I have received a number of enquiries from people asking about sleep herbs and whether there are any herbal sleep aids they can take. I have experience of three herbs in particular that are regularly prescribed as holistic alternatives to sleeping pills and over the counter sleep aids, so here is a brief overview of each herb and its potential benefits and side effects.
1. Ashwagandha Root
Traditionally Ashwagandha Root was used as an aphrodisiac, but in the modern day it has been become popular in treating insomnia and other aspects of health such as senile dementia and ulcers.
Ashwagandha Root has a calming property and in pill form people report a state of relaxation within a couple of hours of taking a 500mg pill. Although used as a sleep aid, Ashwagandha can be used to reduce fatigue and increase concentration levels; which suggests it isn't a magic pill that puts you to sleep, but rather a relaxant that complements the sleep-wake cycle.
Those experiencing stress, anxiety and nervous exhaustion will also benefit from Ashwagandha Root.
Ashwagandha Side Effects
Ashwagandha Root side effects are rare, yet there have been a few cases of a rise in body temperature, nausea and irritation in the gastrointestinal system. Most reports say that Ashwagandha is safe to take daily, although physicians recommend taking a break after two months of continuous consumption.
2. Passion Flower
Passion Flower, also know as Apricot Vine and Maypop Herb, is commonly found in the woods of the United Sates. A long vine plant, it grows to 30 feet in length and blooms from May to July producing flowers and a yellow, ovate seed plenty berry.
The Passion Flower is known for its mild sedative effect that is said to encourage sleep. It has been successfully prescribed for people who experience sleep cramps and those who have trouble achieving uninterrupted sleep.
The Passion Flower was used historically by the Indians of Peru and Brail as a medicinal sedative which gives credence to its usefulness for deep sleep, and in this respect it is more of a targeted sleep herb that Ashwagandha.
Passion Flower Side Effects
Side effects are rare, but if an overdose is ingested a person may experience fatigue, nausea, drowsiness and/or vomiting. That said, the Passion Flower has been passed as safe for inclusion in food by the FDA.
3. Valerian Extract
Valerian is a perennial plant native to Europe and Asia. Many scientific studies have shown that Valerian can reduce sleep latency and aid in achieving deeper sleep.
It is also prescribed for anxiety, nervousness and headaches. Valerian is available in pill form, a tea and a liquid extract. Positively, it has been classified as GRAS (generally recognised as safe) for food use in the United States and the UK.
Valerian Extract Side Effects
The problem with Valerian is that it has mixed reviews and confusing side effects. For example, even though scientific based research suggest that Valerian promotes sleep, some users have claimed it caused sleeplessness. Strange. Other reported side effects include headaches (strange as it is often prescribed for reducing headaches), muscle spasms, heart palpitations and dizziness.
My Opinion on Sleep Herbs
All these herbs are safe supplements and have passed as so by the FDA. I have taken Passion Flower and Ashwagandha and found them both mildly effective, though it takes a couple of days to work into your system. I find that Ashwagandha helps massively with concentration levels through the day too.
So if you're going through a stressful period and not sleeping then by all means try these herbs to help you relax and sleep better. However, for those suffering habitual insomnia, don’t expect a miracle sleep cure; there is no magic sleep herb for deep-rooted insomnia.
Of course it is better to take a natural herb to improve sleep quality than a sleeping pill, and without doubt I am in full support of natural medicine over sleeping pills. But in addition to these natural remedies, you should implement a routine of good sleep hygiene, which ultimately will remap your sleep-wake cycle and help you get deeper, more restorative sleep.