If you need help getting a good night's sleep, but don't want to
take medication, an herbal supplement may be just what you're
looking for. Here are the facts on the herbs most commonly used to
is the inability to sleep at the expected time.
and cold medicines that cause drowsiness can
provide temporary relief, but eventually the effects will diminish.
Ultimately the dose may have to be increased and drug dependence
can occur. Moreover, sleeping pills can have serious side
Herbal remedies are an alternative to traditional
pharmaceuticals. Catnip, chamomile, hops, kava, lavender, lemon
balm, oats, passion flower, skullcap, and valerian are the herbal
remedies most commonly used for insomnia. They can be purchased
individually or in combinations. Most of them are also used for
conditions other than insomnia.
The leaves of the catnip plant (
Nepeta cataria L.
produce sedation in humans. However, there are no clinical trials to prove the effectiveness or to determine the optimal dose. Catnip is safe to consume at reasonable doses; however, there has been a case report of a toddler becoming less alert after consuming large quantities of catnip. Do not use catnip if you are pregnant.
The chamomile herb is the dried or fresh flowers of a small,
daisy-like plant (Matricaria recutita). Chamomile has been
used for thousands of years to treat insomnia. Apigenin is a
chemical in chamomile that works in the brain to produce muscle
relaxation and initiate sleep; it has been shown to produce a
effect in mice. However, there are no human clinical studies
proving the sedative effects of chamomile. The exact dose of
chamomile that produces sedation is not known.
Chamomile is safe to
consume. However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should
consult a doctor before consuming chamomile for therapeutic
purposes. People who are allergic to ragweed may also be allergic
to chamomile. Highly concentrated chamomile tea may induce
The hops plant (Humulus lupulus) is typically used to
flavor beer. Historically, the flowers have been used to treat mild
insomnia. Sleeping on pillows filled with hops flowers is said to
promote sleep. Hops, in combination with valerian, is mildly sedating. The most effective dose is not known. Hops is relatively safe. There are reports of allergic skin rash after handling the plant. Do not use hops if you have depression
Kava is extracted from the root of a deciduous shrub called Piper methysticum. South Pacific Island cultures have used kava for centuries. However, in some countries kava has become a drug of abuse and is a serious social and health problem. Kava acts as a stimulant or depressant. Therefore, to help insomnia, take kava one hour before bedtime.
The dose depends on the amount of the active ingredients, called kavalactones, in the product. It is recommended that people use kava extract standardized to 30% kavalactones. Do not take kava if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have clinical depression. Kava may affect judgment or reflexes during the operation of machinery and may enhance the effects of alcohol and psychiatric drugs. German and Australian authorities recommend that people who use kava daily do so for only 1-2 months.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a flowering plant with a pleasant
odor. The flower oil is calming and may help insomnia. One study of
elderly people with sleeping difficulties found that inhaling
lavender oil was as effective as some sleeping pills. Internal use of the
essential oil can cause severe nausea and should be avoided.
External use in reasonable amounts is safe during pregnancy and
Lemon Balm is a plant (
Melissa officinalis L.
) with a
pleasant lemon smell. It can be grown in most gardens. The leaves
are used in traditional medicine to treat sleep disturbances. There
is not enough evidence to recommend lemon balm as the
sole treatment for insomnia. Therefore, there is no recommended
dose. Lemon balm appears to be safe. Large doses may cause
digestive upset or diarrhea. Pregnant women, people with
or people with
should not use lemon balm.
The fruit or green tops of the oat plant (Avena sativa L.) have been used in folk medicine to treat insomnia. There have been no clinical trials to prove its effectiveness or dosage. People allergic to wheat may be allergic to oats. Otherwise, oats can be safely consumed.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata L.) was used historically and is used currently as a mild sedative. In studies of mice, passion flower produced sedation. There is not enough evidence to recommend it for the treatment of insomnia. Nonetheless, German authorities approve of taking 4-8 grams per day. It seems to be safe, although it may increase the effect of other drugs, especially sedatives.
Skullcap is an herb (Scutellaria lateriflora L.) that was used historically as a sedative. It is currently found in insomnia products. There is no evidence to support the effectiveness or recommend dosages. There is no proven safety, and there is debate over whether it can cause liver toxicity.
For centuries, Europeans have used valerian as a sedative and sleep aid. The valerian plant has thick roots with a foul smell. Valerian extract is made from the dried roots and is currently used for relaxation and for promoting sleep. Clinical research studies have shown inconsistent evidence for the effectiveness of valerian for insomnia. Valerian appears safe to use, but may impair the ability to drive or operate machinery. Long-term use may cause headaches, excitability, and insomnia.
Insomnia may sometimes be related to other health issues. If you are experiencing frequent, severe, or worsening bouts of insomnia, or if you’ve had insomnia for a while, it is best to discuss it with your doctor.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a