11 Herbs That Can Improve Your Sleep
The effectiveness of using herbs for sleep is still being debated in scientific circles, but early studies suggest that they may be beneficial. Valerian root, red ginseng, lavender, and ashwagandha have all shown that they can help with sleep efficiency and symptoms like insomnia.
There are several herbs that may improve sleep through sedative or anti-anxiety features.
These supplements are often available in several forms, including tablets, teas, and oils.
The scientific community still considers all of these herbs for sleep to require more research into their effects and safety.
Did you know?
Chamomile has been used by different cultures throughout the ages to improve sleep, from the Romans to the ancient Egyptians
Archeological evidence suggests that humans have been consuming medicinal herbs for 60,000 years, treating everything from pain to insomnia. In more recent years, those natural remedies are growing popular again. From valerian root to passionflower, here are 11 herbs that can improve your sleep.
Note: Studies on all of these herbs are limited, and the research on their benefits and side effects are still considered inconclusive.
11 Herbs That Can Improve Your Sleep
1. Valerian Root
One of the most popular herbs for sleep is valerian root, a purple flower with a thick, green stalk native to Europe and Asia.
As with many of the remedies on this list, early studies show that valerian root seems to work well as a sedative. This effect takes place via GABA-A receptors in the brain, the activation of which helps with sleep. When consuming it, patients often report that it takes less time to fall asleep and that it’s also easier to stay asleep.
It also seems to be good for insomnia because of anti-anxiety effects. The herb relaxes the brain and keeps it from aroused states – one possible factor contributing to insomnia.
You can take valerian root as a tablet, extract, or tea. Some of the side effects may include:
- Mental dullness and drowsiness
- Upset stomach
If you’re a herbal tea drinker, you’ve probably given chamomile a shot. Its pale yellow flowers can be found on packaging in just about every tea section there is
The effects of chamomile on sleep are debated, but some studies have shown that it can decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and also reduce night time awakenings. One study even compared the effects of a 400 mg tablet to benzodiazepine, a class of depressant drugs used to treat conditions like insomnia and anxiety disorders.
It’s important to note that the delivery method in the above study may have different results than sipping steeped tea. However, many swear by the liquid form’s relaxing impact on sleep.
You can take chamomile as a tablet, extract, or tea. Side effects are rare, but may include:
- Allergic reactions
3. Red Ginseng
Sometimes known as Korean ginseng, red ginseng is actually historically linked to China.
Compared to fresh and white ginseng, red ginseng is grown for much longer and is processed differently. Because of this, it has different chemical properties and may have more potency.
And although ginseng is often associated with energy and vitality, one study has shown that it improves deep sleep in rodent subjects. A separate human ginseng study concluded that the root reduced overall wake time and increased sleep efficiency.
As with any herbal medicine it’s important to source quality ingredients, and ginseng is one to look out for as reports suggest that the supplements often contain toxic metals.
If you want to try red ginseng, you can take it as a tablet, extract, or tea. Some of the reported side effects are:
- Vaginal bleeding
Another root that has recently gained attention is ashwagandha, native to India and Southeast Asia
One randomized control trial from 2021 published in the Journal of Ethnopharmocology monitored its use in 40 patients with previously reported insomnia and another 40 that had otherwise normal sleep patterns.
Patients in the study were evaluated based on several factors such as overall sleep, amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and questionnaires. The result was that both groups saw significantly improved sleep, but it benefited insomnia patients slightly more.
A 2023 research review found similar results from other studies, but noted that more research needs to be done before this herb can be fully approved by the scientific community.
You can take ashwagandha as a tablet or tea. It seems to be relatively safe, but side effects in large doses may include:
- Liver problems
A more familiar herb for sleeping is lavender. Native to Europe, the lovely fragrance that comes from its purple flowers have been popular in households for a long time now. Many have claimed that it can act as a relaxant, but the benefits to sleep haven’t been studied extensively enough to draw conclusions.
One small study that monitored college students found that when combined with good sleep hygiene (a proper nightly routine and sleeping environment), inhaled lavender helped to improve sleep in those who had previously struggled with it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say whether the lavender or the sleep hygiene was more important.
Some studies have also found that when taken orally, lavender shows promise as a sleep aid, but again, longer-term studies are needed.
You can take lavender in several forms including tablets, extracts, teas, or even scented sprays and oils. It’s generally safe, but some reported side effects include:
- Skin irritations when applying oils
Another ingredient known around the world is hops, and although it’s more famous for making yummy beer, it can also be helpful for sleep. You may have learned this already after drinking a nice Indian Pale Ale.
The bitter resins are the ingredient that can send you to bed early. They work via the same GABA receptors that affect the nervous system, inhibiting it in this case.
One 2012 study published in Acta Physiologica Hungaria showed that when taken in concentrated pill-form, hops decreased nighttime activity. The most effective dosage between 1, 2, and 11 mg was the 2 mg dosage, similar to what’s found in non-alcoholic beer.
Because of that, the study concluded that, “administration of non-alcoholic beer would be recommended due to its hop content and consequent sedative action, which would be an aid to nocturnal sleep.”
It’s important to note that the beer should be non-alcoholic to give you the best snooze, as alcohol has a negative effect on sleep efficiency.
You can take hops as a tablet and also as a non-alcoholic beverage. It’s generally safe, but some reported side effects include:
- Hypersensitivity reactions
7. St. John’s Wort
If you deal with nighttime hot flashes, especially those associated with menopause, St. John’s Wort may be able to help get you to sleep.
One research review found that the herb helped to decrease hot flashes in menopausal women.
A separate study found that St. John’s wort helped to improve sleep deprivation symptoms such as body weight and anxiety levels.
Unfortunately, as with ginseng, St. John’s wort tablets have been linked to high levels of toxic metals, so you may want to be a little pickier with the supplement you buy.
You can take St. John’s wort in several forms including tablets, extracts, and teas. Some reported side effects include:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
8. Lemon Balm
Native to Europe, lemon balm’s effect on sleep is relatively unknown when compared to some of the other herbs on this list. In spite of that, it shows up in man sleep supplement mixtures alongside ingredients like valerian root and lavender. Most of the information available on lemon balm has to do with its use in these mixed ingredient tablets.
However, one Italian study from 2011 published in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism looked exclusively at lemon balm tablets and their effect on anxiety disorder patients and those with sleep disorders. It found that stress and sleep levels both improved.
You can take lemon balm as a tablet, extract, or tea. Side effects may include:
9. Magnolia Bark
Long used in Chinese herbal medicine, magnolia bark seems to be another possible natural sleep remedy.
One study found that it has a benzodiazepine-like effect on the brain, helping to relax the mind. Another study looked at its effect on postnatal women, concluding that it may have an antidepressant effect as well as inducing sleep.
You can take magnolia bark in tablet form or as a tea. Some reported side effects include:
- Risk of bleeding (recommended to avoid taking with blood thinners)
- Slowed breathing
10. California Poppy
For a sleep-aid that has a history of use in North America, look no further than California poppy.
As the name suggests, it’s native to the west coast, and studies have found that it works as a sedative in a similar way to magnolia bark.
There aren’t many studies that have looked at it on its own, but when combined with valerian root, it improves overall sleep efficiency and could be a valuable natural sleep aid.
You can get California poppy in tablet, tea, and extract form. The reported side effects are also similar to magnolia bark and may include:
- Slowed breathing
Moving further south into the Andes, you can find passionflower, or passiflora. It’s a climbing vine with vibrant purple flowers, and initial research suggests that when consumed in tea form, it can lead to sleep benefits and reduced anxiety.
Another study on rodents found that it increased slow wave sleep and decreased REM sleep and wakefulness. However, it’s another herbal sleep remedy that hasn’t been studied very much.
You can get California poppy in tablet as well as tea form. The reported side effects are also similar to magnolia bark and may include:
- Uncoordinated movement
Why Use Herbs For Sleeping?
There are many good reasons to use herbs for sleeping. Some people may have light or occasional sleep troubles and want a gentle push in the right direction. Others may be suspicious of pharmaceutical options.
There’s also the fact that supplements like melatonin have their own concerns around lack of regulation in addition to some side effects.
Whatever the case, there’s some encouraging data around herbal medicines for sleep, and at the very least, they usually smell good!
Other Natural Ways To Fall Asleep
If you’re unsure about some of the effects of these herbs for sleep but still want a little help getting to bed each night, you might want to try a small change to your bedding.
Our knitted weighted blanket weighted blanket can have a similar effect to many of the solutions on this list.
The grounding effect can raise natural production of the mood-maker, serotonin in the body and lower the stress hormone, cortisol. This combination can lead to an anti-anxiety effect, helping you fall asleep without putting anything into your body.
Dreamy, buttery softness
Calms body & mind for deeper sleep
Hand-knitted huggable comfortIt's Napper Time
Herbs have become a popular remedy for improving the quality of sleep. And while more studies need to be done before the scientific community is fully on board, there’s some encouraging data in favor of natural choices. Adding them to your nighttime routine could make your sleep a little sounder.