Natural Cures For Insomnia

Herbal remedies such as valerian root, kava kava, chamomile, lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, and passionflower have been used for insomnia for many years. However, the effectiveness and safety of these products has not been documented. Studies done on herbal remedies are often hard to interpret because they are inconsistent with standards of studies for regulated substances like prescription drugs.

According to the National Institute of Health, although the results of some studies suggest that valerian may be useful for insomnia and other sleep disorders, results of other studies do not. Interpretation of these studies is complicated by the fact the studies had small sample sizes, used different amounts and sources of valerian, measured different outcomes, or did not consider potential bias resulting from high participant withdrawal rates. Overall, the evidence from these trials for the sleep-promoting effects of valerian is inconclusive.

Many people with insomnia choose herbal remedies for treating their insomnia. Some such as chamomile tea or lemon balm are harmless for most people. It should be strongly noted that a being labeled "natural" is neither equal to being safe or necessarily to even being natural. Herbal remedies are not regulated. Some even contain conventional medicines.

You may want to give melatonin a try. Melatonin is the best studied natural remedy for insomnia, although in the US it remains unregulated. Evidence on its effects remains unclear. Some studies have found that although many people fall asleep faster with melatonin, it has no effect on total sleep time or daytime feeling of sleepiness or fatigue. Some studies suggest that it may help specific individuals, such as the following:

  • Elderly people. It may help certain older people with insomnia, such as those with evidence of low melatonin levels and those dependent on prescription sleeping medications. It is not clear, however, how significant the benefits are.
  • People without sight. A 2000 study reported that melatonin can help people without sight retrain their circadian cycle so that they can sleep at regular hours. The best dosages and timing, however, need to be clarified. High doses (10 mg) may be needed to start with, but can probably be reduced over time.
  • Travelers and Jet Lag. Some studies have reported that melatonin may help prevent jet lag in some travelers. The optimal dosages or timing for preventing jet lag are still unclear, however.
  • During withdrawal from prescription sleep medication. Melatonin may help people who are dependent on sleeping medications withdraw from these agents and maintain good quality sleep.
  • People with delayed sleep syndrome. It might be somewhat helpful for people with who fall asleep very late at night or in early morning hours but then they sleep normally.

One difficulty in assessing study results is that there are no consistent standards on melatonin dosages or usage. Some studies suggest that 0.3 mg may be the most effective dosage in many people with insomnia. In fact, higher doses (3 to 5 mg) may keep some people awake. (A study on blind people, however, suggested that much higher doses may be needed for this group, at least at the beginning of treatment.)

High doses of melatonin have been associated with the following adverse events:

  • Mental impairment.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Nightmares.
  • It may increase the risk for seizures in children with existing neurological disorders.
  • Interactions with other drugs are not completely known.

It should be stressed that melatonin is currently classified as a dietary supplement and not as a drug, so its quality and effectiveness is uncontrolled in the US. (The United State is the only developed nation that does not regulate this agent.) Melatonin is a powerful hormone that can have major effects, many still unknown, on all parts of the body. The bottom line is that at this time, people who take melatonin are experimenting on themselves.

Keep in mind that alternative or natural remedies are not regulated and their quality is not publicly controlled. In addition, any substance that can affect the body's chemistry can, like any drug, produce side effects that may be harmful.

Even if studies report positive benefits from herbal remedies, the compounds used in such studies are, in most cases, not what are being marketed to the public. There have been a number of reported cases of serious and even lethal side effects from herbal products. In addition, some so-called natural remedies were found to contain standard prescription medication.

The following warnings are of particular importance for people with insomnia:

  • Chinese Herbal Remedies. Studies suggest that up to 30% of herbal patent remedies imported from China having been laced with potent pharmaceuticals such as phenacetin and steroids. And one study reported a significant percentage of such remedies containing toxic metals. For example, the herbal remedy Sleeping Buddha was recalled in 1998 because it actually contains a benzodiazepine, the major ingredient in many prescription sleeping pills, and also appeared to increase the risk for birth defects in pregnant women. Reports of a few cases of acute hepatitis have occurred from Jin Bu Huan, a Chinese herbal remedy sold as treatment for pain and insomnia.
  • Valerian root. A number of studies suggest that valerian may be helpful for insomnia. Side effects include vivid dreams. It should be noted that high doses of valerian can cause blurred vision, excitability, and changes in heart rhythm.
  • Kava kava. Kava kava has sedative actions and studies have reported that it helps improve stress-induced insomnia. The most common side effect reported is dizziness. It should be noted, however, that kava kava has been associated with liver failure in some cases. It also interacts dangerously with certain medications; including alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug. And it increases the potency of certain other drugs, including other sleep medications, alcohol, and antidepressants.
  • Tryptophan and 5-L-5-hydroxytryptophan (HTP). Tryptophan is an amino acid used in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known to promote wellbeing and has been associated with healthy sleep. L-tryptophan was marked for insomnia and other disorders but was withdrawn from the market after a contaminated batch caused a rare and even fatal disorder called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. 5-htp, a byproduct of tryptophan, is still available as a supplement. There have been reports that some brands contain a substance called Peak X, which some evidence suggests may be harmful. To date, no serious adverse effects have been reported and reliable brands are available. Evidence that 5-HTP alleviates insomnia is scant.

You don’t have to use drugs – whether natural or chemical to help you beat insomnia. There are some great behavior therapies that can be implemented to help you get to sleep.