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A Guide to Herbs for Sleep

January 04, 2018

We all suffer from a bad night’s sleep from time to time. However, for some people, sleep problems persist. One night turns into many nights, then even into months, or years without adequate sleep.

Your body needs about 6-10 hours of sleep to regenerate and support its healthy functioning.

People with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep. Many average just a few hours of sleep a night. On the next day, irritability, memory problems, and overall weariness is the unhappy result.

A lack of sleep seriously affects your health, increasing risk of diabetes and accelerating aging, weight problems, and heart complications. At the most severe, insomnia can lead to life threatening accidents on the road or at work.

Natural therapies are a great choice for managing sleep problems. Herbs, especially, gently coax the mind and body to sleep without side effects or addiction common to prescription drugs for sleep.

Your Guide To Herbs for Sleep


Passionflower is one of the best herbs to calm stress and improve sleep. Research shows passionflower enhances sleep by supporting levels of the brain chemical, GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which helps you feel relaxed.In one study, passionflower is found to be as effective as the drug oxazepam used for anxiety.

Yet, it doesn’t cause side effects like impairment. Passionflower works particularly well to calm tension and promote a deep, restful sleep when combined with other herbs like hops or motherwort.

Hops 9Hops

Hops are well known for their use in brewing beer, but herbalists swear by them as an herbal nervine (nervous system tonic) and hypnotic (sleep inducing herb). Like passionflower, hops works by supporting GABA, relaxing the nervous system, and easing the body into a deep sleep.

In one animal study, hops reduced nighttime activity that disrupts sleep and circadian rhythm. Hops are also a good choice for sleeplessness caused by ADHD. Hops has a very bitter flavor, so is best when combined in formulas with other “sleepy” herbs.


Chamomile is another fabulous sleep herb to try, especially if you’re tossing and turning from indigestion or inflammation. Chamomile calms spasms, is anti-inflammatory, and gently relaxes nervous system stress.It can help you fall asleep faster, especially when combined with the other herbs mentioned in this article.

Preliminary clinical research shows chamomile benefits insomnia and mild anxiety.It has a long history of safe use, and is even recommended in moderation for children and pregnant women. Chamomile tastes good in an herbal tea, or taken in a sleep tonic formula.


Just the scent of lavender eases anxiety! In one study at Britain’s University of Southhampton, researchers tracked the sleep patterns of 10 adults. The sleepers in the lavender-scented rooms ranked their sleep as 20% better than those in rooms without lavender. Follow up studies at Wesleyan University are also encouraging.The scent of lavender increases slow wave sleep, the deep sleep in which the heartbeat slows and muscles relax.

Lavender can be used in so many ways: in a sleep pillow, a few drops added to a hot bath, in a mild tea, and in a sleep tonic formula. (Note: It is important to use essential oils internally only in expert formulas or as suggested by an experienced herbalist.)

Motherwort1 Jun 27, 5 47 57 PMMotherwort

Motherwort is another calming herb. It’s an excellent choice to address sleep problems in menopause. In menopause (or perimenopause), women often wake up with nighttime panic attacks or mild palpitations.

Motherwort is a key anti-stress tonic for the heart that can help calm you down right away, especially when taken in an extract. It’s even approved by the German Commission E for nervous cardiac issues and hyperthyroidism (a less common cause of insomnia).


Skullcap is my favorite nervine herb. Like hops and passionflower, skullcap eases stress by normalizing GABA. I use it whenever I feel stressed or edgy. It’s a great choice for a person with a hyperactive nervous system (think of body signs like ticks, tremors, spasms or shakiness).

It calms and soothes agitation, moodiness, and supports healthy nervous system function. Skullcap relaxes both the mind and body to ease restless sleep. It’s especially useful for sleep or mood issues related to addictions or withdrawal. It works well by itself, or in a sleep tonic formula.

It’s important to keep in mind that not every herb works for every person. I find this is particularly the case with the popular sleep herb, valerian root. Valerian root helps some people to sleep better. However, for others, it has the opposite effect. Energetically, valerian is a spicy herb that can have an over-stimulating effect for sensitive people.

When it comes to herbs for sleep, experiment to find what works best for you. A good herbal combination like Sleep Nightly Tonic has a balanced effect for most people. Sleep Nightly Tonic contains the herbs mentioned here, all of which can be relied on as natural, healthy sleep aids.


Akhondzadeh, S., Naghavi, H.R., Vazirian, M., Shayeganpour, A., Rashidi, H., Khani, M. (2001, Oct.). Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 26(5), 363-7.
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Amsterdam, J.D., Li, Y., Soeller, I., Rockwell, K., Mao, J.J., Shults. (2009). Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of Matricaria recutita (Chamomile) extract therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, 29(4), 378-382. Retrieved from:
Crawford, A.M. (2016). The Natural Science of Sleep.
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Franco, L., Sánchez, C., Bravo, R., Rodriguez, A., Barriga, C., Juánez, J.C. (2012, June). The sedative effects of hops (Humulus lupulus), a component of beer, on the activity/rest rhythm. Acta physiologica Hungarica, 99(2),133-9
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Hoffman, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism, pp. 582. Healing Arts Press.
Schiller, H., Forster, A., Vonhoff, C., Hegger, M., Biller, A., Winterhoff, H. (2006, Sept.). Sedating effects of Humulus lupulus L. extracts. Phytomedicine,13,535-541.
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Scott, J.A., (2016). How Sleep Heals the Body.
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