Firstly, it is good to look at lifestyle with insomnia, spending time outside, exercising, and doing meditation or yoga are good ways to facilitate a good night sleep. Changing habitats like working or bright screens one hour before bedtime, is really important, to allow the mind to shutdown better. Fixing the time you go to bed and get out of bed really helps. There are also some herbs that can help restore sleep, for example, the following protocol can help guide you. Using herbs like these should always be done within the context of good lifestyle decisions.
Herbs that work on the nervous system, called nervines, are suitable for treating insomnia, partly, as they reduce anxiety. Out of the herbs shown below we have one double blind human clinical trial that supports the use of American skullcap in reducing anxiety (Wolfson et al., 2003), and another that supports a combination of valerian and hops for treating insomnia (Koetter et al., 2007). St. John’s wort and milky oats have not been studied for anxiety or sleep in humans and their anti-anxiety indication is based on traditional knowledge (Hoffman, 1988).
1. Choose a time for bed in order to get 8 hours of sleep. Make sure this is the same time every day. It is best to get up at the same time each day. This way you train your internal circadian clock.
2. Engage in light physicial activity in the morning and afternoon. However, no intense physical exercise before bed is a good idea.
3. Do not nap during the day unless you absolutely have to.
4. Eat dinner at least 2-3 hours before bed, do not eat food after dinner.
5. Do not perform intense mental activity for 1-2 hours before bedtime, relax by listening to music, meditation, or very gentle yoga.
6. Do not expose yourself to bright lights 1 hour before bedtime, have only low lights.
7. Take 2 doses of the nerve tonic formula per day, after rising and before dinner.
8. Take the hypnotic sedative formula 30-60 minutes before bed, only if you need to because the standard formula is not enough.
9. Get horizontal 30-60 mins before bedtime and no TV or bright screens.
10. If woken up before 8 hours and you feel it is hard to get back to sleep, take another dose of the hypnotic formula.
11. Keep a balanced healthy diet.
This should help restore normal sleep. The nerve tonics restore balance in the long term, while the hypnotic formula is more short lasting, combined they can be a powerful combination. If the problem is not so bad, the sedative formula can be left out before bed, and just used if you wake up, this is what I do anyway. It is good to avoid dependencies even though herbs tend to be far less addictive than normal drugs.
Troubleshooting/ other options:
There are Western nervine herbs that may be helpful such as wood betony and blue vervain, lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm, these nervines have a gently relaxing effect that may help sleep (Bartram, 2013). Lemon balm is probably the strongest of these, and is best in a fresh tincture. Lemon balm may be combined with american skullcap for increased power. Additionally, kava kava is a stronger, although potentially addictive option.
There are Indian tonic herbs that may be helpful such as ashwagandha that could be applied here as it may help sleep (Kaushik et al., 2017), it also has an impressive array of other benefits and can be taken as a long term protective herb. However, it can actually over stimulate some people, as many adaptogens can, so could be counter productive. Similarly, holy basil or tulsi, reduces anxiety and is another good option (Saxena et al., 2011). Herbal medicine is quite a personal thing, ashwagandha is some people’s number one herb for sleep.
In summary, the best solution for insomnia is a holistic one that takes into account underlying problems and the individual. The Western nervine tonics can be very effective for sleep. Most important is sensible lifestyle changes.
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.
Kaushik, Mahesh K., et al. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.” PloS one 12.2 (2017): e0172508.
Koetter, U., et al. “A randomized, double blind, placebo‐controlled, prospective clinical study to demonstrate clinical efficacy of a fixed valerian hops extract combination (Ze 91019) in patients suffering from non‐organic sleep disorder.” Phytotherapy research 21.9 (2007): 847-851.
Saxena, Ram Chandra, et al. “Efficacy of an extract of ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the management of general stress: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2011).
Wolfson, P., and D. L. Hoffmann. “An investigation into the efficacy of Scutellaria lateriflora in healthy volunteers.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 9.2 (2003): 74.