Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chamomilla, Asteraceae)

Notes about Herbs and Sleep

November 21, 2018

Quality sleep is important for both mental and physical health. Unfortunately insomnia affects many people. I see it commonly in almost all of the settings I work in.

What I’d like to do in this post is to give a few suggestions about helping with some sleeping difficulties and broaden the information in a future post.

There are many types of sleep disturbances with various facets associated with each type. When thinking about sleep aids for yourself or others, consider what type of sleep problem you are looking to help and what other inputs might be contributing to the difficulties. It is common to have more than one type of sleeping difficulty (for instance falling and staying asleep) and these can also change over time

With herbs, the dose is an important aspect as sedative herbs can be nourishing taken in small doses but fatiguing in larger doses.

It is important to realize that insomnia can be a very difficult problem to treat and that herbs may be only one part of a treatment strategy.

Hops (Humulus lupulus, Cannabaceae)










Insomnia Categories and Herbal Treatments

  1. Cannot fall asleep (Sleep onset difficulty)
  1. Waking up throughout the night (sleep maintenance)
  1. Waking up abruptly during the night
Fresh Kava kava root (Piper methysticum, Piperaceae)


Therapeutic Categories and Herbal Remedies

Note-this is a generalized list and depending on individual reactions and strength of a particular herb or preparation, their attributes could be felt differently.


Antispasmodics (for spasms or crampy conditions)

  1. Crampbark
  2. Lobelia
  3. Silk tassel


Anxiolytics (reduce anxiety). These can be taken throughout the day to help with sleep and range from nervines to sedatives

  1. Milder (can be taken throughout the day)
  1. Stronger (potentially sedative, may cause fatigue and lessen mental clarity)
Skullcap plants growing in the woods (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae)

Nervines-herbs that nourish the nervous system. These can be taken throughout the day. Some are useful for depressive state and other for anxiety.

  1. Blue vervain
  2. California poppy
  3. Chamomile
  4. Lavender
  5. Lemon balm
  6. Mimosa
  7. Motherwort
  8. Oat tops
  9. Rose
  10. Johnswort
  11. Tulsi


Pain remedies-General (these can be from any category, including sedative)

  1. Hops
  2. Jamaican dogwood
  3. Kava kava
  4. Skullcap
  5. Valerian
  6. Wild lettuce


Jamaican dogwood fresh peeled bark Piscidia piscipula, Fabaceae

Sedatives (relaxing, can cause fatigues)

  1. Hops
  2. Skullcap
  3. Valerian


Skeletal muscle relaxants

  1. Black cohosh
  2. Jamaican dogwood
  3. Lousewort
  4. Skullcap
  5. Valerian


Sleep aids-General

  1. Chamomile
  2. Hops
  3. Kava kava
  4. Passionflower
  5. Skullcap
  6. Valerian
Fresh Valerian roots (Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae)

Medicinal Preparations and Dosage

There are a number of preparations that can be used. A consideration is how long they might take to have an effect. In general, tinctures and teas can be felt sooner while capsules usually take longer. Drinking tea before sleep may cause some folks to wake up to urinate.

These are very generalized dosage guidelines. How much one takes can be very individual and will likely need experimentation to find the most useful dose. For sensitive individuals, start with lower dosages, especially with sedative herbs.

  1. Capsule-1-2 capsules 2-4 times daily
  2. Glycerite– during the daytime: 1/2-1 dropperful 2-4 times daily. At night: 1-3 droppers full as needed. Powder-1/4 teaspoon 2-4 times daily, stirred into water or beverage.
  3. Tea-Cover 1 oz herb(s) with 1 quart of water. Let sit 10 minutes. Drink ½ cup (4-6 oz) 1-3 times daily.
  4. Tincture-during the daytime: 1/2-1 dropperful 2-4 times daily. At night: 1-3 droppers full as needed.


Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum, Lamiaceae)

Common and Botanical Names

  1. Anemone-Anemone species
  2. Blue vervain-Verbena hastata
  3. California poppy-Eschscholzia californica
  4. Chamomile-Matricaria chamomilla
  5. Crampbark-Viburnum opulus
  6. Hops-Humulus lupulus
  7. Jamaican dogwood-Piscidia piscupula
  8. Kava kava-Piper methysticum
  9. Lavender-Lavandula species
  10. Lemon balm-Melissa officinalis
  11. Lobelia-Lobelia inflata
  12. Lousewort-Pedicularis species
  13. Mimosa-Albizia julibrissin
  14. Motherwort-Leonurus cardiaca
  15. Oat tops-Avena sativa
  16. Passionflower-Passiflora incarnata
  17. Rose-Rosa species
  18. Silk tassel-Garrya species
  19. Skullcap-Scutellaria lateriflora
  20. Johnswort-Hypericum perforatum
  21. Tulsi-Ocimum tenuiflorum
  22. Valerian-Valeriana officinalis
  23. Wild lettuce-Lactuca species
Passionflower flower (Passiflora incarnata, Passifloraceae)











  1. Sleep hygiene is a useful concept to understand for many types of insomnia
  2. Learn what foods, medications, recreational drugs or other substances may contribute to sleeplessness.
  3. Use soft night-lights if you get up during the night, avoid stronger lights as they can be over-stimulating.
  4. Avoid disturbing media (especially movies) before sleep
  5. Comfortable bedding
  6. Thick curtains to block out light
  7. Avoid fluids a few hours before sleep if you usually have to get up to pee
  8. Watch intake of caffeine and other stimulants during the day. Consider having your last cup before noon.
  9. Valerian can have paradoxical negative effects (agitation, a speedy feeling). Try it first in the afternoon where it will not be as disruptive if it is over-stimulating.
  10. Try one herb at a time before using formulas. This is especially helpful for people who are sensitive to plant medicines and medications.




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