As an herbalist, I find most of my solutions for insomnia in the plant world. The type of herb and the dose depend on a person’s specific condition; the dosages listed here are those recommended by the German Commission E when noted. Always discuss changes to your health regimen with your doctor beforehand.
A note from the editors: It’s critical to exercise caution when using sleep aids. Never combine sleep aids, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, and don’t use them with alcohol or other medicines with sedative effects. Never use sedative herbs before driving or using machinery, and discontinue use at least two weeks before surgery. Always inform medical professionals of any herbal medicines you take, and never take any sleep aids without advice from a medical professional if you are pregnant or nursing.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is the herb I use most often to relieve insomnia. Though it’s not traditional in Western herbalism, reishi seems to resolve disturbed shen qi, calm a person during the day, reduce anxiety, help overcome environmental distractions and regulate sugar metabolism. Reishi’s active ingredients include polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system, and triterpene acids, which may help reduce blood pressure.
Dose: Three 1-gram tablets three times a day. Studies indicate reishi is generally safe to use, although there are few reports on its long-term use. Don’t take reishi if you’re taking blood thinners (including warfarin) or medication for diabetes, or if you have low blood pressure or an immune system disorder or take medication for these conditions.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) contains alkaloids and flavonoids believed to help tranquilize the central nervous system. I find that using passionflower for sleep gives one a feeling of well-being while reducing spasms and anxiety and aiding sleep.
Dose: For occasional insomnia, drink a cup of tea made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1⁄2 teaspoon of the dried herb; steep, then sip before going to bed. Passionflower contains alkaloids that can reduce the effects of a class of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors; the German government allows passionflower preparations to contain no more than 0.01 percent of these alkaloids. Do not take passionflower if you’re taking anticoagulant medication or medication for anxiety.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used by insomniacs throughout history. Although beneficial in inducing sleep, it can be mildly habit-forming, so take it only occasionally or for short periods (up to one month) when sleep disturbance is serious. A group of its chemicals, valepotriates and valerenic acid, have been shown to depress the central nervous system.
Dose: Take 300 to 400 mg of valerian product standardized to 0.5 percent essential oil about an hour before bed. Avoid valerian if you have liver disease, or if you take antidepressants, anti-seizure medication, depressants (such as benzodiazepine, narcotics or alcohol), or other sleep aids.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) have been used as a sleep aid for centuries. The dried fruits’ volatile oils have significant sedative action. Try hops tea to relieve daytime stress or just before bed, or stuff the strobiles into a sleep pillow (its scent is released as you move your head).
Dose: Use about 1 heaping teaspoon of whole hops per cup of boiling water to make tea. Hops are generally safe, although some people experience allergic reactions. The German Commission E recommends a daily dose of 1⁄2 gram. Avoid hops if you have depression or a hormone-sensitive condition.
Learn more natural remedies for sleep in Sweet Dreams: Tips for Good Sleep.