Ashley Wyckoff, Bachelor of Science
Insomnia affects approximately 24 million people, or 10% of the U.S. adult population.1,2 Symptoms of insomnia go beyond just trouble falling asleep; people who experience sleep disturbances also tend to have low energy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and emotional changes.
Since sleep disturbance is such a prevailing problem, there are many options on the market for those affected by insomnia. The good news is there are herbs that have been clinically shown to help. Plus, lifestyle habits can play a role. Get some sleep with these lifestyle hacks and clinically studied herbs!
As with many health conditions, it is important to get to the root cause. Stress, improper sleep hygiene and circadian rhythm imbalance can all cause insomnia. Poor mental health can not only cause one to not be able to fall asleep, but also for the little sleep that one gets to not be replenishing.3 One’s “sleep hygiene” comprises the customs and routines a person has that influences their sleep.4 A circadian rhythm is one’s sleep/wake cycle that can be disturbed by travel, daylight savings and change in routine.3
The Best Herbs for Sleep
Honokiol is a polyphenol found in magnolia bark, leaves and seed cones. It has been found to promote the GABAA receptor, allowing the neurotransmitter to better bind to their active sites.5 The GABAA receptor is fast-acting and results in sedation and reduced stress.6,7
Lemon balm is an herb that is part of the mint family.8 It can help support GABA levels by inhibiting the enzyme that normally degrades it.9
Chamomile is a flower commonly used in herbal infusions. It has been shown to have many benefits due to the high amounts of bioactive components, flavonoids and terpenoids in it. One compound in particular, apigenin, works in the central nervous system to reduce stimulation.10
Ashwagandha is an herb that has been used for thousands of years. It is an adaptogen which allows you to adapt better to stress.11
How to Improve Sleep Hygiene and Circadian Rhythm
Avoid stimulants at night: Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and even the blue light from electronics can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Alcohol, while it can help some people fall asleep, typically results in waking up in the middle of the night. Electronics’ bright lights can cause your body to not produce the melatonin it should at night.12,13
Sleep environment: Make your sleep environment as relaxing as possible. Make sure your room is dark, quiet and comfortable. Try to avoid watching TV, eating or doing other activities in bed. This helps train your body to correlate being in bed to sleeping.14
Yoga/exercise: Exercising regularly can help improve sleep quality and has been shown to support mood.12,15 Yoga can also be a relaxing activity to do before bed or to help your body wake up in the morning.
Keep a sleep/wake routine: It is important to keep a schedule by going to bed and waking up at consistent times, even on the weekend. This helps keep your circadian rhythms in balance. It can also help to have the same routine every night.12
Insomnia comes with more problems than just feeling tired. Inadequate amounts of sleep can lead to depression, cognitive impairment and other illnesses.3,15 However, that does not mean there is nothing to help. Finding the cause of your sleep disturbance and then implementing better sleep hygiene could help you improve your sleep. Stress-reducing herbs can also help you to relax and have higher quality sleep.
About the Author: Ashley Wyckoff, BS, is a product operation specialist at Life Extension headquarters in South Florida. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Florida. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading and yoga to keep her mind and body healthy. She believes in equal access to quality healthcare and it is her goal to make it a reality.
- United States Census Bureau. QuickFacts: United States. Table. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045218. Accessed 7/10/2019.
- Medscape online. News & Perspectives page. What is the prevalence of insomnia? https://www.medscape.com/answers/1187829-70532/what-is-the-prevalence-of-insomnia. Accessed 7/10/2019.
- Mayo Clinic. Insomnia. Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167. Last updated 10/15/2016. Accessed 7/10/2019.
- Yang, Chien-Ming et al. “Maladaptive sleep hygiene practices in good sleepers and patients with insomnia.” J Health Psychol. 2010;15(1):147-55.
- Alexeev, Mikhail et al. “The natural products magnolol and honokiol are positive allosteric modulators of both synaptic and extra-synaptic GABA(A) receptors.” Neuropharmacology vol. 62,8 (2012): 2507-14. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.03.002
- Hasler, Gregor et al. “Effect of acute psychological stress on prefrontal GABA concentration determined by proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 167,10 (2010): 1226-31. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.09070994
- Nutt, D. GABAA Receptors: Subtypes, Regional Distribution, and Function. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2006;2(suppl 2): S7-S11.
- Najafian, S. Storage conditions affect the essential oil composition of cultivated Balm Mint Herb (Lamiaceae) in Iran. Industrial Crops and Products. 2014;52:575-81.
- Weeks, BS. Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal-extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian. Med Sci Monitor. 2009;15(11):Ra256-62.
- Srivastava, Janmejai K et al. “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future.” Molecular medicine reports vol. 3,6 (2010): 895-901. doi:10.3892/mmr.2010.377
- Kaushik, Mahesh K et al. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.” PloS one vol. 12,2 e0172508. 16 Feb. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0172508
- Irish, Leah A et al. “The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 22 (2015): 23-36. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.10.001
- National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Problems, Sleep Routine, Sleep Tools & Tips, The Science of Sleep. Why Electronics May Stimulate You Before Bed. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-electronics-may-stimulate-you-bed. Copyright 2019. Accessed 7/11/2019.
- National Sleep Foundation. Sleep Hygiene. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene. Copyright 2019. Accessed 7/11/2019.
- Fortier-Brochu, Émilie et al. Insomnia and daytime cognitive performance: a meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2012;16(1):83-94.