11 Herbs for better sleep
Struggling with getting a good night’s sleep? In this article we explore the best herbs for sleep. Discover natural remedies that can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of overall health and well-being. It’s not just about resting and relaxing after a busy and stressful day — it’s about giving our bodies the time to digest, detox, and repair. “Sleep is a foundational part of health and well-being and affects all aspects of mind-body wellness,” says Dr. Aisha Dixon-Peters, a licensed holistic clinical community psychologist.
“Insufficient sleep affects mood, immune functioning, cognitive functioning, appetite, and relational functioning,” she adds, noting that just a few consecutive nights of inadequate sleep can take a hit on the immune system. With this in mind, supporting and protecting our sleep is one of the most beneficial things we can do for ourselves.
With the hustle and bustle of the world we live in, getting high-quality sleep can feel harder than ever for some, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things we can do to support the quality of our sleep, including ways to help us fall stay asleep. With the help of herbs for sleep, plant medicine can help us reclaim our sleep schedules and give us that deep, restorative rest we crave.
“Certain classes of herbs such as nervines help promote better quality sleep by directly soothing and relaxing the nervous system,” says Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT a registered dietitian and clinical herbalist. In addition to nervines, Volpe says some herbs are also considered as sedatives, and can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (aka, “rest and digest”), which can have a significant impact on the overall quality of sleep we get.
The Best Herbs for Sleep
When it comes to natural sleep aids, some herbs are excellent at supporting the circadian rhythm, promoting sleepiness, and helping us stay asleep. They can also alleviate some common sleep disruptors, too, such as anxiety and stress, which can over time have a lasting impact on our mental, physical, and emotional health, too.
The best part? According to Julie Williams, a certified medical herbalist, these herbs don’t give you that “sleep hangover” effect such as grogginess that is a common side effect of other types of sleeping aids.
Here are some of the best herbs for sleep, according to experts.
1. Valerian Root
In herbal medicine, valerian root is part of a trio of plants referred to as the “three sisters of sleep,” which includes valerian, hops, and passionflower and is sometimes referred to as VHP.
Valerian root is a part of the nervine family, which is a class of plant medicines that support the nervous system, says Dr. Dixon-Peters. “Valerian root is soothing to the nervous system, decreases sleep latency, and lengthens the duration of sleep,” she explains.
According to Dr. Jenelle Kim, DACM, L.Ac., a 9th-generation master herbalist, valerian root is amazing because it can improve the quality of sleep by “promoting deep, restful sleep without causing grogginess or drowsiness the next day,” making it a top herbal choice for sleep aids.
Albeit most well-known for their role in beer-making, hops is actually an impressive herbal remedy for sleep (though experts recommend consuming tinctures and tea instead of beer to reap the benefits since alcohol has a negative impact on sleep). According to research, hops support the circadian rhythm and promote a good night’s sleep.
“Passionflower is a medicinal nervine and sedative flower which is often used and recommended as a natural sleep aid,” says Volpe. She explains that the flower petals and flower heads are the medicinal part of the plant and can be used as an herbal aid to fall asleep at levels that are comparable to sleep medicines, but without the unwanted side effects. “This can likely be attributed to passionflower increasing blood levels of melatonin, a sleep, and relaxation-promoting chemical,” Volpe adds.
“Chamomile is a medicinal flower and nervine herb which soothes and relaxes the nervous system, subsequently promoting relaxation and better sleep,” says Volpe. Found in relaxing nighttime teas, the medicinal wildflower actually has sedative effects, which Volpe says is attributed to a flavonoid called apigenin, “which binds benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.”
Similar to chamomile, lavender is another popular herb for relaxation. With that being said, lavender stands out from other herbs because of the way it’s consumed. “Lavender is unique in that it doesn’t need to be taken internally in order to promote better quality sleep,” says Volpe.
“Simply diffusing a few drops of lavender essential oil in the bedroom is enough to make a difference,” she adds, noting from a 2022 study that examined 20 different clinical studies on lavender for sleep.
American skullcap (also called Scutellaria lateriflora) is an indigenous nervine herb, which has been used medicinally for centuries to treat symptoms that interfere with sleep, including anxiety and insomnia, says Volpe. “According to research, the flavonoids in the above-ground plant parts of the skullcap have natural sedative and antispasmodic actions on the nervous system, likely by acting as gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) agonists similar to benzodiazepines,” she explains.
Ashwagandha is another herb for sleep that is worth considering because the adaptogenic herb — aka, an herb that helps alleviate stress — reduces the fight or flight response and ultimately promotes a more relaxed nervous system. According to a 2021 double-blind study, ashwagandha is highly effective at reducing insomnia, anxiety, and improving sleep.
8. Lemon Balm
“Lemon balm is a calming herb that is often used to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety,” says Dr. Kim. This is due to its ability to increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows the brain down and promotes relaxation, and reduces feelings of anxiety.
9. Magnolia Bark
According to Dr. Kim, magnolia bark is another one of the best herbs for sleep because it has sedative and anxiolytic effects on the brain. “It works by regulating the activity of certain neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin, which help to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety,” she explains.
Similar to valerian root, Williams says that kava “falls on the stronger end of nervine and tranquilizer-type plants, so it will help you fall asleep and stay asleep.” According to research, the herb can be used to address sleep deprivation caused by anxiety,
11. California Poppy
The California poppy has been a go-to for centuries to promote relaxation, says Dr. Kim. “It contains several compounds, including isoquinoline alkaloids, which have sedative effects on the brain and central nervous system,” she explains.
Expert Insights on Using Herbs for Sleep
The beauty of herbal medicine is that there are multiple ways to incorporate herbs into your routine, and this is certainly true when using herbs for sleep. Some herbs, as Volpe said of lavender, work best as an essential oil while others can be in tincture or tea form. Here are the best and safest ways to consume herbs for sleep.
Make a Homemade Herbal Tea
When using herbs for sleep, Williams says one of the easiest and safest ways to consume plant medicine is by drinking a small and strong cup of tea 1 hour before bed. “For sleep-aid purposes, I recommend keeping the cup of tea small and strong and be aware of your timing,” Williams says. She elaborates, “…you don’t want to over-hydrate right before bed otherwise the need to use the restroom may wake you up, which defeats the purpose.”
For more flavor, Williams recommends combining a few of the above herbs for sleep, plus some additional plants for taste. “Chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, a touch of kava power, rosehips, and fennel is a great combination,” she notes.
Diffuse Calming Essential Oils
Essential oils and a diffuser are your bedtime besties. Use a diffuser to help create a relaxing environment. “Diffusing a few drops of lavender essential oil in the bedroom at night can be easy, relaxing, and therapeutic for those who enjoy floral aromas,” says Volpe. If you want to create a sleepy time mix, combining drops of chamomile essential oil and ylang-ylang essential oil along with lavender can invigorate the sense in a calming and therapeutic way.
While diffusing essential oils is a safe way to consume the potent plant medicine, Volpe says to not inject them, even if they are diluted, drop dose, certified organic, or therapeutic grade. “The highly concentrated levels of potency in essential oils are toxic to the liver and potentially very dangerous,” Volpe explains. “Taking just one drop of an essential oil internally runs the risk of side effects comparable to overdosing on an herb.”
Herbal Supplements and Tinctures
If tea isn’t your thing, you can still access the benefits of herbs of sleep with herbal supplements and tinctures. “Taking a blend of nervines and sedatives as a tincture or in capsule form can be a relatively easy and convenient delivery method for incorporating these herbs into a nightly sleep regimen,” says Volpe.
Dr. Dixon-Peters adds that tinctures should be taken at least one hour before bedtime to support you in falling asleep. When consuming capsules such as HUM Nutrition Mighty Night™, which includes valerian root, passion flower, and hops. For best results it’s best to follow the instructions on the supplement bottle for proper timing.
Other Natural Remedies for Better Sleep
Consuming herbs before bed isn’t the only natural way to improve sleep. In addition to herbal remedies, your bedtime routine and lifestyle habits can also improve sleep quality.
Curate a Routine and Stick to It
With the goal of improving sleep, Dr. Dixon-Peters says to begin your bedtime routine 30 to 60 minutes before your bedtime window. She notes that what you do during this timeline matters. She recommends including “pleasurable and soothing mind, body, and spirit practices that activate the parasympathetic nervous system.” These practices include meditation, restorative yoga, self-massage, listening to binaural beats for sleep, humming, prayer, gentle stretching, and the use of essential oils.
Another natural remedy for sleep to consider is hydrotherapy, aka taking a bath, showering, or treating yourself to a nice foot soak before bed. These can relax the mind and body, says Dr. Dixon-Peters. And, to up the ante on relaxation, you can incorporate herbs and aromatherapy into your hydrotherapy practice, too.
Turn Down the Lights
“Because light affects circadian rhythm, it’s important for the room where you sleep to be as dark as possible and for light to be present in the morning hours,” says Dr. Dixon Peters. To achieve this, turn off all lights when sleeping. If this isn’t possible or if you live in an urban environment and light shines through your curtains at night, a comfortable sleeping mask can also support these efforts.
You can also purchase a sunrise alarm to help bring morning light into your room if your bedroom doesn’t get enough sunlight or if your schedule doesn’t allow you to wake up with the sun. In addition to turning off the lights, dimming them during your bedtime routine can also help send a signal to your body that it’s time to unwind for bed.
Give Melatonin a Try
In addition to herbal remedies consider melatonin, which has sleep benefits of its own and is found in bedtime supplements such as HUM Nutrition Beauty zzZz™. “Melatonin is a type of hormone which promotes sleep and overall relaxation,” says Volpe. “We know enough about melatonin supplementation at this point to confirm it is effective to reduce insomnia,” she adds.
Take Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium is another natural remedy for sleep. This mineral has a relaxing effect on the nervous system and, according to Volpe, works in tandem with calcium to keep us in balance. “Research has shown that magnesium is supportive in insomnia and overall better quality sleep,” Volpe adds.
Try Reiki for Sleep
Reiki is a form of energy healing facilitated by a practitioner either from a distance or in person. According to a small 2022 clinical study, six Reiki sessions are enough to significantly improve sleep quality. “Sleep quality, in this study, was measured based on reports of reduction in the amount of time it took to fall asleep, reduced occurrences of nightmares, and an increase in sleep duration,” says Volpe, a Reiki practitioner. Although, more research is needed on the benefits of Reiki for sleep, these insights are promising.
Whether you take a supplement formulated with the “three sisters of sleep” such as HUM Nutrition Mighty Night™, sip on some potent plant-powered tea before bed, or meditate. Turn on the diffuser for wafting aroma of lavender essential oil. Incorporating herbs for sleep overtime have a meaningful impact on your overall well-being.