Many people have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Although drugs are available to aid sleep, some people may prefer to try natural alternatives.

This article outlines four herbs that may improve sleep quality, along with some alternative treatments to aid sleep. It also offers advice on when to see a doctor for sleep issues.

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Below are four herbs that people may take to help improve their sleep.

1. Valerian root

According to a 2013 review, valerian root is the herb that people most commonly use to reduce insomnia. It is available in various forms, including:

  • extracts
  • teas
  • dietary supplements

People have used valerian root as a sleep aid since the 18th century. Researchers have isolated the active plant substances to try to establish how they affect sleep, but they are still unsure of the mechanism involved.

A 2020 review and meta-analysis investigated the efficacy and safety of valerian root as a treatment for certain sleep disorders. The findings suggest that valerian root could be beneficial in treating these disorders. However, comparisons between the different studies are challenging due to different valerian preparations and doses.

The researchers concluded that valerian root could be a safe and effective alternative treatment for sleep disorders. People may experience side effects such as nausea and stomach cramps.

2. Chamomile

People sometimes use chamomile as a natural remedy for sleeplessness. However, studies have not confirmed the therapeutic effects of chamomile on sleep.

A 2017 clinical trial investigated the effects of chamomile on sleep quality in older adults. Participants who received 200 milligrams (mg) of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days showed significant improvements in sleep quality compared with participants who took a placebo.

An older study from 2011 examined the efficacy of chamomile extract on sleep in adults living with insomnia. One group of participants received 270 mg of chamomile twice daily for 28 days, while a second group received a placebo. The researchers did not observe any improvements in the chamomile group compared with the placebo group.

Side effects are uncommon when taking chamomile but may include:

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, chamomile is likely safe if a person consumes it as a tea or takes it as a pill in the short term. However, the possible effects of taking chamomile in the long term are still unclear.

3. Lavender

Lavender is a popular herb for aiding relaxation and sleep. Most studies investigating the effect of lavender on sleep have focused on silexan, which is an active substance derived from lavender.

A 2015 study investigated the effects of silexan on anxiety-related restlessness and disturbed sleep. Compared with participants who took a placebo, those who took the silexan showed significant reductions in anxiety and significant improvements in sleep.

The findings of a 2019 study suggest that the beneficial effect of silexan on sleep is due to its ability to reduce anxiety. This may explain the lack of a sedating side effect when using lavender oil.

Studies investigating the effect of consuming lavender suggest that the doses tested are safe. However, these short-term studies cannot determine whether lavender is safe to use in the long term.

4. Passionflower

There is a lack of research investigating the effect of passionflower on sleep. However, some research suggests that passionflower in combination with other herbs may be beneficial.

A 2013 study investigated the efficacy of a combination of valerian, passionflower, and hops as a treatment for insomnia. The researchers compared the herbal combination with the drug zolpidem, which doctors sometimes prescribe to alleviate sleeplessness.

Participants in both groups demonstrated a significant improvement in the following measures:

  • sleep time
  • the amount of time it takes a person to fall asleep
  • the number of times a person wakes up during sleep
  • the severity of insomnia

The researchers concluded that people may benefit from short-term use of a combination of valerian, passionflower, and hops. Most of the side effects that the participants reported were mild and did not pose a serious risk to health.

People can choose from a variety of drugs, natural products, and behavioral strategies to help them sleep. Some examples follow below.

Behavioral strategies

Certain behavioral interventions can help a person to change their behavior, thoughts, and beliefs regarding sleep. Examples include:

In some cases, doctors may recommend using a sleep medication in combination with one of the above behavioral strategies. This approach may help reduce the dose of drugs required to treat a person’s insomnia.

Over-the-counter options

Melatonin and diphenhydramine are two over-the-counter remedies for sleep.


Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces naturally. Doctors sometimes refer to melatonin as the “sleep-wake” hormone, since it regulates sleep and wakefulness. Melatonin production peaks during the early hours of the morning and reduces during daylight hours.

People may use melatonin as a treatment for the following:

  • jet lag
  • delayed sleep-wake phase disorder
  • anxiety before surgery

Doctors may also recommend melatonin for children with certain sleep disorders.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine do not recommend melatonin for insomnia because of a lack of evidence supporting its efficacy.


Diphenhydramine is a drug that exists in some anti-allergy medications. A side effect of diphenhydramine in allergy products is drowsiness, which can sometimes help people sleep.

Diphenhydramine helps relieve occasional sleeplessness and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep.

People should see a doctor if they experience signs or symptoms of insomnia. These may include:

  • dissatisfaction with the number of hours spent sleeping
  • experiencing low sleep quality with difficulty in one or more of the following areas:
    • falling asleep
    • maintaining sleep
    • waking up early and being unable to fall back to sleep
  • sleep disturbances that cause distress or difficulty in social, occupational, or academic settings

Symptoms of sleeplessness in people with insomnia may present for at least 3 months or at least three times per week.

Anyone experiencing signs or symptoms of insomnia should speak with a doctor before taking any drug or herb to aid sleep. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances can sometimes signal an underlying health condition that requires treatment.

People who experience sleeping difficulties can choose from a range of non-drug treatment options to help them sleep. Herbal treatments are a popular choice, although evidence supporting the use of certain herbs is lacking.

People should speak with a doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication or herb to assist sleep, to ensure that the treatment is safe. Moreover, sleep issues can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue that requires diagnosis and appropriate treatment.