For occasional insomnia, the following herbs and supplements (found at natural-food stores) may be especially effective. Be sure to discuss supplements you're interested in with your health-care practicer.
Probably the most well-known herb for sleep, valerian works by calming the nerves and relaxing the muscles. Since it's often described as smelling like dirty socks, take it "down the hatch" as a dropperful of tincture or a 500-mg capsule rather than sipping it as a tea. Keep in mind that for some people, valerian has a stimulating effect; try it on a weekend, just in case. You'll know quickly whether valerian works for you. If you're taking sedatives or medicine for depression or anxiety, use valerian only under the guidance of a health-care professional.
This supplement is synthesized to match a hormone produced within the pineal gland, a pea-sized organ in our brain that regulates the body's internal clock. Melatonin supplements "can be helpful for shifting bodies back into a rhythm," says Donald Yance, an Oregon-based clinical herbalist and certified nutritionist. Though 3 mg supplements are commonly sold in stores, he advises patients to start with 1 mg. Yance cautions against using too much, saying "it's not wise to use a hormone as a drug." As with valerian, you should notice the effects of melatonin quickly.
Found naturally in green tea, this amino acid raises levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a relaxation-inducing chemical in our brains, and can ease anxiety-induced insomnia without grogginess. Yance often recommends 200 to 600 mg before bed to his patients. You should feel the effects quickly.
For a relaxing bedtime beverage, Yance suggests combining several herbs as follows: Passionflower and skullcap soothe agitated nervous systems and can help with mental chatter; oat seed strengthens the nervous system and helps people who are too tired to sleep; and chamomile provides a gently relaxing base.
1 chamomile tea bag
30 to 60 drops passionflower tincture
15 to 30 drops skullcap tincture
15 to 30 drops milky oat seed (Avena sativa) tincture
Pour boiling water over tea bag and let steep for five minutes. Remove tea bag, and add drops of tincture to tea. Stir in a touch of honey if desired. Sip and enjoy.
Text by Sarah Schmelling