Insomnia – The Herbs Place

by Martin Ravitzky

Insomnia can be defined as the inability to fall asleep, or a non revivifying light sleep. This condition is more common than most people think. It is estimated that half the population in the United States will experience insomnia in any single year and thirty percent of the people have insomnia on a regular basis. There are approximately ten million people taking prescription medications to help them sleep as well as many more millions taking over the counter sleeping aids.

Experts recognize three categories of insomnia: acute, chronic and intermittent. Acute insomnia is most common, but short in duration. It is usually due to some crisis and when the crisis is over, the insomnia ends. Chronic insomnia can last a year, many years or a lifetime. In intermittent insomnia, a person goes through weeks or months of sleeping well and then days or weeks of wakefulness.

The causes of insomnia can be medical, psychological, dietary, drug related or environmental. Medical causes of insomnia are chronic disease, physical pain and discomfort, medical conditions such as low blood sugar and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder where the person stops breathing during sleep and then wakes up. This can happen hundreds of times a night.

The most common cause of insomnia is psychological such as depression, anxiety, worry, fear or an overactive mind. Some environmental reasons for insomnia are excessive heat, humidity, noise or cold air. Foods eaten too close to bedtime can also cause insomnia, as can certain medications.

Taking prescription drugs to sleep is not a good idea. Sleeping pills can easily lead to dependency, then addiction and finally death. These drugs cause many symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, depression, nausea, anxiety, irritability, impaired concentration, memory loss, sense of panic, paranoia and hallucinations. Over-the-counter sleeping aids are usually ineffective, thus people take higher amounts than is recommended on the label which leads to toxic side effects.

Instead of using dangerous and toxic drugs to alleviate insomnia, nature has supplied us with valuable nervine and sedative herbs. These herbs are both safe and effective in inducing a deep and restful sleep without any hangover. Valerian, hops and passion flower are three herbs that work well together and are the most reliable herbs to treat this insidious condition. When making a tea, combine these three herbs in equal amounts and steep 1 Tsp. to a Tbsp. to a cup for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 1 to 2 cups before bedtime. If using this mixture in powder form, take 3 to 6 double 0 capsules, and when using a tincture follow instructions on the label.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a pure nervine that is considered one of the best relaxing and sedating herb available. The root is the part of the plant that is used for its healing properties. It is native to Asia, Europe, North and South America. This plant was revered by the ancient Egyptians, highly praised its medicinal actions in China and India. Valerian was found in the medical writings of the Greeks and Romans and it was also used throughout the Middle Ages in Europe. This potent sedative herb is one of the most researched and tested plant used today.

There is much scientific data to verify the medicinal claims made about this valuable herb. Valerian has a strong distinctive odor which has been described as a cross between rotten cheese and dirty old socks. The taste is not so pleasant, either. Valerianic acid, an essential oil, is the main ingredient that gives the herb its sedative action as well as its taste and aroma. Valerian contains other essential oils that gives it its tranquilizing properties such as borneol, pineol and cineole. The analgesic of the plant is due to the salicylic acid it contains.

Valerian has a direct action on the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system (involuntary nervous system) by its relaxing, soothing, sedating and gentle stimulating properties. This valuable herb will be very useful and effective in treating insomnia because it reduces or eliminates the many conditions that prevent sleep such as depression, anxiety, worry, fear, hysteria, irritability, nervous exhaustion, pain and over excitement.

Many double blind studies were done with valerian in Europe and the United States with people who are poor sleepers and with insomniacs. The results were very positive in all aspects of sleep problems. People were able to go to sleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. They were able to sleep deeper and wake up feeling well rested with no sign of grogginess or a hangover. Valerian is very popular in Europe as an over-the-counter sedative and tranquilizer.

This root is also valuable in treating and relieving conditions relating to nerve tissues such as nerve weakness, neuralgia (pain in the nerves), irritability, epilepsy, sciatica, shingles (a viral infection of the nerves which causes painful blisters on the skin) and multiple sclerosis (a degenerative disease of the central nervous system causing tremors and muscle weakness).


This versatile herb will have a positive effect on the heart and the circulation system. It will slow the heart action while gently increasing its force. The herb will reduce heart palpation and tachycardia (abnormal rapid heart beat up to 190 beats per minutes). Valerian will also regulate and stabilize blood pressure. Valerian is a safe herb without any side effects.

Hops (Humulus lupulus), mainly known as an ingredient in brewing beer, is a powerful sedative to the nervous system. It is the flower and fruit called a strobile that is used for its healing actions. Like valerian, hops has a long history dating back to ancient times. This herb was used by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks and Romans. The Chinese used hops for a variety of ailments. The flowers were used as a medicinal herb in Europe throughout the middle ages and was also used by some native American tribes. Hops is cultivated in most temperate zones throughout the world. The bulk of it is used to make beer and only 30% is used for medicinal purposes. The resinous bitters, humulone and lupulone, are the main ingredients found in the plant. They gives it its sedative action as well as its bitter taste and its strong odor. The plant also contains the volatile oils humulene, myrcene and caryophylene. There are over a hundred compounds found in the herb including tannins, flavonoids and glycosides. Due to all these compounds found in the herb including tannins, flavonoids and gylcosides, hops has a relaxing, soothing, pain relieving, anti-spasmodic, diuretic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and digestive tonic actions.

Hops is a fast-acting nervine, and is useful in treating anxiety, hysteria, restlessness, nervous tension and pain. There are many modern scientific studies to confirm the herb’s effectiveness as a powerful sedative to induce sleep for people suffering from insomnia. It is especially useful if the cause of insomnia is due to an overactive mind, stress, pain and discomfort. The sedative actions eluded researchers for many years until 1983 when a potent sedative chemical (2-methyl-3-butune-2-ol) was isolated from the plant. Further studies show that hops brings on sleep by directly sedating the central nervous system. The herb is used in many over-the-counter sleeping aids in Europe and the United States.

Hops, due to its bitter principals, enhances the appetite and improves digestion. This potent herb will relieve and prevent digestive problems due to anxiety and stress because of its relaxing effect on the smooth (involuntary) muscles of the digestive and eliminative tract. Hops is useful in alleviating gastric and intestinal spasms. It will also be useful in treating colitis caused by emotional stress as well as stress-related diarrhea. Hops will calm an over-stressed liver and stimulate the gall bladder to secrete bile that is needed for digestion of fats. Due to the steroids found in the plant, hops should not be used during pregnancy. It is not recommended for children under age two. Otherwise, hops is safe to use.

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata). There are over three hundred species of passion flower native to North and South American and about forty species found in Asia and the South Pacific Islands. High in the mountains of Peru, in 1563 Dr. Monardes, a Spanish doctor with a vivid imagination, noticed a vine with large beautiful blossoms and he named it passion flower. The flower evoked the passion of Christ. The petals resemble the crown of thorns. The three styles represent the three nails and the five stamens suggest the five wounds, and so on. Passion flower was used by the mountain people of Peru, some Brazilian tribes and the Native Americans from the South for its healing properties, including its sedative and nervine actions. The plant was brought back to Spain and is now cultivated throughout Europe. The important healing constituents found in passion flower are the alkaloids are harmal, harman, harmine and pssiflorine. The plant also contains flavonoids and sterols. The herb is classified as a nervine, sedative, anodyne (pain killer), antispasmodic and anti-convulsant.

Passion flower, like valerian and hops, are used for a wide range of nervous conditions such as irritability, nervous exhaustion, hysteria, anxiety, depression, pain and fear. Most of the research on this herb was done on its ability to promote a deep and restful sleep on people with a variety of sleeping problems. Studies show that the herb was effective in inducing a sound sleep in patients who had physical ailments along with pain and discomfort and in other patients who suffered from mental stress and over-excitement. Further research reveals that passion flower inhibits the enzyme that breaks-down serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that induces sleep. This powerful sedative not only sedates the nervous system, but relaxes both the voluntary and involuntary muscles to facilitate sleep.

The antispasmatic and anodyne actions of passion flower are effective in treating pain, cramps and spasm of the muscles as well as bronchial asthma. The anti-convulsive properties makes passion flower useful in treating convulsion and epilepsy. This herb is also used to treat a variety of female problems, such as dysmenorrhea, PMS, pain and discomfort incurred during pregnancy and the emotional and physical problems resulting from menopause. There is no known toxicity or side effects associated with the use of passion flower.

Besides this useful and effective herbal combination there are other things to do to induce sleep. Regular exercise for at least twenty minutes a day will reduce tension and stress. The exercise can be done anytime of the day. The minerals calcium and magnesium, and the vitamins pantothenic acid (B5), B6, along with a B complex 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, will encourage sleep. Melatonin, a hormone put out by the pineal gland 30 minutes before bed, will facilitate a good night sleep.

Source: Courtesy of “Newlife Magazine” – Jan/Feb 1996 – by Permission


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