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Herbs & Sleep

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Hi Dr. Tigner:

I have trouble sleeping sometimes.  Are there any herbs I can take to help me fall asleep?
author & pollinator
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Location: Roseburg, Oregon
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Herbs used to induce sleep are generally called hypnotics. They are used for insomnia or sleeplessness, which is characterized by a person being incapable of falling asleep or staying asleep for a desirable period of time. Hypnotics relax a person and induce sleep. Although hypnotics can be related to relaxing nervines/anxiolytics and you may see the same herb listed in both categories, the term hypnotic generally describes herbs that are being used to initiate, sustain, or lengthen sleep.

Technically hypnotics are usually nerve relaxants/anxiolytics, or antispasmodics. The cause of sleeplessness can be varied and should always be addressed. If the problem is adrenal imbalance and stress, adaptogens  given during the day can help with sleep at night. If the problem is nervous irritation from worries or being anxious, anxiolytics or relaxing nervines can benefit. If the problem is pain, analgesics or antispasmodics depending on the cause of the pain can be helpful. The best thing is to examine the cause of the sleeplessness and address this issue. Usually the use of herbs to help relax or induce sleep is not a long term solution, but can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for the person who has restless sleep or is unable to sleep.

Hypnotic Examples:
• California poppy - Eschscholzia californica
• Chamomile - Matricaria recutita
• Hops - Humulus lupulus
• Jujube, wild/ Suan Zao Ren - Ziziphi spinosae
• Kava kava - Piper methysticum
• Lavender - Lavandula officinalis
• Linden flower - Tilia spp.
• Marijuana - Cannabis sativa
• Mother wort - Leonurus cardiaca
• Opium poppy - Papaver somniferum
• Pasque flower - Anemone spp.
• Passion flower - Passiflora incarnata
• Valerian - Valeriana officinalis
• Vervain - Verbena officinalis
• Wild lettuce - Lactuca virosa

Some Hypnotics are quickly felt and don't last long. An example would be Kava. It relaxes a person and all the tension of the day slips away, but you should take it when you are in bed as it hits you quick and then 20 minutes later is starting to leave your system. That is okay as long as you are already asleep.

Many people find taking a variety of hypnotics is helpful and will mix a few of them together. Other people try various ones, finding some work better for them than others. If you like the taste of hoppy beer, you might try hops. If you don't like ingesting anything at all, try the scent of lavender. The essential oil can be sprinkled on a hanky and laid beside your pillow or you can buy or make a dream pillow with lavender in it. There are so many choices when it comes to herbs and sleep.

I would additionally add the following. Go to bed early. Do not watch TV or use an electronic screen of any type 1 hour before bed. Reading in bed with a dim light is helpful for some people to fall asleep. Restful activities before bed are best. Meditation or prayer is excellent and will benefit sleep immensely. Anything that helps you relax is good. Alcohol usually makes it harder to stay asleep. It will often cause a spike in blood sugar and then cause it to drop in the night which will wake you up. Don't use caffeine after 2pm - no coffee, green tea, mate or chocolate. Make sure you have all your B vitamins. You may need to supplement or eat different. They are necessary for good sleep.

Getting good sleep starts in the AM when you awaken. Awaken at the same time each day as much as possible. Yes, even on the weekend. It helps you create a rhythmic sleeping pattern. Get up each Am and go to bed each PM at the same time each day. Hydrate yourself with water when you awaken. Get direct sunlight in the morning for at least 15 minutes as it provides vit D and resets your body clock. Walk in the sun, even if briefly. Exercise each day will help you sleep at night by the way.

If you have sleep apnea, it will awaken you at night. Talk to your dentist about a special mouthguard to control the upper and normal jaw to open up your airway. They are easier to use than some of the apparatuses that are commonly sold for sleep apnea.

Consider melatonin 1.5 hours before bed if other things do not work. 3 mg dose is average.
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I love the effects of valerian on my sleep but I'm not a fan of the taste. So I made my own mix with a pinch of peppermint and lemon balm. That was the ticket, I know peppermint is sometimes is looked at as a stimulant but for me it's just what I need to calm the nerves. I am lucky enough to grow it all so I have plenty of material to play around with.
Pavel Mikoloski
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Your response is amazingly comprehensive.  Thank you for all of this great info.

All the Best,

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