Sleep is one the most healing and rejuvenating experiences we know. The world will be brighter if we get enough quality sleep every night. Insomnia refers to a lack of restful and healthy sleep. It is common in America, where as high as 20% to 30% of adults experience it at some point in their lives. According to statistics, a fifth of Americans and half of seniors struggle to fall asleep at night (Reiter & Robinson 1995). Chronic insomnia is the most common sleeping disorder, and it affects 15% of adults.

Insomnia was not considered to be a serious or life-threatening medical condition until 1993, when the US Congress established a National Center on Sleep Disorders. It is now recognized as a condition that is caused by many factors including stress, emotional disorders, genetics and environmental factors.

As a practicing herbalist with years of experience, I have seen many patients with sleep disorders. Most of them have an emotional and/or lifestyle component. These could include the death of a spouse or divorce, unaccustomed sounds at night like sirens or barking dogs, biological rhythm disturbances such as changing work hours to night shifts or stimulants such as coffee or amphetamines. All of these factors can contribute to or intensify insomnia.

A neurotransmitter imbalance can cause insomnia or make it worse. Neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that allow nerve impulses travel between one nerve cell to the next, include GABA, serotonin and acetylcholine. They also include estrogen and testosterone. An imbalance in neurotransmitter Serotonin is a common cause of depression and sleep disorders. The body makes serotonin from the amino acid tryptophan. St. John’s Wort, quinoa and spirulina are all foods rich in tryptophan, which help to restore normal serotonin levels in your brain.

Holistic treatment of insomnia includes many methods, including herbal medicine, vitamin, mineral supplements, lifestyle modifications, improved sleep hygiene and massage therapy. It also incorporates meditation, diet, exercise and hypnosis. The goal of a treatment is to eliminate all possible causes of insomnia, not just provide symptomatic relief. The table 1 outlines some practical methods to improve your sleep.

Sleep hygiene

You should have a consistent sleep schedule. To help your biological clock set, get up at a certain hour every morning regardless of how much sleep you have had the night before. You can consolidate and deepen your sleep by limiting the amount of sleep you get to feel refreshed the next day. Regular exercise can help deepen your sleep, but it is best to do this at least three to four hours before you go to bed. Make your bedroom comfortable. You can protect it from sound and light with carpets, curtains, and earplugs or eye masks.

The room should be kept at a moderate to cool temperature. Excessive heat disturbs sleep.

To reduce nighttime trips to the toilet, avoid liquids before you go to bed. Drinking liquids is not an issue.

Avoid drinking alcohol, tobacco, or caffeinated beverages, especially in the evening. Noting: While alcohol can help someone fall asleep, it can cause sleep fragmentation in the future.

Before you go to bed, resolve any family or work-related issues as soon as possible.

Only use the bedroom for sleeping or sexual activity. Don’t be angry if you are unable to fall asleep. Get up and leave the room. If you wake up looking at the clock, hide it. Do not nap for more than an hour or after 4 pm. Turn off your telephone. To prepare your mind and body for sleep, you can try a relaxation technique such as biofeedback, meditation or yoga.
(Adapted by Rakel, 1996)

Below are some of the most important herbs that can help with insomnia.

Herbs for Insomnia

These herbs can be used throughout the day or 20-30 minutes before bedtime.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis): Chamomile, a well-known sedative herb that can be safely used by both children and adults, is a long-standing tradition. In Europe, South America and Mexico, Chamomile tea is used to treat insomnia, restlessness, and irritability in children. To soothe tired nerves, you can add a few drops of Chamomile oil to your bath. You can also use it as an inhalant or massage oil.

  • Dosage: Take 1 cup of tea 2-3 times daily. Tincture 30 drops 3 times daily.

Hops (Humulus lupulus): Hops were used by Eclectic doctors in the early 1900s to treat insomnia caused by nerve weakness or worry (Bell, 1995; Ellingwood 1983). Hops, which is a key flavoring component in beer, has been used for restlessness, sleeplessness, nervousness and anxiety for a long time. Mild insomnia can sometimes be treated with hops pillows.

  • Dosage: 1 cup of tea 2-3 times daily. 30-40 drops 2-3 times daily.

Lavender (Lavandula Officinalis).

Lavender can be a mild strengthening tonic for your nervous system. For people with sleep disorders, it is a good idea to add a few drops of lavender oil to a warm bath. The oil can also be applied topically to the skin, or inhaled for insomnia.

  • Dosage: Take 1 cup of tea 2-3 times daily. Essential oil-oil can be taken inhaled or massaged into the skin (10 drops per ounce vegetable oil) or added to baths (3-10 drop).

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata):

Passion flower is considered an essential herb by herbalists for insomnia due to mental anxiety, overwork or nervous exhaustion. It is found in 40 different sedative preparations. Minor sleep problems can be treated with passion flower (Bruneton 1995). It is a great sedative that produces no side effects, even in large amounts (Spaick 1978).

  • Dosage: 1 cup of tea 3 times daily. 30-60 drops of Tincture 3-4 times daily.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis):

American herbalists often use valerian to combat insomnia, nervousness and restlessness. Because it reduces sleep latency, it is recommended for people who struggle to fall asleep. It reduces nighttime awakening. Valerian, a natural sedative, has no side effects like Valium or other synthetic sedatives. You can combine it with other sedative herbs like California poppy and skullcap hops and passion flower.

  • Dosage: Take 1 cup of tea as necessary; 2-5 dropsful 2-3 times daily of Tincture.

Wild lettuce (Lactuca Virosa)

Wild lettuce can be used to treat restlessness and insomnia. You can find it in many formulas to treat chronic and acute insomnia. It can be used homeopathically to treat insomnia and restlessness (Boericke 1927). Wild lettuce is an excellent remedy for children due to its safety and calming properties.

  • Dosage: Take 2-3 drops of Tincture 3-4 times daily.

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica):

California poppy is my favorite sedative, sleep-promoting herb. It can be found in many herbal remedies in the United States. This remedy promotes sleep, helps one to relax and eases mild anxiety. It can be safely given to children due to its mild sedative effects and analgesic qualities. Research on California poppy in clinical and laboratory settings has shown its sedative and antianxiety properties. It has also been proven to improve sleep quality and latency (Bruneton 1995).

  • Dosage: 1 cup of tea 2-3 times daily. 30-40 drops 2-3 times daily.
  • Notice: A tincture is recommended for stronger teas.

Kava kava (Piper methysticum):

Kava, the national drink in Fiji, is very popular across the South Seas. It gives you a peaceful feeling and relaxes your body. Sometimes, it can even enhance communication and dreaming. It is used to treat fatigue and sleeplessness.

  • Dosage: Take 1 cup of tea 2-3 times daily. Tincture 3-4 dropsful 2-3 times daily.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum).

The common European weedy herb with yellow flowers is rapidly becoming an integral part of modern herbal therapy. It is a well-known herb that has been used since ancient Greece. Recent scientific research has shown that this herb can be used to treat mild depression and chronic insomnia. This herb can make the skin sensitive to sunlight so avoid direct exposure to the sun if you take a large amount.

  • Dosage: Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon twice daily. Powdered extract should be taken in capsules or tablets 2-3 times daily. The full therapeutic effect will take 2-3 weeks to develop. For a complete program, consult a qualified herbalist if you feel light-sensitive or have other symptoms.


The supplement to sound sleep that melatonin promotes is becoming more popular, particularly for people who are commuting between time zones and work irregular hours. Some people report mixed results with this product. Some feel real benefits while others experience no effect. A smaller percentage of users experience side-effects such as anxiety and insomnia. You will benefit from the use melatonin, regardless of whether you experience side effects.

Herbal Formulas to Help You Sleep

A Calming Tea Blend:

  • Linden flowers (1 part)
  • Hawthorn leaves & flowers (1 part)
  • Chamomile (2 parts).
  • Catnip (1 Part)
  • Lemon balm (1 part)
  • Wintergreen (1 Part),
  • Stevia herb (1/8 part)

Make bedtime tea

  • Valerian (30%)
  • Linden (20%)
  • Kava kava (20%)
  • Chamomile (20%)
  • Catnip (10%)

Blend the herbs together and place in a glass jar. Store out of direct sunlight in a cool area. To make tea, add 1 teaspoon to each cup. One quart of the mixture should be made at once. Add 1 tsp to the boiling water. Cover the container. Allow to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and store in a quart jar in a refrigerator. The blend will keep for three days. Take 1 cup and heat it up. You can drink this mixture several times daily, or as often before bedtime, depending on how you like.

You can get a nice, relaxing effect by adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to your foot bath or regular bathtub. Sleep pillows made from equal amounts of hops, lavender and chamomile, as well as bath salts containing relaxing oils, can help promote sleep. They are also available in some health food shops.


  • Bell, V.L. 1925. A glossary of indicated remedies and disease names and definitions. Cincinnati: Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists.
  • Boericke, W. 1927. Materia Medica and Repertory. 9th. Philadelphia: Boericke & Runyon.
  • Bruneton, J. 1995. Pharmacognosy Phytochemistry Medicinal Plants. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing.
  • Ellingwood, F. 1983. (1898). American Materia Medical, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Portland: Eclectic Medical Publications.
  • Rakel, R.E., ed. 1996. Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co.
  • Reiter, F. & J. Robinson. 1995. Melatonin, your body’s natural wonder drug, is it? New York: Bantam Books.
  • Spaich, W. 1978. Moderne Phytotherapie. Heidelberg: Karl F. Haug Verlag.

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