Whether you're a chronic insomniac or you're dealing with some temporary stress in your life, when you're struggling to sleep, there's certainly no shame in seeking a little extra help. (Quality shut-eye is the backbone of a healthy and happy life, after all.)
That said, when some sleep aids might seem too extreme (Ambien stories are both entertaining and mildly terrifying), might we suggest going the natural route? You don't even have to sacrifice efficacy for your peace of mind since research shows there are a handful of herbs that can significantly help you sleep better (and even curb anxiety and stress in the process).
To self-prescribe the best herb for yourself, however, it's important to understand why you're having trouble sleeping in the first place. "Insomnia is very rarely a standalone condition," says Sebastian Pole, herbalist and co-founder of Pukka Herbs. "It is often a symptom of another chronic underlying issue such as stress, for example. The key to treating insomnia is to identify the cause and then pick the herb accordingly."
With that in mind, we asked Pole to recommend four herbs that can help alleviate a number of symptoms that might be inhibiting a great night's sleep. Keep reading to see which one is right for you.
If you suspect that the root cause of your insomnia is stress or anxiety, this Ayurvedic herb (which is also known as Indian ginseng) might be a good place to start, says Pole. Studies show that ashwagandha can significantly reduce cortisol levels—making it all the easier to actually relax before bedtime, no matter how crazy your day was.
"Valerian has been documented for over two thousand years for its sedative and anxiety-relieving properties," says Pole. And those who avoid melatonin because of the weird dreams it often induces, take note: Valerian root doesn't have any noted side effects.
Instead, it essentially forces your mind to relax in a very direct way. "Scientific research is now also showing us that certain constituents within this herb bind to specific receptors that inhibit activity in the central nervous system, creating a calming, sedentary effect," explains Pole. "As well as inducing sleep, valerian encourages good quality sleep, ensuring that we get good levels of REM sleep encouraging full-body relaxation and restoration, helping us to feel vital and energized on waking."
No surprises here: Lavender remains a tried-and-true favorite simply because it's that effective—even just by getting a whiff of that sweet scent. "The fragrance alone acts as an inhibitor to our central nervous system, calming excess anxiety and helping us to switch it off," says Pole.
But if aromatherapy isn't your thing, you can certainly reap the benefits by ingesting it as well, adds Pole. "Most people think of essential oils when lavender is mentioned, but it also works exceptionally well as a tea."
Keep linden flower (also known as lime flower) in mind if you're prone to violently vivid dreams. "It has mild sedative actions and a calming effect upon the heart, reducing blood pressure," says Pole. "It also has a traditional use with children and preventing nightmares."
Always check with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle, including the addition of herbal supplements.