Sleep is important. Another foundation to good health like nutrition, hydration, and exercise, the benefit of sleep should not be overlooked in your self-care routine whatsoever.
What lack of sleep can cause (and this includes sleep deprivation) could include inflammation, low energy, difficulty with cognitive functions, and even mental health issues like anxiety— which can then lead to even worse sleep issues! It can also cause a lot more issues than just these.
Getting better sleep involves making important decisions, both big and little. The big ones could involve getting into a better sleep routine or taking better care of your mental health— while the little ones go a long way too, such as looking into the best herbs and nutrients if you cannot sleep for a little nighttime support.
Don’t know where to start? Here are some of the most popular and effective natural remedies and nutrients for sleep, according to both traditional herbal knowledge and science.
This vining plant, a favorite ingredient in bitter beers, has also been used throughout history to help bring sweet, sweet sleep. There are many different varieties of hops, each filled with many different types of compounds (or phytochemicals) that have an effect on the central nervous system in soothing, sometimes even sedating ways.
Herbalists and other natural practitioners will be quick to give testament that hops is a great and gentle natural remedy for sleep soothing. But what does the science say? This study showed that a mixture of hops compounds did a great deal to help with certain sleep disorders. According to science, it works!
Another vining plant but tropical in nature, the passion vine yields deliciously sweet fruits. But before that, its stunning, complex, and bizarre purple and white flowers can offer something incredible: improved sleep. In tea or extract form, passionflower has long been celebrated as a sleep remedy and good for anxiety and depression, too.
In one double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, passionflower was shown to help people with insomnia disorders— a very impressive feat for a humble plant. Specifically, the use of passionflower was shown to extend peoples’ sleep time by quite a bit compared to a placebo.
Could a flower like lavender be beneficial to the sleep cycle, too? Apparently, yes: this purple bloom, long associated with soothing calm and serenity, has aromas that are both known and used to sedate in practices like herbalism and aromatherapy.
So it’s no surprise that these soothing properties could help with sleep as well, along with high energy states such as nervousness or anxiety. In a major review of therapeutic uses of the lavender plant (both supplements and aromatherapy products), the results showed that lavender had a great effect on a wide number of issues related to mental health, including sleep issues.
Lemon balm (a relative of the mint family) is another powerful contender for helping with sleep. In one big scientific review on the benefits of the plant, evidence for lemon balm’s perks to sleeping were mentioned an incredible number of times: for helping with falling asleep, sleep disorders, and improving sleep quality (particularly with women experiencing hormone-related sleep issues due to menopause).
For centuries (if not millennia), lemon balm has been used as a calming, quieting tea for the nerves, with a minty-lemony taste. Lemon balm is also effective for other mental health-related issues, such as depression and anxiety.
No herbal tea is more associated with sleep and calm than sunny chamomile. Not unlike lemon balm, there are many studies supporting this daisy-like annual herb’s impacts on better sleep— though one intriguing study, in particular, showed chamomile, too, had a powerful effect on sleep and sleep disorders in women experiencing menopause.
Chamomile also boasts such a pleasant taste and fragrance when consumed as a homely and comforting tea. In itself, chamomile is a source of soothing nostalgia for many with its apple-like flavor, which adds even more to its calming benefits and relaxing mystique.
While it may not be an aromatic or great-tasting sleep remedy like chamomile, lavender, or lemon balm, many herbalists and users of valerian will say that this herb is the absolute king of helping with sleep issues.
As a tea, supplement, or extract, valerian can bring feelings of calm and sleepiness almost immediately to many. However, watch out: in a select few, taking valerian can cause the opposite, such as giddiness and wakefulness! In one of the most recent major reviews of the herb, it was unanimous: the effects of valerian on sleep are unmistakably powerful and worth trying if you struggle with getting enough shut-eye.
A close runner-up behind valerian for sleep, skullcap is considered a premier remedy for anxiety and can thus alleviate sleep as well if it’s related to anxiety. That said, this effect on the central nervous system means it’s very likely that skullcap has great effects on other types of sleep as well, and it’s certainly been used traditionally and by natural practitioners for such.
In one fascinating study, skullcap was mixed with romaine lettuce and was tested for treating sleep disorders. The result showed that the herb contributed to far better sleep time in test subjects— including those who had taken caffeine prior to going to sleep!
This herb is best known for its adaptogenic benefits and its legendary reputation for promoting long life. Traditionally in India, the herb was used as a daily tonic, and indeed people in these regions that use holy basil regularly were observed to live longer on average than people elsewhere.
But one notable trait about holy basil: it seems to have a special affinity with the nervous system, helping heal stress, anxiety, and, yes, possibly even sleep when used over the long term (not unlike a vitamin or supplement for sleep). In fact, one study demonstrated this possibility, showing that holy basil helped increase Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep in test subjects, a sleep stage that indicates deep, restful, and restorative sleep.
This phytochemical is one of many powerful antioxidants that explains the health benefits of green tea, one of the most popular and widely-consumed beverages in the world (up there with coffee and water)!
L-theanine is shown in studies to have effects on GABA receptors in the brain, which help promote deep and restful sleep. In the study, too, the use of l-theanine with test subjects showed that it helped them sleep longer and sleep better (higher quality sleep).
One could call melatonin the “ultimate nutrient” for improving sleep and banishing sleeplessness, according to research! While it can be taken as a supplement, melatonin isn’t a “nutrient” per se: in fact, it’s found right within our own bodies as a sleep-boosting neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our sleep and wake cycles. The more melatonin you have, the easier it is to experience more restorative sleep.
But we can also take manmade amounts of melatonin in supplements (or some from foods, such as berries) if we need more and struggle with sleep.
You can find melatonin and many of the other botanicals in this article (such as holy basil, hops, and chamomile) in our Sleep Defense powder supplement!