A news item today reports on the widespread problem of insomnia with an estimated 30% of UK adults suffering. I often prescribe herbal mixes for uncomplicated sleep problems to encourage healthy sleep patterns, which can often be due to unhelpful habits or external factors which cannot be easily changed.
There are many herbs such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) that are commonly used by herbalists to encourage healthy, restorative sleep and it has been suggested that one mechanism by which sleep is encouraged is through modulation of GABA receptors which are affected by sleep-inducing benzodiazepine drugs such as Diazepam (valium). However, in general, herbal remedies are not associated with significant levels of dependence, withdrawal and side effects as is common with benzodiazepines. Care should be taken with long-term use of some herbs such as valerian, however, as the nervous system may be stressed by high doses over an extended period.
Weeks BS.(2009) ‘Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian’. Med Sci Monit. 15(11):RA256-62. Review.