By Lace / September 27, 2018

5 Ancient Herbal Remedies for Insomnia that Work

Tried of being tired? Sick of being unable to sleep or stay asleep? Fed up with taking sleep meds only to find you need more to fall asleep next time?  You're not alone, far from it in fact and while that in itself may be of little comfort, there is good news. There are herbal remedies for insomnia and its related triggers, remedies that have been used for centuries and you can use them too. Read on to learn about 5 herbal remedies for insomnia and how you can relieve your sleep disturbances with nature. 


The UK's Growing Sleep Problem

insomnia sleep problems

Modern life can be manic and proper sleep is something many of us just don't get. Life is fast paced and time always seems to be lacking. Everywhere we look there's doom, gloom and fear, be it on the TV, radio, in magazines, newspapers or social media. Many of us are worrying about things that haven't even happened yet and may not even happen at all. It's little wonder you can't sleep and society is seeing a growing problem with insomnia. 

In 2017 the Avia Well Being Report revealed 16 million people in the UK said they have sleep problems. A whopping 31% said they suffer with insomnia. Prescriptions for sleeping pills are often readily handed out as solution, albeit a warped one, to the UK's growing sleep problems. But before you succumb to the little pills let's go 'old skool' and consider some natural, herbal alternatives. You know, the stuff we used before big pharma was a thing. 

For thousands of years herbal remedies have been used successfully to treat insomnia and sleep disturbances and are far safer than say, your zolpiderm or temazepam. Herbal approaches are gentle, don't come with encyclopedia sized lists of side effects and are definitely worth considering before reaching for the little white pills.

​So without rabbiting on further, let's explore 5 herbal remedies for insomnia well used in traditional medicine by our ancestors. Let's see what modern science has to say about hem and look at how they could help you beat insomnia and improve sleep quality, naturally. 

1. Lavender

lavender herbal remedy for insomnia

Lavender is a beautiful flowering plant, well known for it's healing and calming properties which has been used for centuries for promoting sleep and relaxation. Lavender essential oil is one of the most well known and widely used essential oils. I consider it an absolute staple for my natural medicine cabinet because it's an amazing 'all rounder'. Known for reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation lavender is very effective at promoting sleep. 

In 2015 Nursing in Critical Care Journal published a study conducted with patients in ICU, whom are prone to poor sleep, and effects of lavender essential oil on sleep quality. After initial surveys on their sleep, one group was given lavender essential oil to inhale at night for 15 days and the other group had nothing to inhale. Surveys were then taken again and results showed the group inhaling lavender essential oil had significantly improved sleep quality and reduced levels of anxiety.  An earlier British study in 2005 found favour in lavender for improving sleep in insomnia patients noting that women and younger participants with milder cases of insomnia appeared to benefit most. 

When buying essential oils choose quality non GMO brands for best results, I use and recommend this brand. My favourite way to use essential oils like lavender is to diffuse them. Not sure what I am on about? I explain what diffusers are and the benefits of owning one in this post. Alternatively, use essential oils in the bath, in body butters and as a remedy to roll applied to the forehead and temples before bed.


  • Lavender is relaxing and calming
  • Reduces stress and promotes sleep
  • Inhaling lavender essential oil improves sleep quality
  • Choose organic pure essential oils 

Visit my Neal's Yard Remedies Organic online shop for sleep promoting organic goodies. As well as our gorgeous beauty sleep range which includes the deeply nourishing Beauty Sleep Body Butter, you'll find essential oils including Lavender and beautiful diffusers to get you set up for  a restful night's sleep.

Got a question or need a consultation? Holla at me and I'll be glad to help you out!

goodnight pillow mist

Image courtesy of Neal's Yard Remedies Organic

2. Lemon Balm

lemon balm for sleep

Lemon balm is a perennial herb belonging to the mint family. It's leaves produce a gorgeous lemony scent and the plant provides a show of subtle white flowers during the summer months. It also has antiviral properties making it useful for treating cold sores and for centuries has been used to treat sleep problems, insomnia, restlessness, anxiety and digestive disturbances. 

A 2011 study in the Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism concluded Lemon Balm would make a sensible treatment for those with mild to moderate sleep disturbances and anxiety. This approach would sedative drugs and their serious side effects and reduce instances of sleep medication tolerance/addiction. You don't need a prescription for this awesome little herb, you can grow it in your garden but I warn you now - it's vigorous!

You can use the leaves fresh or dry in tea preparations by simply infusing the leaves in hot water. You'll also find lemon balm as an essential oil, tincture and in capsules. Whatever you do, do NOT take Lemon Balm (or any other herbal remedy/plant medicine) alongside sleep medication, you don't need a double dose of hypnotics. 

When it comes to sleep, Lemon Balm is said to work exceptionally well when combined with Valerian - which we'll look at next. 

l-theanine-lemon balm herbal sleep supplement

L-Theanine Lemon Balm Herbal Sleep Supplement


  • Used for Centuries for Sleep Problems, Insomnia and Anxiety
  • Antiviral and Smells Gorgeous
  • Natural Alternative to Sleep Medication
  • Take as a Tea, Tincture or Capsules
  • Works Well Combined with Valerian 

3. Valerian

valerian root

Another age old herb known for promoting sleep and reducing anxiety is Valerian. This tall pretty flower is harvested for its roots as this is where its magic lies. It acts on the brain in a similar way to pharmaceutical hypnotics to induce sleep, the difference being Valerian is natural and sleep meds are not and come with a long list of side effects, create tolerance and dependency, whereas Valerian is considered safe with no known toxicity. Even at 20 times the recommended dose.

A 2011 study on adults with insomnia reported sleeping 36% better after taking just one dose of Valerian root. Additionally, over the 2 weeks the participants took Valerian they experienced an increased amount of deep sleep. 

Valerian anti anxiety properties make it helpful to those who find anxiety is playing a part in their sleeplessness. As you know, the ability to relax is key for falling into a restful slumber.  Most often you'll encounter Valerian in capsules but it was traditionally brewed as a tea. The taste is said to be unpleasant and strong, probably explains the popularity of capsule form!

valerian root sleep aid

Organic Valerian Root 400mg Sleep Aid


  • Used since ancient times for sleep and anxiety 
  • Quick acting 
  • Increases deep sleep 
  • Strong tasting, consider capsules 

4. Chamomile 

chamomile for insomnia

One of the oldest and most widely used herbs in medicine is Chamomile. Chamomile belongs to the daisy family and has an abundance of healing properties. It has medicinally for centuries to treat inflammation, hay fever, healing wounds, digestive problems and insomnia. Before sleep meds were "in",  in the days predating big pharma drug dealers, the "plant dealers" would use chamomile tea or essential oil to treat insomnia because of it's ability to induce sleep. This property has gained chamomile recognition as a mild tranquilliser.

Post big pharma and surrounded by all this so called knowledge, there has been little modern day clinical studies on chamomile for sleep since 1973! This 2011 scientific review notes this lack of study and shares brief details of the 45 year old 1973 study which revealed 10 cardiac patients fell into a deep sleep for 90 minutes after drinking chamomile tea. Unfortunately, I couldn't gain access to the original article but it's cited all the same.

I did find a 2011 pilot study that reported mixed results on chamomile for patients with chronic insomnia although they conclude that chamomile could improve daytime functioning and varying levels of benefit on sleep. More recently, this 2017 study on older people found chamomile to positively impact on sleep quality in mild insomnia. 

Try this age old sleep remedy by relaxing with a cup of chamomile tea in the evening. If your have green fingers you might consider growing your own organic chamomile flowers at home. 

chamomile herbal supplement

Chamomile Herbal Supplement


  • Traditional Treatment for Insomnia 
  • Considered a mild tranquilliser 
  • Positively impacts sleep quality 
  • Useful in older people with sleep disturbances

5. Passion Flower

passion flower for insomnia

Passion flowers are not just amazingly beautiful to look at, they have a medicinal qualities that were widely used by our ancestors. Native to the Americas, passionflower has its roots in Native American medicine and was used to heal cuts and bruises. 

A 2013 journal article I dug up details passion flower's medicinal history as being used for pain relief, asthma, anxiety, even epilepsy. Passion flower was used as a sedative in Brazil, Turkey, Poland and Iraq as well as North America and other parts of Europe. The article claims there are lots of problems in the existing research methods and calls for further investigation of what are ancestors already knew. Time and time again it seems the so called 'primitive' people knew all of what we 'advanced folk' now need to research further. I'm having a hard time believing we're the advanced ones because it seems we're lagging waaaaay behind those before us. 

I had a poke around and found that studies on passion flower for sleep are indeed in short supply although I did find the results of a 2011 double blind placebo controlled trial on passionflower tea effects on sleep quality. The trial included otherwise healthy adults aged 18 - 35 years old. One group drank passionflower tea each night while the other group took a placebo, both groups kept a sleep diary. The outcomes showed better sleep quality outcomes for the passion flower group and concludes this beautiful flower benefits sleep quality. 


Organic Passion Flower Capsules


  • Well Known by Our Ancestors for its Medicinal Qualities 
  • Used for Anxiety, Asthma and Pain Relief to Name a Few!
  • Extensively Used as a Sedative and Treating Insomnia
  • Improves Sleep Quality  

5. Ashwagandha


Ashwagandha is a rejuvenating herb that has been used for around 5000 years with its roots Ayurvedic medicine.  Traditional uses of this plant included treating complaints such as rheumatism, stress, constipation and insomnia to name a few.  A rounded shrub belonging to the nightshade family, Ashwagandha is related to the humble tomato and native to the dry regions of India, the Middle East and North Africa. It displays yellow flowers followed by small red fruits and it is the leaves that can help you sleep.

Although not a sedative, Ashwagandha like Passionflower and most of the other herbs mentioned in this post, is known for reducing stress, anxiety and inducing sleep. As we know, reducing these symptoms is key to a good nights sleep. Incredibly, as late a 2017, researchers are doing experiments in MICE with this scared herb and finding what was known as fact 5000 years ago: ashwagandha induces sleep. Wtf? These guys have got some serious catching up to do for all their apparent scientific advancements, for real! Fortunately, the benefits of ashwagandha for reducing cortisol level (stress hormone) and anxiety is better documented within modern science. 

A randomised double blind, placebo controlled study in 2012 on 64 individuals with history of chronic stress were split into 2 groups. One group took 300mg capsules of high concentration, full spectrum ashwagandha root whilsttthe other group took a placebo for 60 days. The group taking ashwaghadha root had significantly reduced cortisol levels and no adverse effects. Sweet. 

So, if your insomnia is stress or anxiety related then Ashwagandha could be a good choice of herb for you and with other benefits like treating joint inflammation, balancing hormones and increasing  sexual energy - and that's just the tip of the iceberg - it's a pretty awesome herb to have to hand. You can find ashwagandha in capsules and in powder form make sure you choose non GMO with no added crap. These are best taken in or with a warm drink before bed, perhaps warm unpasteurised milk from free range, grass fed cows or goats? Or whatever takes your fancy, as long as it's healthy!


Organic Ashwagandha Herbal Supplement


  • Ashwagandha has been used medicinally for approx 5000 years
  • Traditionally used for many complaints including stress and insomina
  • Modern science is "just catching on" to this in 2017
  • Reduces stress and anxiety 
  • Induces sleep but is not considered a seditive

Snuggle Down with Herbs

Our ancestors knew all too well how to combat sleep disorders naturally and herbal remedies offer a safer, more natural approach to big pharma drugs. Insomnia and other sleep problems have been treated successfully with herbal remedies for centuries, modern science has just been little slow to catch on in places. There's no much money in it and herbs aren't as profitable as phrama as they tend to fix problems rather than create side effects needing more drugs! With sleep medication comes a long list of unpleasant side effects and no answers to your sleep problems.

Why not embrace the herbage and save yourself the prescription while taking care of your health. Remember; always contact your physician before  stopping medication or introducing herbal remedies, especially if you have underlying health conditions, are pregnant or nursing. Your health is your responsibility, make informed choices and know the risks.

By identifying your insomnia triggers, e.g. stress or anxiety will help you choose which herbal remedy may a good fit you. And that's not all! There are plenty of other things you can do to banish insomnia and improve your quality of sleep, read up on how you can achieve awesome sleep for FREE HERE! Or visit my Neal's Yard Remedies Organic online shop for all your organic, ethical health and beauty needs as well as great herbal remedies to support a great night's sleep!

Sweet dreams, 


Shop Neal's Yard Remedies Organic

For organic herbal remedies, skincare and aromatherapy for the whole family. Contact me with questions or for a personalised consultation. I'll help you find the best NYRO products to suit your needs!  

Which herbal remedies do you use to sleep? Have you had success with any of these herbs mentioned here? Share your thoughts and share with those who'll appreciate the knowledge!

​This blog post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links may result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). I only recommend products/services I truly believe in and use myself.

About the author


Wife, mother and natural health and wellness enthusiast. When I'm not dabbling in natural stuff, I like to eat brie with onion chutney and mull over a good "coincidence" theory. Cooking up a nutritious storm, books with real pages and being barefoot are a few of my favourite things.

  • Tammy says:

    Hi Lace, another post with great information! I started using Ashwagandha a few months ago for stress and it really works well. I also spray lavender on my sheets and pillow before going to bed, it really relaxes me. Also, reminds me of my childhood; my whole bedroom was lavender purple! 🙂 Thank you for the natural, herbal sleep remedies, very helpful.

    • Lace says:

      Hi Tammy, always lovely to hear from you. I really pleased that you are finding Ashwagandha and Lavender useful. Reducing stress and being able to relax is a key factor in getting better sleep. Isn’t it amazing how our sense of smell can transport us back to in time and hold memories?! Sounds like you are all set for awesome sleep already! Catch up soon, Tammy and thanks for your comments.

  • Steven says:

    Hi Lace!

    I’ve used Camomile tea in the past because I like it and there isn’t any caffeine in it. I was not that aware of these other products as a way to get better night’s sleep. Do you have a favorite? Maybe one that works better for you? Love the site! Great articles! Keep them coming!


    • Lace says:

      Hey Steve, thanks for your comments and great questions! Oooh a favourite? Well, I tend to enjoy chamomile tea like yourself but I am also a sucker for lavender and have lemon balm growing in my garden! So I have options depending on what’s triggered poopy sleep.

      Lots more to come, glad you’re enjoying it!


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