” This plant has the unusual habit of changing flower size over time- the blossoms dwindle in brilliance and size as days lengthen. 

The leaf and stem is used as herbal medicine. The Native Americans used it as a sedative for insomnia, painkiller for headache, poultice for sores and ulcers and it is said that they used the root for numbing toothaches.

California poppy excels in treating pain. Similar in effect to the opium poppy, it has much less potent constituents, so that its action is gently balancing rather than narcotic. It has the reputation of being a non-addictive alternative.

It contains pain-relieving isoquinoline alkaloids, a class of pain relieving chemicals common to the poppies, that bind to opioid receptors. A German test tube study indicated that the plant extract had analgesic properties. Another key alkaloid (chelerthyrine) inhibits a body protein (kinase C) that contributes to persistent pain. Since concentration of total alkaloids reaches 2.5% in the roots, much higher than the leaves, the plant is often pulled out of the ground, root and all, and dried whole. 

According to the University of California Santa Cruz arboretum, this herb is for mild pain relief: stomach cramps, sore or bruised muscles, toothache, and helps deaden the pain. Herbalists often recommend it when an antispasmodic remedy is called for. For example, it is often applied to colic pain and gallbladder symptoms.

California poppy is also a pleasant relaxing medicine. In Europe, the German Commission E lists it as an antispasmodic and sedative, and lists it for a wide variety of anxiety and depressive conditions. A French animal study indicated a clear-cut anti-anxiety effect. Higher doses were sedative. When presented with a stressful conflict situation, subjects who consumed California poppy were more relaxed. 

Commission E also suggests that a tea will assist sleep. The tincture prolongs the duration of induced sleep. In Germany, an herbal preparation that is 80 percent California poppy and 20 percent corydalis root is used to treat nervousness, anxiety and insomnia, as well as depression. California poppy is shown to inhibit the body’s production of adrenaline and to reduce monoamine oxidase, which allows energizing neurotransmitters (catecholamines) to remain active longer.

It’s pretty clear from traditional use, and from herbalists’ clinical use, that California poppy preparations consistently accelerate the onset of sleep. They also improve the quality of sleep. But which ingredients do the job is less clear. Protopine is known to reduce spasm, but the other alkaloids in the plant are less well studied. Other active ingredients, in addition to the alkaloids, might even be present.

A French study found that the herb extract bonded to the benzodiazepine receptor, the nerve signal that responds to drugs like Valium, so other sedative mechanisms are likely. 

Since California poppy is relaxing, it works particularly well for people experiencing pain with nervousness and sleeplessness. Phytotherapy practitioners commonly use California in combination with passion flower and valerian.

California poppy is calming and encourages sleep, so don’t take it when driving, and surpass the recommended dose only with care. Raise the dose gradually until you are accustomed to the pain relieving and sedative effects. 

As tea, a usual dose is 3-5 tsp. of chopped dry herb, brewed, taken when necessary. As a tincture, start with 5 ml when pain or anxiety begins, and then adjust as effective. Raise the dose gradually until you are accustomed to the pain relieving and sedative effects.

 Piper methysticum (Kava root):

Kava root is an effective herb for anxiety, pain and insomnia, with all the right qualities in one package. An excellent analgesic, its potency ranks between aspirin and morphine. Kava treats anxiety without dulling the senses. It is a muscle relaxant, and superb sleep aid, with sleep enhancing effects that last about six to eight hours, making it ideal for the 3:00 a.m. waking with anxiety problems. Unlike tranquilizers, it does not create a morning hangover.

It can be taken as a tea, but watch out, it’s relaxing. A typical dose would be 1/4-1/2 ounce of dry herb, brewed, per day. Start slowly and increase the dose as needed.

Since the active ingredients in kava are not water soluble, a tincture with high alcohol content (85%) often works best. Start with 1 teaspoon at bedtime and work up as necessary for a pain free, rejuvenating night’s sleep.

We Can Relax:

In view of the severe overuse of sedative drugs, it’s evident that we need something better. Modern herbal uses and scientific research has shown that we can, even in our hyped-up world, and personal anxious relationships, get the calm that we need to make it through the day in grace, peace, and at least, some degree of comfort.

K.P. Khalsa, Ayurvedic Doctor, State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist, Registered Herbalist See our Integrative Natural Healing Health Care Family Coach Certification Program at

1 Response

  1. June buckley says:

    Im excited to learn on this topic

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