10 Herbs For Insomnia

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Top 10 Herbs For Insomnia
Top 10 Herbs For Insomnia. Graphic © herbshealthhappiness.com. Images © AdobeStock 36072425 and 38221993 (under license)

While most people experience lack of restful sleep from time to time, insomnia is defined as a frequent or chronic inability to fall asleep at night. Of all problems concerning sleep or lack thereof, insomnia is the most prominent and also the least-researched.

If you suffer from chronic sleeplessness, you’d also know how it is to experience daytime fatigue, mood swings and headaches. Often caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitter chemicals like serotonin which regulates our moods and emotions, insomnia is a global concern estimated to affect over 30% people at some point in their lives.

While conventional treatments such as prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills are commonly used by people who suffer from insomnia, other treatments exist which may be preferable for those with qualms about using chemical and synthetic drugs. According to scientific research, insomnia has been effectively treated by herbal formulas, [1] some of which are described as follows:

Top 10 Herbs For Insomnia

Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)

Indigenous to mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, lavender has a history of use in folk medicinw. Used by traditional healers as a cure for sleeplessness, lavender has been the subject of clinical research in recent years for its potential to treat sleep disorders. [2] According to conclusions made by the Associated Sleep Society, lavender oil may be an effective means of relieving mild insomnia, especially in women and young people. Results from a single blind, randomized study (published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2005) indicate that lavender oil might treat insomnia when used as an aromatherapy treatment. [3]

Outcomes were measured by the Pittsburg Sleep Quality index (PSQI) and evaluated for treatment credibility by the Borkovec and Nau (B&N) Questionnaire. Attitudes and beliefs about complimentary and alternative medicine were also taken into consideration. Judging from data collected from the trials and questionnaires, researchers determined that lavender was beneficial in cases of mild insomnia when compared to the placebo/control. [3]

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum)

Native to Europe, St. John’s wort was used by folk healers and herbalists to treat wounds, relieve pain, and induce sleep. The first medicinal use of the plant dates back to ancient Greece, where it was considered to be a treatment for various disorders associated with nervousness. [4]

Despite the importance of St. John’s wort as a traditional healing herb, research into its potential benefits has yet to result in conclusive evidence. Results from clinical trials indicate that St. John’s wort might help to balance REM sleep patterns. [1] St. John’s wort has been studied regarding its potential to be used for hypnosis, but data is lacking and reports are inconclusive.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

A powerful sedative herb, valerian has a history of use as a medicinal plant among various cultures. Originally used by folk healers to hypnotize patients and induce sleep, valerian has been the subject of scientific studies in research years regarding its potential to treat insomnia.

The effects of valerian on the brain are yet to be fully understood in terms of modern science, but contemporary research suggests that it increases concentrations of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the human brain, thereby decreasing anxiety levels–an effect similar to that of pharmaceutical drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax] and diazopan (Valium). [5] Results from in vivo trials suggest that valerian can be used as an effective natural alternative to sedative drugs of the benzodiazepine class. [1] When compared to prescription drugs, valerian is considered to be safer and reportedly produces fewer side effects. [5]

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm is a plant of the mint family and popular home remedy still used today. Indigenous to Europe, lemon balm was first documented for its medicinal value during the middle ages. [6]

The most notable medicinal uses of lemon balm include stress reduction, and relief from anxiety, muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, pain, and general discomfort. [7] Lemon balm is also considered a remedy for cold sores and other inflammatory conditions such as those caused by insect bites, and has been reported to improve the appetite and promote restful sleep sleep. [6]

Most claims about the medicinal value of lemon balm are related to its classification as a calming herb. Results from clinical trials suggest that lemon balm is most effective as a remedy for insomnia when used in combination with valerian, chamomile, hops, and/or other calming herbs.

According to a recent study in which sufferers of mild insomnia were given an herbal formula of lemon balm and valerian root, researchers found that symptoms were significantly reduced when compared with the placebo. [6]

Hops (Humulus lupus)

Used for centuries as a flavoring agent in the fermentation of beer, hops is considered to have medicinal value and has recently been a subject of interest in the medical community. A 2001 study found that when used in combination with valerian root, hops was found to reduce symptoms of anxiety. [8] In a randomized clinical trial controlled by a placebo, scientists in Canada found that hops is most effective when used in combination with valerian root. Other results from the study indicate that hops is safer, but not significantly more effective, than synthetic drugs prescribed to treat insomnia. [9]

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile)

Chamomile, one of the most widely-used herbs and popular home remedies, has a history of use in Ancient Egypt and subsequent civilizations as a “calming” herb. [10] Used today as a remedy for insomnia by practitioners of natural medicine, chamomile has been assessed in recent years for its potential to treat insomnia. [11] Results from in-vivo trials suggest that chamomile may promote restful sleep, but little evidence has been found to support a connection between chamomile and human sleeping patterns. Researchers in a 2005 study found that chamomile may have a long-lasting soothing effect when consumed regularly over a period of time. [12]

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Indigenous to Europe and regions of Asia, motherwort is a perennial plant that now grows in North America and has a history of use in various cultures for its calming effect on the heart. [13]

Considered to be effective as a natural relaxant and mild sedative, motherwort is also thought to promote heart health, reduce mood swings, and relieve other symptoms associated with childbirth and menopause. [14] According to scientific study, motherwort can potentially relieve anxiety and prevent insomnia. [14] The plant is also considered to decrease spasmodic activity and help with medical conditions such as epilepsy. Despite the reported health benefits of motherwort, caution should be taken before discontinuing medication or lowering your dosage.

Experts recommend that sufferers of insomnia talk with their doctor before making changes to their current health care schedule.

Passion Flower (Passifloraceae)

Sleeping well isn’t just about falling asleep faster but also remaining deep asleep throughout the night. In this regard, passion flower is a helpful herb for both children and adults that have trouble staying asleep. Passion flower was once approved as an over-the-counter sedative and sleep aid in the USA but its effectiveness is considered unproven by official sources. There is some evidence that passion flower can be effective against anxiety. [15]

California Poppy

A native flowering plant in Mexico and US, California Poppy has long history of treating different illnesses including anxiety, depression and insomnia. This sleep inducing herb works because of its two active compounds, protopine and californine. These alkaloid compounds work like benzodiazepines which are considered as good treatment for insomnia. [16]

In addition to its sedative effects, California poppy is considered as one of the best herbs for insomnia because it doesn’t result to morning grogginess. This herb can also be used to treat anxiety and depression which may trigger insomnia. Research shows that California Poppy is also used to treat toothaches, ADHD, memory problems, muscle pain, headaches and colics. [17]

Magnolia bark

Widely used in oriental medicine, magnolia bark is probably one of the most popular natural treatments for insomnia. Studies show that it is five times more effective than the drug valium in reducing the anxiety levels of patients. According to research, anxiety is one of the major factors that may trigger the onset of insomnia. The sedative effects of magnolia bark help in calming down patients and helping them achieve better quality sleep.

Aside from its ability to reduce stress, magnolia bark also makes an excellent aid to weight loss. It is also useful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, cough, asthma, bloating, cramps and intestinal problems.

Herbs For Insomnia – Notes And Safety

There are herbs that can contradict the effects of prescription drugs or can be dangerous if combined with alcohol or antidepressants. Hence, despite their tranquilizing effects, caution should be taken as to the exact dosage and duration of usage for each specific herb.

On occasions when I can’t sleep or need to sleep early because I am getting up unusually early, I use a “semi herbal” product with Valerian, Hops and Lemon Balm, GABA, L-Tryptophan and Melatonin. I don’t know which of those ingredients is doing the trick, but the stuff definitely helps me big time. I have no doubt about it.

Here’s a little “science trivia” for you – about Chamomile – from Wikipedia: “There is Level B evidence to support the claim that chamomile possesses anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties and chamomile may have clinical applications in the treatment of stress and insomnia.”

The Level B part is from the UK’s classification system for Evidence Based Medicine – which is worth a read if you are into the scientific side of herbalism – as it explains a system used to assess the evidence of effectiveness of herbal remedies.

Sleep specialist Lisa Shives of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine admits that while research for herbal sleep remedies may not be scientifically conclusive, they have not been found to be dangerously detrimental either. If you complement these herbal remedies with healthy foods beneficial for promoting sleep like those rich in magnesium, avoid caffeine and sweets, engage in a relaxing routine like a warm bath prior bedtime, then the results you reap from herbs can truly be optimized.


[1] Wing, YK. Herbal treatment of insomnia (seminar paper). HKMJ 2001;7:392-402.
Department of Psychiatry, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong

[2] Lavender. University of Oregon Medical Center. https://umm.edu/altmed/articles/lavender-000260.htm.

[3] Lewith GT, Godfrey AD. Prescott P. Asingle-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. University of Southampton, United Kingdom. Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. 2005 Aug;11(4):631-7.

[4] St. John’s Wort. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://umm.edu/altmed/articles/st-johns-000276.htm

[5] Valerian. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://umm.edu/altmed/articles/valerian-000279.htm

[6] Lemon Balm. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://umm.edu/altmed/articles/lemon-balm-000261.htm

[7] Scientific and Regulatory Endorsement for Herbs used in the ARTEMIS Therapeutic Herbal Tea Range. Pp. 23 -25. February 2008. Artemis Therapeutic Natural Remedies. Artemis Ltd.

[8] Salter S and Brownie S. Treating primary insomnia – the efficacy of valerian and hops.
Australian Family Physician. 2010 Jun;39(6):433-7.

[9] Morin CM, Koetter U, Bastien C, Ware JC, Wooten V. Valerian-hops combination and diphenhydramine for treating insomnia: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial.
Université Laval, Ecole de Psychologie, Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada. Sleep. 2005 Nov;28(11):

[10] A History of the ‘Noble’ Chamomile – Anthemis nobilis. https://chamomile.co.uk/history.htm

[11] Sanchez-Ortuno MM et al. The use of natural products for sleep: a common practice? Sleep Medicine 2009 Oct; 10(9): 982-87

[12] Smucker, Celeste M. MPH, PhD. Chamomile helps with anxiety, sleeplessness and depression. Natural News.

[13] Motherwort. AltMD: smart alternatives. 2008. https://altmd.com/Articles/Motherwort–Encyclopedia-of-Alternative-Medicine

[14] Joseph L. Mayo, MD. Black Cohosh and Chasteberry: Herbs Valued by Women for Centuries. Clinical Nutrition Insights. 1998. Advanced Nutrition Publications, Inc.

[15] https://nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/871.html

[16] https://sleepdisorders.dolyan.com/california-poppy-as-a-natural-remedy-for-insomnia/

[17] https://voices.yahoo.com/benefits-california-poppy-7376950.html?cat=5

[18] https://alprazolam.org/natural-cures/magnolia-bark.html

Article researched and created by Kelsey Wambold, Cathy Ongking and Elfe Cabanas
© herbshealthhappiness.com

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