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5 Herbal Sleep Aids

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five herbs that are sleep aids iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Herbs have been used in preparations to aid sleep since ancient times in all cultures. But ever since the advent of scientific and structured medicine, it has not received the same favor with the public.

This is partially because of the lack of well-organized research behind it. Its "folk medicine" status made the people wary of its origins and effectiveness.

But in recent times, as more research is being done on the chemistry of the plants and the effects of their potent chemicals on humans, well-reputed universities have come forward with studies that show that certain herbs may indeed bestow certain benefits on those with insomnia.

Here’s an indicative list of such herbs:

1. Chamomile
Chamomile is a daisy-like plant with yellow-centred white flowers native to Europe and Asia. Chamomile is rich in a particular flavonoid called chrysin. Chrysin has sedative properties, thus helping as a sleep aid and a stress-buster.

Chamomile is available in many varieties, the most popular of which are the German, Roman and the English chamomile. An herbal infusion of chamomile could be a great warm beverage to take an hour before bedtime to reduce anxiety and to induce sleep gently.

Chamomile essential oil could also be helpful if a few drops are added to your bath before bedtime. Chamomile may also be used in support therapy for conditions such as chest colds, sore throats, gingivitis, acne, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease and a few types of stomach ulcers. (1)

2. Lavender
Lavender is native to the temperate climates of south Europe, Mediterranean and India. They are most commonly cultivated for their essential oil. The most common types of lavender are French, English and Spanish lavenders.

A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Medical University of Vienna in 2010 examined the anxiolytic effects of lavender oil and its influence on sleep quality.

Lavender oil, with a high percentage of linalool and linalyl acetate, showed meaningful efficacy in alleviating anxiety and related sleep disturbances. (2)

Lavender oil can be diluted with any carrier oil and applied on the skin. A few drops can also be put on the pillow before bedtime or in your bath water.

Lavender may also help conditions such as restlessness, depression, irritation related to dementia, hair loss, digestive complaints like bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, flatulence. (3)

3. Neroli
The bitter orange tree (bigaradia) gives the sweet-smelling neroli oil. The essential oil is used in aromatherapy massages where it is generally mixed with a carrier oil such as wheat germ oil or almond oil to help reduce anxiety, tension, nervousness and sedate the person.

It is believed that massage with neroli essential oil also helps alleviate shock, anger, depression and exhaustion. The oil is thus popular for the psychological effect it has on the person using it. (4)

A study conducted in 1994 by the Psychology and Counselling Department of Marywood University showed that neroli had a physiologically relaxing effect (using parameters such as heart rate, skin conductance, etc.) on women who were participants of the experiment. (5)

4. Rose Hip
Rose hips are the fruits of the rose plant, particularly the Rosa canina. Rose petals as well as rose hips are found useful in management of insomnia, depression and fatigue. Rose hips are popular for their use in aromatherapy for reconditioning the nervous system. (6)

Some clinical studies have shown that the use of Rose essential oil is helpful in bringing down the feelings of anxiety and fear in pregnant women. This, along with the finding that the essential oil of rose promotes a feeling of wellbeing, relaxes the person and promotes sound sleep. (7)

5. Hops
Hops are the seed cones of the plant hops, or Humulus lupulus. They have been grown in and around Germany, Greece and Rome since very old times for their use in beer manufacturing.

It’s medicinal use is similar to that of valerian. In other words, it is used by complementary and alternative therapists in the management of insomnia, restlessness and nervousness.

The resin-like bitter extracts with strong odour, humulone and lupulone, give the plant its sedative property. (8) Drops of hops can be put on the pillow of a person afflicted with insomnia to promote good and restful sleep. (9)


1. German Chamomile; University of Maryland – Medical Center; Web May 2012;

2. Silexan, An Orally Administered Lavandula Oil Preparation, Is Effective In The Treatment Of 'Subsyndromal' Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial; PubMed.gov - NCBI; Web May 2012;

3. Lavender; Medline Plus; Web May 2012;

4. Neroli; Suzanne Bovenizer CMT, CST; Web May 2012;

5. Role of suggestion in odor-induced mood change; PubMed.gov; Web May 2012;

6. Rose; Herbs2000; May 2012;

7. Aromatherapy; University of Maryland Medical Center; Web May 2012;

8. Insomnia; The Herbs Place; Web May 2012;

9. Herbs And Natural Remedies For Insomnia; Christopher Hobbs; Web May 2012;


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer: ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1 (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman: ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2 (Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.amazon.com/Mentor-Your-Mind-Tested-Mantras/dp/8120759737/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1316063179&sr=8-1) and the upcoming Women’s Complete Fitness Guide (Publisher: Hay House India).

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites.

She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation.

Please visit www.mamtasingh.com/

Reviewed May 28, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment4 Comments

Thank you World Vitae for your inputs! Much appreciate them and you taking the time to read the article here at EmpowHer.

It is true Ashwagandha is one of the potent herbs that is believed to help one with better quality of sleep. There are many other herbs as well (such as Valerian, Chamomile, Passion Flower, Lemon Balm, Kava Kava etc) which could not find mention in the '5 Herbal Sleep Aids'.


June 16, 2012 - 9:43pm

Missed one of my favorites: ashwagandha! It is an herb from Indian/Ayurveda traditional medicine that's super useful for creating calm, reducing anxiety and stress, relieving depression, and curing insomnia.

Beyond that, its uses go on and on and on...

June 15, 2012 - 11:41am

I have been having the problem of insomnia since my schooling days. But as I read this article about these five herbal sleep aids I now realize that there were times when my sleep improved quite considerably. And these were the times when I used lavender and also later when I used hops. In retrospect I see that these occurrences coincided. I used to wonder about the cause of these changes in my sleep patterns. Thank you for giving these tips.


June 3, 2012 - 11:06pm

All of these tend to have some effect. Not everyone will get same effect thats where these kind of get lost. But they do have an effect. I have seen it firsthand.


June 1, 2012 - 10:58am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.