Herbal sleep aids

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Many people deal with sleep issues every night and others just occasionally. They toss and turn and just can't turn off their brains so they can finally get some rest. Stress is a big culprit of keeping people up at night. It could also be something in your life that's throwing off your normal pattern (travel, work, etc).

Whatever the reason you're having trouble getting some shut-eye, herbs can be a helpful aid in your search for slumber. Here are several herbs that have helped people for centuries find a better night's sleep.


Catmint or catnip is a wonderful herb for many reasons but in regards to sleep aid it helps to calm nerves and it's also a digestive aid. While catmint or catnip makes cats crazy - even wild cats like tigers, lions and leopards) it has the opposite effect on humans. The compound responsible for this is called nepetalactone. In humans it has a calming, antispasmodic and mild sedative effect.

Catmint is not known to be habit forming or toxic if used for long periods of time. Try steeping the leaves and blooms in a tea, herbal infusions, tincture or elixir form.


Passionflower is a crazy looking flower that is something out of a sci-fi movie. It helps with problems like insomnia, anxiety, ADHD, and mild pain relief and easing the symptoms of withdrawal. passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA lowers the activity of some brain cells, making you feel more relaxed.

While passionflower is not as quick to work as modern drugs for anxiety disorders it offers less impairment for daytime use.

It can be taken in herbal infusions, teas, liquid extracts and tinctures.


Taking valerian can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality. The chemical composition of valerian is complex. It includes valeric acid, iridoids, valepotriates, alkaloids, furanofuran lignans and free amino acids such as GABA, tyrosine, arginine and glutamine.

Valerian has a very strong smell and may be unpleasant in tea form. You can find it made into a pill, into a tincture or elixir. Take valerian root about 30 minutes to 2 hours before bed for mild cases of insomnia. Long term use is not advised.

Lemon Balm:

Lemon balm has been used from centuries to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, ease pain and also has some digestive comforting qualities. As many of these herbs it also produces GABA and also contains eugenol which calms muscle spasms.

Lemon balm is a type of mint and not known to be habit forming or toxic if used for long periods of time. Try steeping the leaves for use in a tea, a herbal infusion, or also use in tincture or elixir form.


Chamomile is often used to reduce inflammation throughout the bod as well as help with anxiety and insomnia. It contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which as it binds to receptors in the brain which may help aid in sleep.

Chamomile tea is generally safe and has not been known to cause toxicity. Avoid if you are allergic to plants from the Compositae (Daisy or Ragweed) family.


Not only does hops enhance GABA in the brain it may also lower body temperature. Thermal regulation is an important part of our circadian rhythm. Finding a comfortable sleep temperature will help you stay asleep. Hops does this in a gentle way.

Hops flowers are used by beer brewers for taste and preservative qualities. I will say that just because beer has been brewed with hops doesn't mean it will help you sleep. The alcohol in the beer actually inhibits your natural sleep flow. Possibly having a nonalcoholic beer might help but I would instead suggest a tincture or tea.


Lavender is also a member of the mint family. It might be the most well known herb for its calming properties. It aids in calming stress and anxiety as well as reducing blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate and over-all restlessness. Lavender also interacts with GABA in the brain for that calming effect.

For sleep help I suggest taking some lavender tea before bed. Aromatherapy or oils should be used with caution. Lavender oil can have an estrogen type effect on the development of boys. I actually discourage the use of oils. A lavender pillow or sachet might have just as much beneficial aromatic qualities.

Some other sleep help ideas:

  • Reduce stress. Sometimes this is unavoidable but really this is going to help your overall health not just your sleep.

  • Winding down before bed without a screen. At least for the last 2 hours.

  • Eating earlier so digestion isn't happening during sleep. (and not eating spicy food)

  • Meditation or restorative yoga. Even 5-10 minutes can be helpful.

  • Exercising 30 minutes a day, doing something you like. Get the restlessness out.

  • Blackout curtains to block out light which suppresses the production of melatonin.

  • Temperature control between 60-72 degrees. Being cooler helps you stay asleep.

  • No caffeine (sugar or chocolate) after 5:00

With the use of any herb it's recommended you consult with your medical provider before use. Herbs may not be safe for children or pregnant/lactating women. It also may interfere with prescription medications.

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