What herbs help you sleep?
December 09 2018
If you’re among the one-third of adults who struggle with insomnia, or you work night shift or generally sleep poorly, your options are to consider a prescription sleep medication or try an herbal alternative. Since many sedative medications cause side effects, many people find herbs to be a more natural, healthful approach. So, which herbs help you sleep?
Valerian root is a flowering plant native to the grassland regions of Asia and Europe, and it has been used medicinally since the days of ancient Greece and Rome (and even prescribed by Hippocrates!). The sedative effect of valerian root is generally attributed to the sleep-inducing properties of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter released from nerve cells in the brain. High levels of GABA can increase the feeling of sleepiness in a similar way to anti-anxiety medications.
Valerian root can be used as a dietary supplement by people suffering from insomnia, helping them fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. One study concluded that a supplement containing valerian root improved both the quality of sleep and state of health of participants during a 2-week trial, without causing any of the side effects associated with benzodiazepine medications. Similarly, another trial determined that valerian root improved sleep quality at a rate comparable to that of oxazepam (a sedative) and caused fewer side effects, even at a high dose of 600 mg per day.
Like valerian root, lavender has been used for calming and soothing since Ancient Greece and Rome. While a capsule form is most common for sleep, lavender can also be used in aromatherapy oils, teas, and bath salts for stress and anxiety reduction. One study found that twice-weekly sessions of 20 minutes of aromatherapy using lavender improved sleep and decreased elevated heart rate in participants struggling with insomnia. If your insomnia is anxiety-related, you may find lavender to be especially useful.
Melatonin, while not an herb is a commonly-known and naturally produced hormone for sleep. Melatonin works with your internal clock (formally known as circadian rhythm) to regulate sleeping and waking hours based on whether it is light or dark outside. Melatonin can also decrease the levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness) in the brain in order to encourage relaxation.
If you don’t produce enough melatonin, you may have difficulty falling asleep, as your body does not receive the signal that it is time to rest. If this is the case, taking a melatonin supplement can be extremely helpful. One meta-analysis of sleep disorder studies found that taking melatonin reduced the time it took to fall asleep by approximately 7 minutes, and participants noted improved sleep quality. Melatonin can also help people with jet lag or those who work night shift, as their circadian rhythms have shifted to accommodate a new time zone or work schedule.
Although it may seem to be right up there with a glass of warm milk among stereotypical insomnia cures, a cup of chamomile tea truly can help with relaxation and inducing sleep. Chamomile flowers contain high levels of apigenin, an antioxidant that functions in the brain to help you fall asleep and lower feelings of anxiety.
Several studies have shown that chamomile supplementation (in the form of tea or an extract) increases sleep quality, and one study of insomnia sufferers concluded that chamomile extract supplementation for 28 days allowed participants to fall asleep 15 minutes faster on average and wake up fewer times during the night than those taking a placebo.
Another flowering plant, magnolia, has been used medicinally since ancient times, specifically in Chinese medicine. While it was used historically for problems such as respiratory congestion and digestive issues, it is best-known for its roles in stress and anxiety relief and sleep. Honokiol, a compound found in high quantities in magnolia stems, bark, and flowers, is understood to affect GABA receptors in the brain to encourage the feeling of sleepiness, like benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medications. Studies have shown that honokiol can not only allow you to fall asleep faster, but also stay asleep longer.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here is your annual reminder that turkey really can help you into a food coma, as it is high in the essential amino acid tryptophan. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to get tryptophan from turkey or a dietary source, as it is simply an amino acid – a building block of protein. Tryptophan helps to increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, allowing for better sleep and improved mood. Studies have found that only 1 gram of tryptophan is needed for better sleep quality, as well as potentially helping to expedite the act of falling asleep.
L-theanine is a compound found in tea leaves that mostly acts on anxiety, like the effects of GABA. It can balance the activity of brain waves to encourage relaxation, a peaceful feeling, and stress reduction. Clinical trials have concluded that 200 to 400 mg l-theanine daily can help to improve sleep quality.
Since different people can react differently to the same herbs, don’t take our word for it. Feel free to experiment with different types of herbs and see which work best for you. Many people find that one single herb doesn’t do the trick and it’s why we’ve included those that are helpful to a wide range of people within our herbal sleep aid. Better Rest combines several of these sleep-inducing herbs described above in addition to containing magnesium which helps to regulate melatonin. It is perfect for those that want an easy solution that uses natural ingredients and has been third-party tested. But, if you are up for a process of trial and error and want to experiment, feel free to work through combinations and dosages of the above listed natural herbs and melatonin.