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Natural Remedies for Insomnia

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Updated April 04, 2014

9) Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herbal home remedy, brewed as a tea or taken as a supplement, that is commonly used to reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality and act as a sedative. 

Although further research is needed to explore this herb's effect on sleep, studies measuring sleep quality have found no difference between people taking valerian and those taking a placebo. A, however a sizable number of those in the studies anecdotally reported that their sleep quality improved with valerian. 

Valerian is thought to affect levels of one of the calming neurotransmitters in the body, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also relieves muscle spasms and is thought to help alleviate menstrual period pain. 

Valerian is typically taken an hour before bed. A standard dose is 450 mg. If taken during the day, valerian may result in drowsiness - it is often taken in two to three 300 mg doses with meals. 

Find out more about Valerian.

10) Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) is a tea and herbal supplement that is said to relieve anxiety and calm the nerves. One study suggests that lemon balm may help with anxiety-related insomnia. A lemon balm extract (300mg at breakfast and 300mg at dinner) reduced insomnia largely due to the reduction in anxiety, and also decreased agitation, hyperexcitation, guilt, and fatigue. 

MORE: What You Need to Know About Lemon Balm.

11) Acupuncture

Acupuncture may help with insomnia. A University of Pittsburgh analysis concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for insomnia. A preliminary study found that five weeks of acupuncture increase melatonin secretion in the evening and improved total sleep time.

See my article on acupuncture.

12) Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness. This syndrome is not necessarily related to kidney disease in Western medicine. A few signs of kidney energy weakness are low back ache, tiredness and fatigue, and a burst of energy at about 11 pm in the evening. Women in menopause often experience this type of insomnia. People who are taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen also experience this type of insomnia, however, they should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang that may increase estrogen levels.

13) Ayurveda

In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a vata imbalance. Vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a vata imbalance often notice irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia. One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For the pitta type, room temperature coconut oil is used, for the vata type, warm sesame oil is applied, and for the kapha type, warm mustard oil is often applied.

14) Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is an herb that may help to reduce muscle tension, soothe digestion, and reduce anxiety which may help induce sleep. Sip a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner, but don't drink it too close to bed or you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Hopspassionflower, and ashwagandha are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. 

Other Natural Remedies

  • For hot flashes, a thin, flat foam pillow insert, called a Chillow, can help to cool the head throughout the night.
  • Gentle, slow music is another remedy that can help to improve sleep. Music therapy has been found to improve sleep quality, decrease nightly wakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
  • Although kava is sometimes recommended for anxiety-related insomnia, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury resulting from the use of dietary supplements containing kava. To date, there have been more than 25 reports of serious adverse effects from kava use in other countries, including four patients who required liver transplants. For more about kava, read my article Kava: What You Need to Know.
  • Lack of exercise can contribute to poor sleep. Muscle tension and stress build in the body. Exercise can promote deep sleep that night. However, intense exercise too close to bed can increase adrenaline levels, leading to insomnia.

Improve Your Bedroom Feng Shui

Feng shui, which originates in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, instructs on how to arrange rooms, furniture, offices, houses, and other arrangements to maximize favorable energy flow throughout living spaces. Get my 6 feng shui tips for your bedroom.

Before starting any natural remedies, consult your doctor. Chronic insomnia can be a symptom of another condition, such as depression, heart disease, sleep apnea, lung disease, hot flashes, or diabetes, so it's important to see a doctor if you're having trouble sleeping.

Sources

Bootzin RR and Stevens SJ. Adolescents, substance abuse, and the treatment of insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Clin Psychol Rev. 2005;25(5):629-644.

Buscemi N, Vandermeer B, Hooton N, Pandya R, Tjosvold L, Hartling L, Vohra S, Klassen TP, Baker G. Efficacy and safety of exogenous melatonin for secondary sleep disorders and sleep disorders accompanying sleep restriction: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2006 Feb 18;332(7538):385-93.

Khalsa SB. Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: a preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2004 Dec;29(4):269-78.

Lewith GT, Godfrey AD, Prescott P. A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. J Altern Complement Med. 2005 Aug;11(4):631-7.

Lemoine P, Nir T, Laudon M, Zisapel N. Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects. J Sleep Res. 2007 Dec;16(4):372-80.

Ma L, Lin S, Chen R, Zhang Y, Chen F, Wang X. Evaluating therapeutic effect in symptoms of moderate-to-severe premenstrual syndrome with Vitex agnus castus (BNO 1095) in Chinese women. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2010 Apr;50(2):189-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2010.01137.x.

Spence DW, Kayumov L, Chen A, Lowe A, Jain U, Katzman MA, Shen J, Perelman B, Shapiro CM. Acupuncture increases nocturnal melatonin secretion and reduces insomnia and anxiety: a preliminary report. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2004 Winter;16(1):19-28.

Sok SR, Erlen JA, Kim KB. Effects of acupuncture therapy on insomnia. J Adv Nurs. 2003 Nov;44(4):375-84.

Lemoine P, Nir T, Laudon M, Zisapel N. Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects. J Sleep Res. 2007 Dec;16(4):372-80.

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