10+ Natural Herbs for Sleep & Insomnia [Benefits & Risks]
Tossing and turning at night, especially when you should be sleeping, is no fun. Not for you, not for your partner, not for your furbabies.
The only problem is, no matter what time you actually get to bed, you can’t seem to fall asleep.
The good news is that your brain is not working against you: 25% of adults experience insomnia throughout their lives, and it’s the most common sleep disorder.
The even better news is that there are natural herbs for sleep you can take to help your body’s sleep cycle and circadian rhythm come back into balance.
And, the best news is that we’ll be breaking down the benefits (and risks) of the top 10 natural herbs for sleep right here.
Let’s get started!
10+ Natural Herbs for Sleep and Insomnia
Before we dive into the 10 best natural herbs for sleep and insomnia, here’s a positive little sidenote.
These herbs and natural remedies do more than just help you fall asleep. Many of them have adaptogenic properties, which means that they can boost your immunity, control blood sugar, help you destress, and more.
Furthermore, quite a few of these leaves, shoots, and flowers double as hormone balance herbs. So, if your insomnia is caused by a hormonal imbalance, they can still help!
You can choose the right herbs for sleep and benefit from wellness on multiple levels.
Note: Remember that it’s best to use any of these herbal supplements under the guidance of a primary care physician or a functional medicine specialist. They’ll also be able to advise you about the right dosage amounts for your body’s individual needs.
#1. Namastay in Bed
Skip the herb counting (you know this is a thing for herb-lovers like us) or trying to measure out the right dosages. Instead, try Namastay in Bed, a unique formula of herbs for sleep.
This combination of herbs has been carefully curated to provide the optimal kind of sleep: uninterrupted, restful, and deep. The blend features many of the herbs we’re going to look at below, except that you don’t have to worry about remembering to take each one at the right time.
Our collection of herbs for sleep include:
- Magnolia Bark
- Premium quality melatonin
Part of the benefits of this blend is that you wake up feeling refreshed instead of groggy. This is an important detail because feeling groggy and lethargic when you first wake up is one of the reasons so many people reach for stimulants like caffeine. Over time, too much coffee can escalate adrenal fatigue, give you the jitters, and, ironically, cause even more insomnia.
You may have read “valerian” as one of the ingredients in Namastay in Bed and there’s a reason why we chose to include this sleep-booster.
Valerian, an herb for sleep that is native to Asia and Europe, can be consumed in several ways — you can take it as a tincture, in liquid form, as a supplement in a capsule, or even as tea.
The main function of valerian root is to promote a sense of tranquility and naturally helps your mind and body relax. While we may only just be starting to study its effects, valerian has been a superstar of traditional medicine advocates and has been in circulation for the last 2,000 years.
Talk about a long-lasting reputation!
So, how does valerian work?
Based on what we know so far, valerian has a number of compounds, such as valerenic acid and isovaleric acid, as well as antioxidants. These compounds go to work on GABA levels in the brain. They keep these levels in check, which is important because low GABA levels bring on more stress, anxiety, and low-quality sleep.
Meanwhile, the antioxidants linarin and hesperadin produce sedative and sleep-enhancing effects in our brain.
And, together, these components help to decrease too much activity in the amygdala, which then keeps our serotonin levels steady, regulates our mood, and mitigates anxiety.
Ah, lavender: the Mr. Fix It for the overly-stressed crowd. The soothing, floral-scented darling of the essential oil world. The best bath bomb ingredient. And, now, your very own...sleep aid?
Yes, lavender can do everything it promises — and more. When we call this a super-herb, there’s a reason.
You can use lavender for sleep, relaxation, meditation, and anxiety. It’s a fantastic natural remedy that began to be used for therapeutic purposes all the way back in the 14th century in Europe.
In fact, it’s so popular, as a scent and as a remedy for relaxation, that there’s an entire region in France dedicated to growing fields upon fields of lavender.
While you’re booking your next trip to this heavenly place, consider the benefits of lavender:
- Research shows that lavender aromatherapy can reduce anxiety and depression in women who have postpartum depression
- Its active properties combat insomnia
- It’s a known sedative, anticonvulsive, and has neuroprotective properties — translation, you’ll remain relaxed through the night, you won’t jerk awake, and your overall mental health and cognition will improve
You can use lavender in several ways: diffuse it at night in your room, put a few drops right on your pillow, or drink some lavender tea. If you’re going to put it on your skin, such as massaging it around the temples, make sure to mix it with a carrier oil like jojoba.
This daisy-lookalike won’t perk you up like a daisy, but, instead, help to calm you down. Traditional medicine specialists and healers have relied on chamomile as a way to calm everything from hay fever allergies to hemorrhoids.
But when it comes to sleep, chamomile is the ideal partner. And the science proves it:
- Chamomile can help heal anxiety-related depression — a 2016 study of new moms who drank chamomile tea every day for two weeks found that they had fewer symptoms of depression.
- Taking chamomile right before bed can help you sleep deeper — a 2017 study of elderly patients with insomnia found that those who took a larger dose of chamomile extract slept better and longer than those who did not take any at all.
So, what’s the bottom line? Steep a bag of chamomile tea (or use a blend that includes chamomile) and catch those Z’s.
Ashwagandha is one of those herbs for sleep that delight both people who use it and the researchers who study its effects. There’s a ton of scientific evidence that proves ashwagandha’s use as a therapeutic and adaptogenic root.
When it comes to sleep, ashwagandha is just as reliable. It calms the muscles, the mind, and naturally lowers the hormones related to wakefulness (such as cortisol). A 2019 study conclusively agreed that:
“Ashwagandha root extract is a natural compound with sleep-inducing potential, well tolerated and improves sleep quality and sleep onset latency in patients with insomnia at a dose of 300 mg extract twice daily.” — “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha”, Cureus, 2019 September.
Other than helping you fall asleep, Ashwagandha is also a pill for hormone balance. Check out our article to learn more!
Some herbs for sleep target cortisol levels. Others act as a sedative and calm your body. Nutmeg, however, induces sleep by acting on the nerves. This little “nut-” like herb (or spice, if you cook with it) packs a natural chemical called trimyristin, which relaxes your nerves and acts as a muscle relaxation agent.
The best way to use this herb for sleep is to mix a dash in some warm milk, stir, and drink up. The tryptophan in milk is an essential amino acid and helps to boost serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Don’t be fooled by its passionate name — this unique flower is all about calming down, not perking up.
The exotic vine flower has curly purple or blue “tentacle” like petals and is frequently used to treat anxiety, muscle pain (which is why it’s great for PMS-related cramps), and insomnia. It’s also frequently used to reduce the effects of menopause.
As an herb for sleep, passionflower is just as effective. So far, animal studies have shown us that passionflower can increase deep sleep (which is the most restorative for the body), reduce REM sleep (rapid eye movement), and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
In humans, we’ve seen that participants in a study consuming passionflower for just one week reported significantly better and longer sleep patterns than those who took the placebo.
#8. California Poppy
California poppy is a curious (but powerful) little herb for sleep. In high doses, studies have observed that this native Californian herb has sedative effects. This means it promotes tranquility and relaxation in the body.
However, at lower doses, it’s anxiolytic, which means that it’s highly effective in soothing anxiety, overexcitement, and insomnia or sleeplessness related to anxious or overactive thoughts.
These same studies have found that the California poppy works by interacting with opiate receptors in the brain, which then helps to normalize disturbed sleep patterns “without any carryover effects or dependency.”
Cha-ching! Time to count some sheep!
#9. Golden Milk
Golden milk is essentially a blend of turmeric, a few other additions like ginger, cinnamon, and honey, warmed, strained, and served before bedtime. Smacking your lips? We don’t blame you — it’s a good one!
Science affirms your choice as well — as it turns out, the active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Besides having anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, curcumin can guard against sleep deprivation.
It also protects against the effects of oxidative damage due to stress, which is significant because so many insomniacs also suffer from acute or chronic stress.
#10. Tart Cherry
Okay, tart cherries are technically berries or fruit, and not exactly an herb for sleep. But it is a natural and proven remedy that’s highly effective for those suffering from a lack of sleep, night after night.
They help the body’s natural sleep hormones and processes in two specific ways:
- First off, tart cherries are naturally rich in the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Secondly, they also contain tryptophan and anthocyanins, both of which help to extend the effects of melatonin levels.
So, if you have low levels of melatonin, a glass of tart cherry juice can help you increase this vital hormone naturally, over a course of two weeks.
Herbs for Sleep - Potential Risks
We’ve discussed the benefits of these natural herbs for sleep. But, you may be wondering:
Are there any potential risks?
It’s a myth that natural remedies don’t have side effects. While allopathic drugs and pharmaceuticals always come with a score of side effects, you should know that even herbal remedies come with “risks.”
That’s because these herbs for sleep have real, measurable, and proven medicinal and chemical properties. Anything you ingest or consume is bound to interact with your body’s unique chemistry.
In other words, the “risks” of herbs for sleep are unavoidable because that’s the only way to gain their benefits. That’s why it’s so important to consult your primary care physician or a medicinal herb specialist who understands how certain herbs for sleep will interact with your body, and, even more importantly, how these herbs can interact with each other.
Let’s consider just a few side effects of the nine herbs for sleep we’ve looked at here:
- Valerian root — There are minor but pronounced side effects when it comes to valerian root for insomnia. This includes potential heart palpitations, dry mouth, upset stomach, headaches, and mental fogginess.
- Lavender — This is a very “neutral” herb for sleep, so you shouldn’t experience any risks or side effects. For some individuals with plant-based sensitivities, lavender may produce nausea and indigestion.
- Chamomile — In smaller or larger doses, chamomile remains non-toxic and is considered generally safe. However, it can trigger allergic reactions for people who have allergies to plants in the daisy family.
- Ashwagandha — Like lavender, ashwagandha’s unique adaptogenic and anti-inflammatory properties mean that it only does good for your body. That being said, you can’t take this herb if you’re taking other medications that are sedatives. This will cause too much drowsiness and lethargy.
- Nutmeg — Intoxication due to too much nutmeg is very pronounced. It’s quite close to valerian and its sedative properties, so quite a few of the risks are the same. People may experience dry mouth, drowsiness, mental confusion, headaches, hallucinations, and even seizures.
- Passionflower — Common side-effects of passionflower toxicity include altered consciousness, loss of coordination, confusion and disorientation, dizziness, liver toxicity, nausea and vomiting, pancreas toxicity, rapid heart rate.
- California poppy — As of now, there aren’t enough clinical trials that give us definitive information about what happens if you take too much of this herb for sleep, or take it for too long. However, the California poppy appears to be safe when taken for a maximum time of three months or less. Like ashwagandha, its sedative effects mean you shouldn’t be mixing it with other sedatives.
- Turmeric — While it’s not serious, some people taking turmeric daily may experience a mild upset stomach, nausea, dizziness, or diarrhea.
- Tart cherry — The “risks” of tart cherry come from two naturally occurring compounds. The first is sorbitol, which is a type of sugar alcohol that could spark stomach pain and diarrhea for some people. Another is quercetin, a plant flavonoid that fights inflammation but also interacts negatively with certain medications like blood thinners.
When it comes to natural herbs for sleep, you should remember that it’s rarely the herbs themselves that are toxic. Rather, it’s the dosage you have to get right. You also need to ensure that none of the medicinal properties of these herbs interfere with other prescription or OTC medications you may be taking, even occasionally.
5+ Other Ways to Get Better Sleep
In addition to these herbs for sleep, you can also create some positive and long-lasting changes to your lifestyle.
These five methods help improve your sleep. But don’t be surprised if they also heal other aspects of your life, such as your stress levels, energy, mood, and immunity.
1. Sleep According to Your Chronotype
While the science behind sleep is still emerging, cutting-edge research is making the case for sleeping according to your "chronotype.” The idea is that not everyone’s circadian rhythms need to be diurnal (or day-waking). Rather, they can be somewhat nocturnal (night-waking).
Studies on chronotypes began in the 1970s, but, today, Dr. Michael Breus is leading the charge on sleeping based on your chronobiology. Sleep chronotypes include a wolf, bear, dolphin, and lion, and you can adjust your sleep schedule and routine to accommodate these chronotypes.
2. Use Sleep Stories or Calming Tones
There are a number of apps you can use these days to calm yourself and prepare for bed. Each of these has its own benefits.
The “Calm” app, for example, comes equipped with soft, soothing “sleep stories” that redirect your focus from anxious thoughts to a fantasy world. They’re narrated in calm, quiet voices and gently lull you to sleep.
Another example is Headspace, which uses meditation to achieve very similar pre-bedtime results.
Calming frequencies, on the other hand, are tones you can listen to that promote a range of healing and wellness effects. If you’ve ever listened to a cat’s calming purr, these beats work the same way. They can help you:
- Reduce anxiety
- Lower stress levels
- Manage pain
- Increase relaxation
Some frequencies, such as those in the delta frequency (1 to 4 Hz), are linked to deep sleep. Listening to these tones can help you reach there faster and stay there longer.
3. Stop Eating Four Hours Before Bedtime
The fact is that digestion is a behind-the-scenes chorus line. Just like you shouldn’t be eating right before a workout, you should leave plenty of space between your last meal of the day and sleeping.
Sleeping while your food is still digesting is the fastest way to lead to disrupted sleep during the night, as well as indigestion and acid reflux. To stop all these issues in their tracks, leave three to four hours between eating and sleeping.
4. Keep It Cool
Like light, temperature plays a significant role in those environmental cues your body’s circadian rhythms rely on to know when to start secreting certain hormones. A cool room instantly communicates to your body that it’s time to “hit the sack,” so to speak.
For this reason, your room should be an optimal 65°F. Furthermore, your mattress should also keep you cool and comfortable.
5. Invest in Bedroom Plants
Some plants are decorative. And some, like these herbs for sleep, are therapeutic. But, there are plant babies you can grow that actually promote sleep just by sitting innocently in your room.
What are they?
Glad you asked.
Bedroom-friendly, allergy-fighting, sleep-boosting plants include:
- Aloe vera
- Peace lily
- Snake plant
- Golden pothos
The statistics and research around insomnia also say that 75% of individuals who experience these periods of sleepless nights eventually return to deeper sleep without medication.
But it can’t happen without conscious change and intervention. Using these herbs for sleep, and a few well-timed lifestyle changes, you can hit the pillow — and stay there — all night long.