Insomnia is not insomnia is not insomnia.

Difficulty sleeping comes in many forms.

Trouble Falling Asleep can be associated with tension, excess nervous energy (“heat”) or a depleted nervous system (“cold”). My favorite herbs for falling asleep are kava (Piper methysticum) for tension, hops (Humulus lupulus) for heat and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) for cold. (Detailed indications for these herbs.)

Trouble Staying Asleep is usually associated with tension or excess nervous energy (heat), but it can sometimes be related to depletion (cold) as well. My favorite herbs for staying asleep are passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for tension, peach leaf (Prunus persica) for heat and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) for cold. (Detailed indications for these herbs.)

Trouble Waking Up (aka waking up with that run-over-by-a-truck feeling) is common in people whose bodies are sluggish or depleted overall. Lymphatic and liver-supporting herbs are the thing to use here. Some of my favorites are cleavers (Galium aparine) and all heal (Prunella vulgaris) for sluggishness and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and oats (Avena sativa) for depletion. (I haven’t posted detailed indications for these herbs yet. Some of them are in Matt Wood’s book, listed below.)

Basic sleep hygiene applies in every case of sleep trouble: Dark and quiet bedroom (no TV), no caffeine/stimulants in the afternoon (or at all), good exercise (but not in the evening), good relaxing and good food.

Important: It is always best to choose herbs carefully, based on an individual’s constitution. Don’t think “valerian is good for insomnia.” Ask “Is valerian good for this person?” There is no insomnia, only a person. (If you give valerian to someone who has a hot constitution, it can have a stimulant effect; if you give hops to someone with a cold constitution, it can be depressing.) I never like to recommend herbs for anyone without seeing them and talking to them first. Again: herbs are for people, not for conditions.

N.B.: Heat/Cold and Tension/Sluggishness are part of a system of “energetics” that many herbalists use to understand human bodies and match them with appropriate herbs. Someday I will blog about energetics, but in the meantime the best introductory discussion of western-style herbal energetics that I know of is in Matthew Wood’s book The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism.


  1. kat said,

    December 13, 2007 @ 8:40 am

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. My husband has had such trouble sleeping lately and we’ve had trouble finding stuff to help. Some of the things we’ve tried that are supposed to help kept him awake, but after reading on here about the energies and herb types to go with it, we found something that works! (valerian) Love your site!

  2. crabappleherbs said,

    December 13, 2007 @ 10:19 am

    Thanks, Kat!

    Like I said in this post, it’s really important to look at the individual person and get a sense of the underlying issues for them. If valerian works well, he might have a constitution on the cool side. You might want to think about warming herbs in general, as well as warming foods. If you want to learn more about this sort of thing, the Herbwifery Forum is a great resource.

  3. Brandy said,

    February 5, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

    Oh please, oh please blog about energetics!!

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    February 5, 2008 @ 12:28 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement, Brandy. It’s such an overwhelming topic — maybe I can pick specific examples and blog about it that way…

  5. Jan Renwick said,

    October 9, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

    tis topic has been informative, my problem is a hubby who snores and short of moving out of our bedroom I struggle to get off to sleep the more I try the more alert I get then my mind starts to race I simply cannot control my racing thoughts and believe I’ve tried: the expensive meditation tapes, skullcap tea, oats tea …I have had to resort to sleeping tabs otherwise I never get to sleep no matter how tired…advice greatly appreciate3d

  6. Loyce Henderson said,

    January 15, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

    I often cannot fall asleep for quite some time after going to bed. I started making homemade soap and lavender has become one of my favorites. Taking a hot shower or bath with lavender whether it is in a soap, bath salt or herbal soak makes the stress of the day go away. I have even put a couple drops of lavender essence oil onto my pillowcase to help me sleep. Another great herb is peppermint, it opens up the sinus’s and helps me to breath easier while sleeping.


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