What You Need to Know About Herbal Sleeping Pills.

If you’ll pardon the play on words, insomnia can be a nightmare and finding a solution is vital if you’re to maintain your quality of life.  Perhaps you’re starting to know about some of the problems people have when they can’t sleep and have been looking for ways to get to sleep for some time.

There are, of course, sleeping pills from the doctor and we look at 3 of the most popular prescription sleeping pills in the link above.  But doctors are often reluctant to prescribe sedatives for many reasons and trying a herbal remedy to help you sleep might be a good idea.

HOWEVER, there are 3 important points to remember about herbal sleeping pills and other complimentary or alternative therapies:

  • Don’t be fooled into thinking that herbal sleeping remedies are harmless.  There are as many poisons in nature as there are in the pharmacy cupboard if they aren’t taken correctly, so always use the right dose and if in doubt, ask an expert herbalist.
  • Herbal drugs are not regulated by the FDA (US), MHRA (UK) or your country’s drug regulating body and their dosing and formulation can vary.
  • If you’re taking other meds for other conditions, always ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s safe to take herbal preparations as well.

Here are some of the most popular herbal sleeping pills and preparation available.


Melatonin is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and is released from a gland in the brain.  It regulates our daily waking and sleeping rhythms and levels of melatonin are highest in the evening before bedtime.

There is some scientific data to suggest that melatonin can decrease the time it takes for you to fall asleep, increase the time you spend asleep and increases a feeling of sleepiness.  There are ongoing studies into its use to help older people and people with depression sleep better and it’s also used by people who travel across time zones to help with jetlag.

What are the risks associated with melatonin?

  • Like most herbal and dietary supplements, melatonin hasn’t been tested for long-term use.  Short term studies suggest that using it for up to 3 months is safe.
  • Some people say that they have a lasting grogginess.
  • Some people say they have some depression with melatonin.

What’s the right dose of melatonin?

Information from WebMD says that doses of 0.1mg to 0.3mg are fine for most people and taking fast-release formulation is better than the slower-release tablets.


Valerian is another herbal extract and often used by herbalists for insomnia and anxiety.  The good thing about it is that many people report that they don’t have the morning ‘hangover’ or grogginess.

Who responds best to valerian?

Studies show that valerian isn’t very good for people who have isolated periods of insomnia but is better for those who suffer from it in the longer term.  Taking it over a period of time, about 4 weeks or more is recommended, makes it more effective.

What are the risks of taking valerian?

  • A few people do say they have headache in the morning after taking valerian.
  • A few studies show that some people report problems with thinking/problem solving after taking it.
  • There are no reports of addiction with valerian and no interactions with alcohol.

Kava kava.

Kava is also used for the relief of stress, anxiety and insomnia.  It works by making you more relaxed and doesn’t hinder your memory functioning.

What are the risks of taking kava kava?

  • Its use as a sedative has been played down as it is now considered unsafe as there have been many cases of liver cirrhosis, liver failure and hepatitis.


Tryptophan is found in high protein foods.  It’s one of the components of serotonin which is a mood stabiliser and something that helps us fall asleep.  Look here for an article about tryptophan-rich foods.  It’s thought that consuming more of it helps to boost the body’s production of serotonin.

However in some studies people who took tryptophan as a herbal supplement developed skin tightening, joint pain, muscle weakness and muscle aches, anxiety and depression.  Studies for its use as a cure for insomnia is ongoing but it may be safer to eat more tryptophan-rich foods.


5-hydroxytryptophan is also a component of serotonin.

What are the risks of taking 5-HTP?

  • Some scientific studies haven’t shown a benefit for people with insomnia.
  • Other studies have shown an improvement in symptoms of depression and insomnia.
  • Other studies still have shown that it can help people with appetite problems and pain problems.

Always follow the dosing on the packet and talk to your doctor if you’re taking other meds.

Other possible sedative herbs:

  • Catnip – this stimulant that cats love can have the opposite effect on humans.
  • Passionflower (maypop) has been shown to have a calming effect, especially for those with ‘nervous’ stomach conditions, and a sedative effect in some people.
  • Camomile has been used for centuries and can be bought as a tea infusion (German camomile) or tincture (Roman camomile).  It makes people feel more relaxed and prepared for sleep.

Remember that like prescription medications, the effects of herbal preparations may vary and they are not safe just because they’re natural products. ALWAYS read the label and consult a qualified herbalist.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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