If you've spent too many hours in bed lately tossing and turning, with frequent glances at the clock to calculate how much sleep you’ll get if you can just manage to drift off NOW, you might be tempted to reach for a prescription or OTC sleeping aid to get you through the night. While sleeping medications have their place, most leave you feeling groggy and unrefreshed the next day. If you know your insomnia is due to stress from the daily grind—not from a medical issue better addressed by... your doctor—why not try a few natural methods to calm your mind and body before reaching for drugs? Along with yoga and meditation, herbs can be very effective in quieting your overactive mind and relaxing your body enough for that trip to dreamland.
01 of 08
Valerian has been prized since ancient times for its effectiveness at reducing anxiety, sleeplessness, and restless feelings. The active ingredient is unknown; most likely, an interaction between several components of the plant produces its sedating effect. Valerian is helpful for difficulty in falling asleep and also to prevent nighttime waking.
Valerian is usually taken in capsule form, as it has a strong smell and unpleasant flavor. You’ll often find it combined with other calming herbs, especially hops and passionflower.
02 of 08
The unusual blooms look beautiful in your garden, but passionflower has uses that go far beyond looking pretty. The dried flowers, leaves and stems increase levels of GABA in the brain, leading to a relaxed, calm mood, and reducing insomnia and anxiety.
The flavor of passionflower tea isn’t for everyone – it’s often described as tasting like grass or hay. You can improve the flavor by adding honey or choosing an herbal sleep tea that combines better-tasting herbs with the passionflower. You can also take it in capsule form, or as a concentrated tincture.
03 of 08
The daisy-like flowers of chamomile have been used for centuries to relieve anxiety and insomnia and improve a person’s overall mood. The plant contains a flavonoid called apeginin that has a similar effect on the brain as prescription benzodiazepines like Xanax. Unlike Xanax, however, chamomile is non-addictive, mild, and soothes your busy mind without morning grogginess or fatigue.
Steep the dried flowers in hot water for ten minutes to brew a mild, pleasant cup of tea. Add a bit of honey to make the tea even more soothing before bedtime. If tea isn’t your preference, you can also take chamomile capsules, inhale the concentrated oil, or even add the oil to a warm bath.
04 of 08
You might know hops best as the flavoring ingredient in beer, but the dried flowers have also been used for centuries to calm the mind and promote sleep. The active ingredient in hops is believed to be methylbutenol, a mild sedative.
While you can brew hops tea, the flavor is strong and rather bitter. Most people prefer to take hops in capsule form. You’ll usually find it combined with valerian, as the two herbs complement each other in their calming effects. Another option is stuffing a small cloth bag with dried hops flowers and placing the bag near your pillow while you sleep.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
You might have to fight Mittens for a dose of catnip; the plant is renowned for its stimulating effect on felines. While cats seem to go crazy after a taste of catnip, humans react to the active ingredient, nepetalactone, in just the opposite manner. Catnip is used as a sedative, a sleep aid, and a remedy for tension headaches.
A member of the mint family, catnip makes a pleasantly flavored, mild tea that is tasty on its own or mixed with other calming herbs. You can also take catnip extract or capsules if you prefer not to drink tea.
06 of 08
This pleasantly lemon-flavored member of the mint family contains several flavonoids that work to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve memory and help soothe an upset stomach. It’s often combined with other herbs that are known for their mood-lifting, stress-reducing effects, particularly valerian, hops, and chamomile.
Try lemon balm tea for a pleasant before-bedtime drink. You can also take it in capsule or tincture form. You’ll often find it sold by its botanical name, Melissa officinalis, or just as Melissa.
07 of 08
One of the most well-known herbs for promoting sleep and reducing stress is lavender. The distinctive fragrance comes from aromatic volatile oils, which reduce blood pressure, calm the mind, and encourage deep levels of restful sleep.
Lavender is most often used dried in dream pillows, or as an essential oil added to the bath, diffused into the bedroom, or sprayed onto the bed linens. You can also drink lavender tea or take it in capsule form.
08 of 08
Although it’s a member of the poppy family, the active components of California poppy are bioactive alkaloids, not opiates. Once dry, the pretty orange petals and lacy foliage of California’s state flower are mildly sedating and reduce pain, insomnia, and anxiety.
While you can make California poppy tea, the taste is bitter and you’ll find better relief from taking capsules or a concentrated tincture of the herb.