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Sleep health centre

Natural remedies to help you sleep

By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Do you toss and turn in bed at night trying to get to sleep? Lying there in the dark you are not alone. Insomnia is thought to regularly affect a third of us. Not getting enough sleep for a single night makes us feel drained and foggy. A longer lack of sleep can affect many parts of your life including your health, mood, weight and sex life.

Stress or anxiety could be a reason for your sleeplessness. It could be down to shift work, too much caffeine or too much screen time late at night.

If you have made lifestyle changes and don’t like the thought of prescription sleeping tablets you may get some help from natural herbal remedies.

"There is evidence that herbs can help to improve symptoms of mild insomnia and they have been used traditionally in some cases for hundreds of years," says Dick Middleton, chairman of the British Herbal Medicine Association. "Whilst the clinical evidence is not as strong as for some prescribed medicines, the fact that the herbs have been used for centuries suggests that people throughout the ages have found them helpful."

Here are some natural options:

Valerian

The plant Valerian has been used to treat problems with sleep since medieval times. Its dried root can be made into a tea or it is available in supplement form. "It often works if you can't sleep because you are anxious, stressed or are over thinking things," says Steve Kippax, who’s a medicinal herbalist and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. But he warns: "For 80% of people who take valerian it works as a hypnotic relaxant, but for the other 20% it can hype them up." There are studies that seem to suggest valerian can help with insomnia and improve quality of sleep. However, a large research review suggests the evidence was inconclusive and more research was needed.

Camomile

Camomile is a plant from the daisy family often made into a tea. It's thought that sipping a cup of camomile tea will help with sleep.

"It's a gentle digestive herb," says Steve. "If your insomnia is stomach or digestion related, perhaps caused by eating late at night, this is a good choice."

Passionflower

Passionflower is a flowering shrub that produces fleshy fruit. Herbalists believe it helps bring on sleep especially when insomnia is caused by restlessness.

One study found that sleep quality was improved in a group who drank passionflower tea compared with another group drinking a tea without passionflower. "Passionflower is a nerve relaxant so if over-stimulation is causing your sleeplessness it can help," says Steve.

Hops

Hops may provide relief for insomniacs. Dried in a tea, supplement or sachet to put under your pillow. Hops have been used for centuries by traditional herbalists for many ailments and conditions including sleeplessness. There's some evidence it may have sedative effects. A 2012 study found that women who drank non-alcoholic beer with hops had better quality sleep than another group who did not. Steve says: "If depression is causing you to be sleepless avoid hops as they aren't good as a remedy for depression. They may help with menopause induced insomnia though, if there's no depression."

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