Herbs & Natural Remedies:
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), chamomile, catnip, hops (Humulus lupulus), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), passionflower and melatonin.
Valerian: commercial preparations. Chamomile, catnip, hops, lavender, lemon balm and passionflower: tea or tincture. Melatonin: tablets or capsules.
How it Works:
Valerian is a natural sedative. Swedish researchers gave either a placebo or valerian to insomniacs. The placebo group reported only slight improvement, but 89 percent of the valerian group called the herb helpful. The other herbs are all natural tranquilizers that also have sedative value. Melatonin is a hormone involved in sleep regulation. Supplements are sedative. Israeli researchers gave insomniacs either a placebo or melatonin shortly before bed. The melatonin group fell asleep significantly faster and slept more soundly, with fewer wee-hour awakenings.
Valerian: follow package directions. Chamomile: 2 to 3 heaping teaspoons of flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Catnip: 2 teaspoons of leaves or flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 to 20 minutes. Hops: 2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water. Steep 5 minutes. Lavender: 1 to 3 teaspoons of flowers per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Lemon balm: 2 teaspoons of leaves per cup of water. Steep 10 minutes. Passionflower: 1 teaspoon of leaves per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 minutes. Melatonin: 0.5 to 3 mg before bed. When using tinctures, follow package directions.
Do not drive or operate machinery when taking sedatives or tranquilizers.
Have a regular bedtime. Invest in a good bed. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet. Eliminate caffeine. Don’t consume alcohol within two hours of bedtime—it disrupts deep sleep and dreaming. Get regular, moderate exercise. Take a hot bath before bed. If sleep problems persist, consult your doctor.
San Francisco health writer Michael Castleman is the author of 11 consumer health books. Visit