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Can’t Sleep? Find Drug-Free Relief on the Cheap

These therapeutic plants do more than pretty up your nightstand.

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Sleep Plants, house, sleep, rest, aarp, sisters
Jeff Elkins
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With all the bizarre headlines about drugs such as Ambien — like people claiming to have cooked meals, driven a car or had sex while asleep — I didn’t want to turn to sleeping pills for my occasional insomnia. And then there was that foolishness with Rosanne, who walked back her claims that the medication had turned her into a toxic tweeter. Her vitriol got her kicked off her own show and prompted the maker of the drug to clap back that “racism is not a side effect.”

Instead, I swear by massages to get better sleep, but that little health habit has a hefty price tag. So I’ve found a cheaper, drug-free way to deal with insomnia: lavender. I discovered its effects when I was face down on the massage table for an aromatherapy session and a steaming bowl of herbal-scented water wafted the floral aroma toward my face. Next thing I knew, the therapist was waking me up to get dressed. That got me thinking about my mom, who always stored her nightgowns with a lavender sachet tucked into the drawer. Grandma did the same. There had to be something to it.

Well, I checked. Having seen the science, I’ll pass along the secret — you may sleep better with potted plants in your bedroom. Not only do certain houseplants help remove toxins, impart a feeling of calm and promote drowsiness, they’re also a Pinterest-pretty way to boost your boudoir style. I’ve added a preserved lavender wreath (you can find nice ones at online specialty floral and gift sites) to create a serene slumber sanctuary. To complete the look, I filled two of my mom’s garage-sale cachepots with inexpensive English ivy. I spotted some for under twelve bucks at a large discount retailer.

Cultivate these horticultural hacks and you can rest easy too:

Grace your bedroom with a pretty topiary featuring Billie Holiday’s iconic bloom. You can find them at online specialty floral and gift sites. Or try a bonsai version perfect for the bedroom table.

Jeff Elkins

Want to sleep like a baby? Consider placing a lavender bouquet by the bed, spraying diluted essential oil on your pillow or adding a few drops to your bedtime bath. A medical study revealed that moms who bathed their babies in lavender smiled more and were less stressed. The babies cried less, made more eye contact and had longer periods of deep sleep. Cortisol levels dropped in both moms and infants. Yes, please!

Speaking of lowering levels of the stress hormone, I like to keep a vial of essential oil at work, too. A dab mixed with lotion is so instantly calming on a tough day, I jokingly call it “Mother Nature’s Klonopin.”

Jeff Elkins

English ivy
Who can sleep when you’re sneezin’ and wheezin’? Mold and pet feces are common household allergens and English ivy has been shown to help clear the air. NASA scientists who studied it give it the nod of approval, too. So if you want to doze off, let some English ivy trail down your nightstand.

Jeff Elkins

Aloe vera
While you catch your zzz’s, this succulent vacuums up volatile organic compounds (VOCs), concentrations of nasty chemicals and gases from ingredients in our household products. Aloe vera is inexpensive and easy to find at home improvement stores and discount retailers.

Researchers in Germany tested the scent of jasmine on lab mice and watched them curl up in a corner and chill. The plant affects the same key neurotransmitter that makes us mellow out after a dose of Valium and was found to be just as potent as psychotropic drugs in a clinical setting. Jasmine produces the molecular mechanism also triggered by barbiturates to soothe, ease anxiety and promote sleep. Even better, let the fragrance from potted jasmine waft through your bedroom tonight and you may avoid tomorrow’s afternoon slump.

You may have tried this as a supplement or in tea for restful sleep. Well, some Japanese neuroscientists learned that sniffing it helps too. Although valerian is generally grown outside, you can green-thumb it indoors. Plant seeds in potting mixture that you keep moist but not wet. Once seedlings appear, move the pot to a sunny window. Your container should have good drainage.

Boston fern
Remember back in the ’80s when yuppie watering holes were called “fern bars” because of this ubiquitous decoration? Turns out, this plant drinks up formaldehyde from the air. Here’s to your health.

Jeff Elkins

Snake plant (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)
No green thumb? If you can’t keep this easy care plant alive, you might as well give up and buy an air purifier. Find it at home improvement stores and discount retailers.