What Are Some Effective Herbal Sleep Remedies?

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What are some effective herbal sleep remedies?

Ephram Ellis
Kellogg, Idaho

Sleep is essential to great health, yet the amount of sleep Americans get each night is on the decline — 100 years ago, nine and a half hours was the nightly average; in the 1960s, the average dropped to eight hours; and today it’s seven and a half hours. Because sleep is so important to your well-being, it’s worthwhile to make it a priority in your life. Try some of the tips below to get the rest you need, naturally.

Important note: If you suffer from persistent sleep problems that don’t respond to healthy lifestyle changes, consult your doctor. 

* If your insomnia is caused by tension or by working too much late at night, try a cup of tea made from relaxing, non-habit-forming herbs like catnip (Nepeta cataria), a gentle sedative; chamomile (Matricaria recutita), which helps calm the nerves and soothe the stomach; or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), a safe sedative particularly helpful for insomnia caused by anxiety, worry or an overactive mind.

* Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the best-known and most-researched herbal sleep aid—more than 200 studies on valerian have been published in the last 20 years. It’s a mild sedative herb that is nonaddictive and does not leave the user with a “hangover” feeling in the morning. Because the herb has an extremely unpleasant taste and smell, it’s best to use it in capsule form (according to package directions) or combined with other herbs, as in “Herbal Insomnia Formula” below.

* Hops (Humulus lupulus), long used in beer-making, are effective for mild insomnia and often are used in herbal sleep pillows (see “Sweet Dreams: Make Your Own Herbal Sleep Pillow” below). The herb also can be taken internally in tea or tincture form.

* Kava (Piper methysticum), the national drink of Fiji, is used in Polynesian cultures to soothe nerves and promote deep sleep. It also causes mild euphoria and can enhance dreams. Do not use kava is you have liver problems, and do not combine the herb with alcohol.

Herbal Insomnia Formula

Herbalist and acupuncturist Christopher Hobbs says this is a tried-and-true formula for insomnia. Make a tea by steeping 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of the combined herbs in 1 cup of boiled water for 20 minutes; strain, sweeten with honey or stevia as desired, and drink ½ to 1 cup.

Valerian: 30 percent
Linden: 20 percent
Kava: 20 percent
Chamomile: 20 percent
Catnip: 10 percent

Sweet Dreams: Make Your Own Herbal Sleep Pillow

Basic Instructions
For a simple pillow, fill a 3- to 5-inch drawstring bag with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chosen herbs; draw strings and tie closed. For a more decorative bag, fold a 5-inch-by-12-inch cloth in and stitch up two of the open sides (the folded side does not need to be stitched). Launder with no fragrance or fabric softener. Place a cotton ball-sized amount of cotton or fiberfill material in the bottom of the pocket. Add about 1/2 cup of herbs, fold over the remaining open side and stitch shut.

Reduce Stress with This Blend 
For this relaxing dream pillow, mix 1/2 cup hops, 1/2 cup mugwort and 1/8 cup sweet marjoram. Let the fragrances carry you to a stress-free zone.

Treat Yourself to Restful Sleep
Let this mixture take you away to the safest place in the world, where there are no worries and all your needs are fulfilled. Mix ¼ cup lavender flowers, 1/4 cup mugwort and 1/4 cup hops for this restful dream pillow.

No More Nightmares 
If nightmares are troubling you, this comforting blend can ease your mind. Mix 1/4 cup rose petals, 1/4 cup rosemary, 1/4 cup lavender flowers and 1/4 cup hops.

Convalescent Rest
Two tablespoons each of lavender flowers, catnip, lilac blossoms, mugwort and marjoram with 1 teaspoon of spearmint or peppermint can help give hospital patients relief from the powerful odors surrounding them.

Source: Making Herbal Dream Pillows, by Jim Long. Storey Books, 1998.

— Amy Mayfield, editor, Herbs for Health magazine