Herbs for Sleeping

Here is some information on some of the more commonly used herbal products for sleeping better.

Select the best products and brand names to fit your goal (e.g. discard low quality brand names, check the potency and purity of the product, etc.)

The herbs listed here are in rough order of known use for insomnia:

VALERIAN

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herb native to Asia and Europe and naturalised in North America.  The root, the rhizome and stolon are used in different products.

In a Nutshell

Feedback from our customers would indicate that it definitely works for some, even just using the Valerian Plus Tea.

Other information that comes to us indicates that not everyone likes it – in fact some people dislike it.  It has a distinctive odor and flavor.

Some evidence suggests that it is best for people who considered themselves to be habitually poor sleepers.  We also suggest trialing valerian nightly for some time (e.g. a week or two continually), rather than as a single-dose “solution” or “quick fix”.

Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome.  Its therapeutic uses were described by Hippocrates, and in the 2nd century Galen prescribed valerian for insomnia.  In the 16th century it was used to treat nervousness, trembling, etc.  In the mid-19th century it was considered a stimulant (which may point to some homeopathic qualities)!  During World War II it was used in England to relieve the stress of air raids.

Extensive clinical testing of the efficacy of valerian in treating insomnia has not been performed according to some sources.

Other sources state that several clinical studies have shown that valerian is effective in the treatment of insomnia – most often by reducing sleep latency.

Some evidence suggests that valerian improves subjective experiences of sleep when taken nightly over one- to two-week periods, and it appears to be a safe sedative/hypnotic choice in patients with mild to moderate insomnia.   The evidence for single-dose effect is contradictory.

There also appears to be evidence supporting the fact that the positive effects of valerian extract on sleep were most significant in patients who considered themselves to be poor sleepers, and those that habitually have lengthy sleep latencies.
Source: The American Family Physician website 13.9.06.

Valerian is sometimes used by itself, but it is probably more common to take in combination with other herbal medications.

For further information on Valerian visit the American Family Physician website: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030415/1755.html

I’m avoiding Valerian… I don’t like it… What will I do?

The following products do not contain valerian at all:

Tranquil Calm Tablets (Herbs, Nutrients, Vitamins etc)
Tranquillity Tea
Chinese Herbal Remedies
The non-herbal suggestions at the bottom of this page…

And homeopathic remedies containing Valerian are based on diluted valerian, rather than high dosages – that’s how homeopathy works…. so you perhaps could try the homeopathic remedies.

CHAMOMILE

There are a number of different plants generally referred to as chamomile.  The ones most commonly used to aid sleep are German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and to a lesser extent Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis). It grows in Europe, temperate Asia and is widely introduced in temperate North America and Australia.

German chamomile is used medicinally against sore stomach, irritable bowel syndrome and as a gentle sleep aid.  The primary active ingredient of the essential oil is bisabolol. It also contains chamazulene (which is produced when it is distilled) and farnesene.  In homeopathy the remedy chamomilla is prepared from German chamomile and is used mainly to give relief to teething babies.

All the chamomiles are soothing, calming and anti-inflammatory.  Chamomile is also used in aromatherapy to reduce stress, anxiety and insomnia, and it can be used both externally and internally as an anti-inflammatory (including inflamed joints, muscular pain, eczema, urticaria (hives) etc.).

Chamomile is one of the gentlest oils and is particularly suitable for treating children.

The mental and emotional effects mirror the physical effects. Its soothing and calming attributes are helpful where stress and anxiety make you feel fretful, irritable or nervous.

For more information visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_Chamomile And for other uses see http://wlnaturalhealth.com/essential-oils-profiles/german-chamomile.htm, and the book Aromatherapy and A-Z.

ST. JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum Perforatum).

St John’s Wort is extracted from the dried flowering tops of the hypericum plant.

It is one of the best herbs for the entire nervous system and, according to traditional use, is an ideal nerve tonic indicated for the relief of nervous tension, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, excitability and mood swings.

It is also recommended for those whose sleeplessness might be connected to depressed moods. The action of mood modulation takes place at the synapsomal level where it works to inhibit the reuptake of three of the four known feel-good neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. According to some sources this process can take up to six weeks to take effect.

St John’s Wort is not recommended for serious forms of depression, where counselling is recommended without delay. Please refer to the Depression section for access to support groups, or contact your local specialists without delay.

Do not take St. John’s Wort with prescription anti-depressants without first checking with your medical practitioner (especially SSRI or MAOI anti-depressants). St. John’s Wort does effect how some prescription medicines work – consult your doctor. It is known to cause photosensitivity, so if you have fair skin, particularly, please exercise caution when going into the sun.

PASSIFLORA (Passionflower, Maypop, Passionfruit vine, Apricot vine.)

Passiflora incarnata is one of over 400 species in the genus Passiflora.  In Australia we know it as the passionfruit vine.  It is native to south-eastern regions of North America, and grown extensively in Europe.

The passionflower was used in traditional remedies as a calming herb for anxiety, insomnia, seizures and hysteria.

It is often listed as an ingredient in products aimed at helping with sleep, pain relief and nervous restlessness. The products include teas, homeopathic preparations, oral liquids, etc.

Banned in the US by the Food and Drug Administration in 1978 due to lack of proof of effectiveness, it is readily available in many other countries including Germany.

For more information go to the University of Maryland Medical Centre article, which also gives medicinal uses and indications; as well as supporting research references.

OTHER HERBS INCLUDE.

Other herbs used for insomnia, anxiety, nervousness etc include Hawthorn Berries, Yarrow, Fennel, Limeflowers, Scutellaria lateriflora (Scullcap), Zizyphus sativa seed, Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm), Humulus lupulus flower (Hops), Verbena officinallis leaf (Vervain), Smilax officinalis root (Sarsaparilla), Bupleurum falcatum root (Bupleurum), Aquilegia, Anethum Grav, Avena Sativa, Lupulinum, Ignatia, Coffea, Gelsemium, Hyoscyamus, Capsicum, Viscum album leaf (missletoe) and Aesculus hipposastanum flower (white chestnut).  And then there are the many chinese herbs that are used for sleeping.  Refer to the Chinese Herbs section of the catalogue.

NON-HERBAL REMEDIES

MAGNESIUM (Mineral)

This important mineral helps contribute to the maintenance of healthy bones and helps to relieve muscle cramps, spasms, twitches and spasmodic pain, mild anxiety and nervous tension where this is associated with lack of magnesium.

Some people have reported it has helped their insomnia unexpectedly.  Others report that it is not a long term solution for them.  We recommend that you include magnesium in your trials to achieve a better night’s sleep, if some of the above indications appear to be relevant in your case.

Magnesium also comes in combination with phosphorus in the “Mag Phos” remedies.

MELATONIN

Melatonin is a ubiquitous natural hormone-like compound produced by the pineal gland in the center of the brain.

The pineal gland regulates the body clock, with dusk or darkness triggering melatonin production and sunlight inhibiting it.  Clinically melatonin has been used in rhythm disturbances and sleep disorders.  It has been reported as being useful in resetting the body clocks of shift workers and people suffering from jet lag.

As we age our bodies produce less melatonin than when we were young.  Melatonin is not suitable for pregnant women.

For more technical information refer to the the encyclopedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/melatonin and http://www.aafp.org/afp/20050701/tips/1.html

If you are taking melatonin please investigate both the quantites and times to take it, as both factors are important.  e.g. some literature suggests 7 pm as a good time to take melatonin, and the dosages should appear clearly on the packaging.