5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep

Fall arrived officially last week. The days are growing shorter and the nights longer. On these dark mornings, I sometimes find myself wanting to stay under the warm covers a little bit longer, especially if I didn’t sleep well. Sleepless nights are not a common occurrence for me. I’ve come to understand what gets in the way of a good night’s sleep and I do my best to avoid these things. I’ve also developed a hierarchy of herbs and essential oils I sometimes turn to for better sleep.

In this post I’d like to introduce you to my top five herbs and essential oils for a restful, restorative sleep. The cool, crisp days of fall are an invitation to turn inward, to reestablish healthy routines and a sense of stability and groundedness. If you’re not sleeping well, now is a very good time to reevaluate your sleep habits and consider herbal allies for better sleep.  

Ask another herbalist and they might offer up five different herbs or essential oils for sleep. That’s because herbalism offers a holistic perspective rather than a “one size fits all” approach. While there are many different relaxing herbs and herbal sedatives, some may be better suited to your needs than others. That’s also why I describe my top five as “hierarchy.” It begins with very gentle remedies and proceeds toward herbs that are stronger sedatives. Give attention to your body, your life experience and current circumstances, and come to know the herbs. If you’re still not sure where to start, talk to your local herbalist.

Who Needs Sleep?

You do. I do. We all do. Restful, restorative sleep is crucial to our overall health and sense of well-being. It gives the body time for repair and rejuvenation. Muscle growth and tissue repair occur primarily at night, including the repair of heart and blood vessels. Sleep is essential for healthy brain function; it improves learning, decision-making and creativity. Sleep is essential for healthy hormone regulation, including those responsible for feeling full, feeling hungry, and regulation of blood sugar. Ever notice that you feel hungrier and crave sweets when you don’t get enough sleep? Now you know why!

So,what can you do? First, look at the bigger picture of your life. If you’re drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks every day, start there. Cut back and see if that helps. If stress has you lying awake at night worrying, making lists, ruminating over the day’s events, consider adopting new tools and developing new habits to alleviate stress. If you’re waking up due to menopausal hot flashes, consider ways to address the hormonal transition you’re experiencing. These are just a few examples. The point is before you jump on the sedative bandwagon—even if you’re considering an herbal sedative, address underlying health and lifestyle issues that may be interfering with your sleep.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Next, look at your bedtime routines and habits and practice good sleep hygiene. That doesn’t mean you need to take a shower before bed. Rather, ask yourself, how clear, intentional and pristine are your bedtime practices and your bedroom? Good sleep hygiene includes:

  • Elimination of sleep inhibitors like caffeine, alcohol and large meals before bedtime
  • A regular sleep schedule
  • A relaxing bedtime routine
  • Maintaining a dark bedroom and adequate exposure to natural light during the day
  • Eliminating digital screens and other mind stimulating technology from the bedroom—no TV, radio, computers, tablets, or cell phones

Contrast these calming, sleep supportive practices to those nights when you watch an action movie until bedtime, spend a few minutes (or more) checking email, getting lost in your Facebook feed, or reading the news before jumping in bed because its suddenly well past a reasonable bedtime and you have an early meeting.

I know people who sleep next to their cell phone and check for new messages when they wake up and night. And wake up they do. If this sounds like you and you’re not sleeping well, please know that you have the power to take back your bedroom and make it a place of peace and tranquility.

5 Herbs & Essential Oils for Better Sleep

If you’re doing your best to address underlying health and lifestyle issues and you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, but still having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s time to consider herbs and essentials oils. Whatever your approach is, keep in mind that reestablishing healthy sleep may take some time and consistency, especially if the problem has been long standing.

I’ve listed these five remedies from gentle to most sedative. When it comes to natural remedies, more is not necessarily better, and stronger is not always appropriate.

1. Lavender

Lavender Essential Oil (Lavendula angustifolia) 

Lavender is calming to the nervous system and helps ease anxiety and depression. This sweet aromatic flower is used to relieve nervous tension and irritability associated with stress. For insomnia, it’s gentle enough for children and the elderly and my first choice after a stressful day or evening working in front of the computer.

You can make a simple tea with one teaspoon of Lavender steeped in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink the tea about 30 minutes before bedtime. I prefer to use a drop or two of Lavender Essential Oil on my pillow at bedtime. I recently created what I call a “pillow diffuser” to use with essential oils at bedtime. I’ll be posting the instructions to make your own later this month. Stay tuned.

At Nectar we offer two beautiful Lavender Essential Oils, Bulgarian Lavender and French Lavender. You can also find Lavender in our Free & Easy Tea.

2. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Comforting and familiar, Chamomile is another gentle sleep aid and mild sedative. Its calms the nervous system and is especially useful for highly sensitive, irritable, restless individuals. Like Lavender, it is gentle enough for children and the elderly.

A cup of Chamomile tea after dinner will also ease indigestion, gas and bloating. Chamomile also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and analgesic properties making it useful for pain, menstrual cramps and fevers.

Prepare a cup of tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of Chamomile in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Drink the tea about 30 minutes before bedtime. Chamomile also combines nicely with Lavender to make a soothing floral tea.

At Nectar we combine Lavender and Chamomile with other relaxing, worry-relieving herbs in our Free & Easy Tea. We also blend Chamomile in our Sleepy Zzzz Tea with some of the stronger sedatives herbs described below.

 3. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwaganda holds a special place on this list because it is not a true sedative. In fact it is strengthening to the nervous system helping to relieve nervous exhaustion and stress-induced insomnia. If you tend toward anxiety and often lay awake up at night thinking and worrying, Ashwaganda may be a good choice for you.

Ashwagandha is also used for deficient thyroid function, and weakened or over-active immune function. Ashwagandha can be consumed as a liquid extract (tincture) or tea. The suggested use is 30-40 drops of the tincture up to three times per day, with the last dose 30 minutes before bedtime. Prepare a tea with the one tablespoon of the cut root, simmered in 1.5 cup of water for at least 20 minutes. Powdered Ashwagandha Root, approximately one teaspoon serving can also be stirred into a smoothie, other beverage, yogurt or applesauce.

 At Nectar we prepare our own Ashwagandha Tincture from the fresh organic root. Ashwagandha also features prominently in our Steady Sleep Tincture and our Inner Calm Tea.

4. Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

This wild and exotic flower is in fact a reliable and effective sedative and antispasmodic. It will ease muscle tension and elevated blood pressure associated with stress or anxiety and is a good choice for an overactive, monkey mind that interferes with relaxation and sleep. Passionflower is typically consumed as tea or tincture. Prepare a tea by steeping one heaping teaspoon of herb in one cup of water for at least 15 minutes and consume about 30 minutes before bedtime.   

You will find Passionflower in many of Nectar’s sleep blends including our Steady Sleep Tincture, Sleepy Zzzz Tincture, and Sleepy Zzzz Tea.

5. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian is a strong and reliable sedative and antispasmodic. The aromatic root is grounding and calming in states of heightened tension, irritability, and restlessness. As a nervous system relaxant, I reserve Valerian for more extreme nervous tension caused by sudden and unexpected events. It is an effective sleep aid helping induce a deeper sleep.

Valerian has an intense musky aroma that many people find offensive. If you don’t mind this aroma, Valerian can be prepared as a tea (1-2 teaspoons steeped in hot water for at least 15 minutes). I prefer the tincture or capsules.

That said, this fine root is not for everyone. Some people experience intense and uncomfortable dreams when they use Valerian and are better off with Passionflower or an even more gentle sleep aid like Chamomile or Lavender. A small percentage of people are stimulated by Valerian, though at this time we have no way to know in advance who will be so affected.

At Nectar we prepare our own Valerian Tincture and you will also find it in our Sleepy Zzzz Tincture and Sleepy Zzzz Tea.

It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of sound sleep. If you’re not waking up refreshed, addressing underlying health or lifestyle issues and good sleep hygiene are key. Herbs and essential oils are useful and comforting allies that can help bring your body and sleep cycle back into balances even as you are making the necessary health and lifestyle modifications. This range of natural remedies are also good to have on hand for occasional sleeplessness.

Leave a comment below if you have questions. Or, better still come see us in person.

wishing you sweet dreams and deep sleep,
Herbalist & Proprietress


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