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  • Dr Thor Conner

Natural Remedies for Sleep

Conventional (pharmacological) sleep aids often carry fairly harsh side effect, most at least make you groggy the next day. Ambien has been known to cause sleep walking (and sleep eating). They can be habit forming and even dangerous in combination with alcohol (or each other). They mostly work, at least.

Does that mean all-natural or herbal sleep aids are a better choice? Sure, there’s evidence that they can hold their own in clinical use against drugs and placebo and they do seem less toxic and less prone to dependency. But they’re not a substitute for practicing good sleep hygiene. Instead, think of them as potential tools to make your smart sleep habits work even harder.

Here are some sleep promoting herbal remedies:

Chamomile tea. Simple, tasty, and effective. Chamomile tea has been used as a sleep aid since the Romans stole it from the Etruscans, but it’s more than just a folk remedy. Chamomile is a mild sedative (a nervine), a calmative for nerves, anxiety reducer, and a treatment for insomnia. It is safe to make your tea as strong as it needs to be, 2 or 3 teabags per cup is still safe. Although if you need it stronger you might want to consider a tincture.

Valerian is another herb that comes from folk tradition to easy anxiety and promote relaxation. The root has been shown to be effective in studies and the mechanism of the herb is well understood, it will help people doze off faster and sleep more soundly. Great for temporary use valerian is not the best for long term use. One common misconception about valerian is that it is the herbal source for valium, and though the words and indeed the end results of the drug and the root are similar, they are completely different substances chemically. Also, cats love it like it was catnip.

Kava kava comes to us from the Pacific Islands, where the ‘nakamal’ is used for promoting relaxation and conversation. Kava is great for relieving anxiety associated with an unquiet mind and helping to clarify dreams, promoting restful sleep more than falling or staying asleep. The alkaline flavor of the kava lactones can be unpleasant for some, it makes your whole mouth tingly, but the flavor and odor is part of the way this herb works. Concern about the effects of kava on the liver come from one corrupted batch and have not been shown outside of the one incident in the late 80s that has been explained as a residual solvent in the tincture.

The tropical Passion flower is a mild sedative with a sweet flavor and aroma. In tea or tincture passiflora is delicious. California poppy is the herbal choice for people who just don’t feel tired at bedtime and want a sluggish and lethargic feeling to help them get to sleep. Cannabis and CBD in low doses can deliver a great night’s sleep if there is an underlying endocannabinoid deficiency. Many times a combination formula of these herbs will be what is needed.

Melatonin is a hormone we make in our pineal gland (in our brains) that can be taken in supplement form for sleeplessness. It is available in capsules, chewable tabs, or as a spray, often in low doses (1, 2.5, 3 and 5 mg). Melatonin is safe for long term use, there is no mechanism that builds up a tolerance or dependence in our bodies. Doses up to 30 mg/day are safely used in other therapies (oncology).

The amino acid tryptophan and the plant sourced 5-HTP (5-hydroxy tryptophan) are precursors of melatonin, and can be another good way to boost melatonin (and serotonin) production in the body. A good natural melatonin booster is to expose your eyes to direct sunlight for a few minutes each day. The photons knock off an electron changing melanotrypsin into melatonin, similarly to how vitamin D is activated by sunlight.

Using a substance to help you sleep is not the best long term solution to consistently disturbed sleep. Insomnia can be a big disruption to your determinants of health and chronic sleep disturbances need to be addressed. If the basics of sleep hygiene don’t improve symptoms, your naturopathic doctor can help find and treat the cause safely and effectively.

Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let those bed bugs bite!