The 4 Best Herbs For Better Sleep + How To Use 'Em Tonight

Written by Robyn Srigley

Photo by iStock

As a hormone expert, I often hear from women with hormonal imbalances about their sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or waking up several times during the night. There are many root causes of these sleep disturbances, some hormonal and some not. But they disrupt your daily life, making you irritable and exhausted the next day, and reduce your productivity and memory.

I often recommend medicinal herbs to help curb these sleep disturbances. There are many herbs considered beneficial for sleep, but the four I’m outlining below are the ones that can generally be taken easily and safely and are most backed by science:

1. Lavender

These little purple flower buds are my absolute favorite herb for many things, including sleep, anxiety, and depression. In one recent study, lavender essential oil was diffused into the room of study participants overnight. It was shown that lavender was sleep-promoting, specifically with slow-wave sleep, which may also help with memory processing.

If your legs constantly feel restless or are jerking you awake, another study found that massaging the legs with lavender essential oil reduced those feelings and improved sleep quality.

Lastly, research suggests that lavender aromatherapy is helpful in improving sleep for postpartum moms—one of the more sleep-deprived groups of people, for sure!

Long story short: Try using an essential oil diffuser with lavender while you sleep to reap these benefits.

2. Chamomile

These beautiful, tiny, daisylike flowers have an intoxicating aroma, and using chamomile essential oil diffused into the room at night could help with insomnia, similar to lavender.

Plus, in a study of postpartum moms, chamomile both reduced sleep disturbances and depression after four weeks of use. And in research on animals, a moderate dose of chamomile decreased the time it took to fall asleep (sleep latency).

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3. Valerian

Valerian is probably the most powerful herb on this list, so I highly recommend asking a qualified natural health care practitioner before using it.

It's very beneficial for menopausal women with insomnia—research found that study participants experienced significant improvement in sleep after taking valerian extract twice a day for four weeks. And in a rat study, valerian was associated with reduced sleep latency and waking less in the night.

Valerian also works well in combination with other herbs. A 2013 study combined it with lemon balm and the awesome combo reduced sleep disturbances again in menopausal women. Clinically, I’ve also seen it work well in combination with skullcap and passionflower.

4. Passionflower

This calming and relaxing herb has a long history in South America. And in a recent study, a homeopathic preparation of passionflower reduced both anxiety and sleep disturbances after four weeks of use in sleep-disturbed patients. The study even went as far as to say this preparation could be used instead of psychotropic drugs as a first intervention for these types of issues.

If your sleep disturbance is pretty mild rather than more severe, research shows that a milder form of using the herb as a tea could be helpful.

How Best to Use Sleep Herbs

There are many ways and preparations of using medicinal herbs for sleep, as you’ve seen above. Here’s a little reminder list to get you started on the path to super-restorative sleep:

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1. Tea

Lavender, chamomile and passionflower all make great and effective teas. Valerian isn’t the most delicious herb in the world, so most people prefer capsules or tincture.

2. Sleep Pillows

Get a little mesh or cotton bag and fill it with the sleep-inducing dried herbs of your choice. Before bed, massage the herb bag in your hands to release the volatile oils. Inhale deeply for a few breaths, and then place the little sachet under your pillow. Clinically, I’ve seen this work very well.

3. Tincture

Any of the above herbs can be consumed as a tincture. A tincture is an alcohol-based extract and so will be stronger than an herbal tea infusion. Valerian works well in tincture form, and the combination VSP tincture (valerian, skullcap, and passionflower) is something I’ve seen work very well for racing-mind insomnia and anxiety.

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4. Homeopathy

As we've seen, a homeopathic preparation of passionflower was shown to be effective in the study group. I’ve also seen chamomile be very effective in this form, especially for children.

While these herbs can be beneficial for a range of sleep disturbances, it’s important to note that taking supplements is not the whole picture. Ensuring you get restorative sleep on a regular and long-term basis also involves nutrition and lifestyle changes, like creating sleep rituals to help you wind down at the end of the day. Find what works for you—the easier to implement, the better. We don’t need any added stress to keep us up at night!

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