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Find out what supplements help insomnia

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Prescription sleep medications are not without their side effects. For example, recent pieces of evidence have confirmed that benzodiazepines can raise the risk of dementia in old age. In contrast, most studies find certain natural supplements to be effective and safe in the treatment of insomnia. These natural supplements include herbs, B vitamins, amino acids, and natural chemicals produced in the brain. Read on to find out which supplements can help your insomnia and how they induce sleep.

1. Valerian

Valerian is a flowering plant that has been used as a sedative herb in traditional medicine for centuries. Even today, it is the most popular of the sedative herbs.

Valerian is also used to treat stress, anxiety, and tension headaches in traditional medicine. Researchers have investigated its benefits for those suffering from these conditions as well as in the treatment of muscle spasms, epilepsy, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

This herb contains several phytochemicals with potential sedative properties including alkaloids, volatile oil, free amino acids, and even GABA.

GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is a naturally occurring amino acid. However, it is more commonly regarded as a neurotransmitter.

In the central nervous system, GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter. It blocks neuronal activity in certain brain cells especially those belonging to the sleep centers. Therefore, it can produce a calming effect and induce sedation.

However, the GABA content of valerian is unlikely to contribute to the sedative effect of the herb because GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier. Instead, the GABA utilized by the central nervous system is mostly synthesized in the brain.

Studies show that certain phytochemicals in valerian increase GABA levels in the brain and also increase GABA activity by binding to GABA-A receptors.

Not all studies investigating the effectiveness of valerian in the treatment of insomnia produced positive results. However, there is sufficient evidence from positive results, reviews, meta-analyses, and general practice to support the use of valerian as a sedative herb.

Valerian is regarded as a drug, and not a dietary supplement, in some European countries where it is available as an over-the-counter insomnia remedy.

Valerian can be used alone or in combination with herbs such as kava, hops, and passionflower. 

It has long been a prized plant both for the medicinal uses of its root extract as well as the usefulness of its flower extract in the manufacture of perfumes.

As a medicinal herb, valerian is known for its sedative and anxiolytic effects. The calming effect of the herb is believed to involve the neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and it works by lowering the activities of certain brain cells.

Outside the central nervous system, GABA contributes to muscle tone. Therefore, valerian can also be used to relax the muscles and to treat conditions involving muscle spasms.

GABA is one of the bioactive phytochemicals in valerian. The major phytochemicals found in the herb are listed in the table below.

Active Phytochemicals of Valerian
  • Alkaloids such as valerian
  • Iridoids such as valtrate
  • Flavones such as hesperidin
  • Sesquiterpenes such as valerenic acid
  • GABA
  • Isovaleric acid and isovaleramide

Even though valerian contains GABA and is known to serve as a mild sedative and potent anxiolytic by acting on the GABA receptors in the nervous system, the exact mechanism of its action is still unknown.

Because GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier, it is unlikely that the GABA content of valerian contributes significantly to its sedative effect.

Although valerian is sold as a dietary supplement, it easily qualifies as a drug and it is regularly recommended as an effective alternative to sedative and hypnotic drugs. Besides its use in the treatment of insomnia and sleep disorders, valerian is also used to treat anxiety.

Also, its analgesic effect is utilized in the treatment of migraine, gastrointestinal pain, and joint pain.

Other uses of valerian in traditional medicine include the treatment of depression, epilepsy, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome), and the hot flashes of menopause.

2. Hops

Hop is the traditional remedy prepared from the flowers of Humulus lupulus. Besides its use as a medicinal herb, hop is also commonly added to beer to give it a bitter taste and a tangy flavor.

Hop is a folkloric remedy for insomnia and anxiety. Its inclusion in beers is believed to be responsible for some of the sedative effects of this type of alcoholic drink. One study found that the optimal dose of hops is the concentration in which it is present in beers.

Rather than directly increase GABA levels in the brain, the phytochemicals in hop enhance GABA activity.

Therefore, hop is an excellent complement to sedative herbs that raise the concentration of GABA in the brain.

There are only a few studies done on hops but the available evidence suggests that the herb can improve the quality of sleep. However, some studies have investigated the benefits of combining hop with valerian.

One such study, published in 2009 in the journal, Planta Medica, found that the combination of hop and valerian is effective in the treatment of caffeine-induced insomnia.

Some studies also show that valerian-hop combinations are effective and safer alternatives to prescription sleep medications.

Hops as a Sleep Aid

The herbal remedy known as hops is prepared from the female flowers of the hop plant, Humulus lupulus.

Hops are commonly used as a stabilizer and flavoring agent in beers onto which it impacts a bitter, tangy taste.

As an herb, hops share a similar medicinal profile to valerian. This means that it is also a sedative and a hypnotic herb. It is, therefore, used in the treatment of insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety.

Although it is a popular folkloric remedy for sleep problems, there are fewer studies on the sedative and hypnotic effects of hops than for valerian. However, animal studies have confirmed that hops are indeed effective for inducing sleep.

These studies indicate that the relaxing effect of hops is partly due to a compound known as dimethyl vinyl carbinol.

Like valerian, hops are safe and well-tolerated. However, it can lose its potency after a few months especially when exposed to air and light.

Bioactive phytochemicals in hops include humulene and humulone which are responsible for its bitter taste; phenols such as xanthohumol; and a potent phytoestrogen.

As a sedative and hypnotic herb, hops are seldom used alone. Rather, it is combined with other sedative herbs such as valerian, passionflower and lemon balm. The resultant polyherbal preparations are usually more potent than the individual herbs.

Valerian + Hops

Valerian and hops are combined in herbal sleep aids because of their complementary mechanisms of action.

While valerian boosts the production and activity of the neurotransmitter, GABA, hops are believed to induce sedation only by increasing the activity of GABA. Therefore, hops improve the effect of valerian on the GABA pathway.

This means that the addition of hops to valerian further lowers the activity of certain brain cells and fully blocks the effects of excitatory neurotransmitters.

Also, the valerian-hops combination is preferred because it has a strong effect on GABA receptors.

Therefore, this combination can produce stronger sedative and anxiolytic effects. Also, the combination of both herbs easily overcomes the effects of stimulants and excitatory chemicals in the brain.

Support for hops’ enhancement of valerian’s GABA activity is provided by a study that demonstrated that the combination of valerian and hops can neutralize the excitatory effect of the stimulant, caffeine.

Caffeine causes the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain. Therefore, its effects counteract the GABA-promoting activity of valerian. However, because hops reinforce the GABA-enhancing effects of valerian, the combination of the two herbs easily overcomes the stimulatory effects of caffeine.

The last benefit of combining valerian with hops is that the combination requires lower doses of both herbs to induce sleep.

Although studies show that valerian and hops are both safe sedative herbs and generally well-tolerated, taking smaller doses can further reduce possible side effects of the herbs.

Studies on Valerian and Hops


Is Valerian Effective for Insomnia?

In a 2010 study published in the journal, Sleep Medicine, a group of reviewers conducted a meta-analysis on past studies investigating the effectiveness of valerian for the treatment of insomnia.

The outcomes the reviewers were testing included improvement in sleep quality, the duration of sleep, and the rapidity of sleep onset.

For the study, the reviewers combed through reputed databases of scientific journals including Medline and the Cochrane library. They found 18 well-designed, randomized clinical trials that met their selection criteria.

The results of this meta-analysis showed that valerian was effective in treating insomnia. In the studies pooled, most of the participants who were given valerian extract reported improvements in sleep quality, sleep duration, and the onset of sleep.

While the reviewers called for more studies into the sedative and hypnotic effects of valerian, they considered the results of their review enough to justify the use of the herb in the treatment of sleep disorders.

More recent studies echo the conclusions of this meta-analysis even as researchers try to understand exactly how valerian induces sleep, reduces anxiety, and relaxes the muscles.

Is Hops Effective as a Sleep Aid?

A 2012 study published in the journal, Acta Physiologica Hungarica, investigated the sedative effects of hops on a group of common quail.

Quail was chosen because its sleep cycle closely resembles the typical human sleep-wake rhythm.

The researchers first pointed out that the sedative effect of hops was due to its bitter resins. The most active phytochemical in this resin was identified as the compound, 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol. This compound is believed to induce sleep by promoting the activity of GABA in the central nervous system.

For this study, the researchers divided the quails into 4 groups. While one group was given a placebo, they gave the other 3 groups different doses (1mg, 2 mg, and 11 mg per day) of hops for 1 week.

The results of the study showed that the group given 2 mg/day of hops extract (the concentration normally found in beers) had the most significant reduction in night activity and the highest improvement in sleep duration.

The researchers, therefore, concluded that hops are an effective and safe sleep aid.

Also, they recommended non-alcoholic beer for improving nighttime sleep because of the sedative effect of its hops content.

Valerian + Hops: How Effective is the Combination?

In a 2009 paper published in the journal, Holistic Nursing Practice, the author confirmed that the combination of valerian and hops can improve sleep.

The herbal combination used in the case study was Dormeasan, a fluid extract of valerian and hops.

What was remarkable about this case study was the use of a single dose of the valerian-hops combination to induce and improve sleep.

This study shows that valerian and hops can provide a rapid onset of action that rivals prescription sedatives. Therefore, people who have difficulty sleeping can use this herbal combination and expect rapid relief.

A pilot study on the effectiveness of combining valerian and hops in the treatment of insomnia was published in 2000 in the European Journal of Medical Research.

In that study, the researchers recruited 30 patients suffering from mild to moderate insomnia. These participants were given 2 tablets of a fixed-dose (250 mg valerian extract plus 60 mg hops extract) combination of valerian and hops (Ze 91019) in the evening for 2 weeks.

After the treatment, the patients were given polysomnographic (to measure sleep activity) examinations.

The results of the study showed that the herbal combination reduced the onset of sleep as well as the frequency of waking during the night.

Additionally, the results showed that the participants’ sleeping cycles were more efficient (longer slow-wave sleep and shorter Stage 1 sleep). To confirm the polysomnograph readings, the patients reported that the treatment improved the quality of their sleep and produced no adverse effect.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommended the combination of valerian and hops for the treatment of insomnia but called for well-designed clinical trials to confirm the benefits of the combination.

One such clinical trial was published in the journal, Phytotherapy Research, in 2007.

Valerian With and Without Hops

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study took 4 weeks and also used the same fixed-dose combination of valerian and hops, Ze 91019 (in this case, 500 mg valerian extract and 120 mg hops extract).

Also, the researchers gave a second group of the participants an herbal extract containing only valerian (500 mg valerian extract) while the third group of patients received a placebo.

The results of this study showed that the combination of valerian and hops was superior to both placebo and the single valerian option in the treatment of sleep disorders.

This combination significantly reduced sleep latency (the onset of sleep). Therefore, the researchers strongly recommended the addition of hops extract to valerian extract as a better herbal preparation for treating sleep disorders.

A review of past studies investigating the effectiveness of valerian-hops combination in the treatment of insomnia was published in the journal, Australian Family Physician, in 2010.

The reviewers searched multiple databases of science journals and looked for studies published between 1950 and 2009. They found 16 studies that met their criteria. Of these, 12 studies found valerian, with and without hops, effective for reducing sleep latency and improving sleep quality.

Valerian + Hops vs. Caffeine

In a 2004 study published in the journal, Planta Medica, a group of researchers demonstrated the competition between caffeine and the combination of hops and valerian in the adenosine pathway of the nervous system.

First, the researchers gave the participants 200 mg of caffeine. Then they were divided into 3 groups. One group received a placebo while the two other groups received two doses (2 tablets and 6 tablets) of the valerian-hops combination known as Ze 91019.

The participants were then given EEG (electroencephalogram) examinations every 30 minutes.

The results of the study showed that it took 60 minutes for the competition between caffeine and the herbal mixture to become observable.

The arousal triggered by caffeine was reduced by 2 tablets of the valerian-hops combination but 6 tablets fully blocked the effects of caffeine.

The results of this study showed that a valerian-hops combination can be used to overcome caffeine-induced insomnia. Additionally, the study hints that one of the mechanisms by which valerian and hops promote sleep is through the inhibition of the adenosine pathway.

Valerian + Hops vs. Prescription Sedative Drugs

A 2005 study published in the journal, Sleep, compared the efficacies of valerian-hops combination and diphenhydramine in the treatment of insomnia.

Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine medication with sedative effects. It is the active ingredient of Benadryl.

The researchers recruited 184 adults suffering from insomnia. While some of these participants were given a valerian-hops combination, some got a placebo while the third set of participants got diphenhydramine for half the duration of the study and placebo during the other half.

The results showed that the valerian-hops combination produced significantly better improvements in sleep duration and quality than the placebo group and slightly better sleep outcomes than the diphenhydramine group.

Another study published in a German medical journal in 1986 also showed that the combination of valerian and hops was a safe and suitable alternative to prescription sedative drugs.

In that study, the researchers compared the sedative effects of a valerian-hops combination to that of bromazepam, a benzodiazepine. Their results showed that valerian-hops combination, in appropriate doses, was an effective and safer alternative to bromazepam.

These two studies provide solid evidence to support the substitution of prescription sleep aids with the combination of the herbal sedatives, valerian, and hops. 

3. Kava

Kava or kava-kava is a Pacific plant notable for its sedative and anesthetic properties. While the roots of the plant are used to prepare different types of medicinal drinks in Polynesian cultures, the leaves and stems are also included in kava supplements.

The chief bioactive phytochemicals in kava are known as kavalactones.

Kavalactones act on the central nervous system to improve cognition, mood, dreaming, and sedation. They are also known for their muscle relaxant, anxiolytic and numbing effects.

Kavalactones improve mood and can reduce depression not by affecting serotonin levels but by increasing dopamine levels and enhancing the activities of noradrenaline.

The sedative effect of kavalactones derives from their ability to increase GABA-A receptor activity. Scientists believe that kava affects GABA receptors in a novel way that makes it effective even in the presence of drugs that block those receptors.

Studies show that the medicinal effects of kava last long after its ingestion. Therefore, while kava promotes deep, satisfying, dreamless sleep, it may still cause drowsiness the morning after.

There have been concerns regarding the side effects of kava especially liver toxicity. However, all evidence indicates that the herb does not cause liver damage on its own. Reports of this side effect have been linked to alcohol intake and possible contaminants in the herbal supplement.

4. Passionflower

Passionflower or Passiflora incarnata is used in traditional medicine to treat insomnia, anxiety, hysteria, and seizures.

Compared to the other herbs with sedative effects, passionflower is milder than kava and valerian.

The parts of the plant used in preparing the herb include all of its aerial parts including the leaves, flowers, and stems. Passionflower extract is available as dried leaves for teas and infusions as well as tinctures.

Besides its sedative and anxiolytic effects, passionflower also has an analgesic (pain-relieving) property.

The bioactive phytochemicals in passionflower include a group of alkaloids such as harman, harmaline, and harmine. These alkaloids are responsible for the antidepressant effects of passionflower. They act by inhibiting a central nervous system enzyme known as monoamine oxidase.

Other notable phytochemicals in passionflower include coumarins, sterols, flavonoids, phenols, amino acid, alanine, and enzymes such as catalase.

Studies show that passionflower herb is not only safer but also has a comparable activity as conventional anxiety drugs such as oxazepam.

Official European Pharmacopeia identifies passionflower as Passiflorae herba. This herb is standardized by its vitexin (a flavonoid) content and is expected to contain at least 1.5% total flavonoids.

Passionflower is commonly included in sedative tea mixtures along with herbs like valerian, hops, chamomile, kava, skullcap, and lemon balm.

When used alone, the recommended adult dose of passionflower tea is 3 – 4 cups per day. Each cup should be prepared by steeping 1 teaspoonful of the dried herb in 1 cup of boiling water for 10 minutes and then straining the tea to removing the leaves.

Passionflower is not recommended for pregnant women because its alkaloid can trigger a uterine contraction and cause premature labor.

The Calming Effect of Passion Flower

Passionflower exerts its calming effect by increasing the release of a particular neurotransmitter in the brain. Some of the active phytochemicals in passionflower promote the release of GABA.

GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.

This neurotransmitter lowers neuronal activity in certain brain cells. This action has a quieting effect in the central nervous system and it reduces anxiety and relieves insomnia.

Outside the central nervous system, GABA is also responsible for regulating muscle tone. Therefore, increased secretion of GABA can also help relax the muscles. This calming effect on the muscles is the reason why passionflower is used in the treatment of seizures and epilepsy.

Amino Acids and GABA

How does passionflower increase GABA levels? Although researchers once believed that the alkaloids and flavonoids in passionflower were responsible for its sedative and anxiolytic effect, new studies indicate that the amino acids in the herb may be responsible. This is because these amino acids can raise GABA levels in the body.

Specifically, the amino acid, alanine, is linked to GABA. Beta-alanine is an intermediate in the synthesis of GABA in the brain. Therefore, alanine from passionflower can be used to produce more GABA.

Further support for this theory was provided by a study in which the calming effect of a passionflower extract was lost after removing its amino acid content.

In that study, the researchers observed increased GABA activity in the brain samples of a group of mice after exposing the hippocampus to a passionflower extract. However, after removing amino acids from this extract, the brain samples had no GABA activity.

Chrysin and GABA

Besides directly increasing the levels of GABA in the central nervous system, passionflower can also enhance its activity.

In a 1992 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers demonstrated that chrysin, one of the flavonoids in passionflower, acts like a benzodiazepine in the brain. Since benzodiazepines enhance GABA activity at GABA-A receptors, chrysin may also increase the activity of GABA at these receptors.

Therefore, this passion flower flavonoid can enhance the sedative, anxiolytic, muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant effects of GABA.

The combination of the actions of amino acids like alanine and flavonoids such as chrysin makes passionflower a potent herbal remedy for relieving anxiety and muscle spasms and also for improving the quality of sleep.

Studies on Passion Flower, Sleep and Anxiety

Can Passion Flower Improve the Quality of Sleep?

In a 2008 study conducted by researchers from the University of Johannesburg, the sedative effect of passionflower was investigated in 30 adult participants.

The researchers measured the effect of passionflower on the duration of sleep, satisfaction with sleep, and how refreshed the participants reported they were after they awoke.

After dividing the study participants into 2 groups, the researchers gave one group an extract of Passiflora incarnata and the other group received a placebo. The treatment was administered 20 minutes before bedtime for over 4 weeks.

The results of the study showed that passionflower improved the length and quality of sleep.

Also, the researchers found that within the group that received passionflower, the men got the most benefits from the herb.

A 2011 study published in the journal, Phytotherapy Research, also found that passionflower improved the quality of sleep.

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, each of the 41 participants received passion flower tea and placebo tea. Each tea was given for 1 week and then a washout period was allowed before the other tea was given.

During the treatment days, the participants recorded their experiences in sleep diaries, and on the last day of each treatment, they took a test to measure their anxiety levels.

The results of the study showed that the participants felt they had better sleep sessions while taking passion flower tea even though they did not know which tea they were taking at any point in time.

The researchers, therefore, recommended low-dose passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) tea for improving sleep quality.

The Best Passion Flower Extract for Anxiety Problems

A 2001 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology tried to find the phytochemical responsible for the anti-anxiety effects of passionflower by isolating different fractions of the herb.

The researchers determined that the methanol extract of the plant had the most significant anxiolytic effect in a group of mice.

By exposing this extract to special fluorescent light, they determined that the active molecule was most likely a benzoflavone.

A 2002 study compared the efficacies of 5 commercially available tinctures of passionflower to this active methanol extract of the herb.

In a paper published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the researchers found that all 5 products showed varying levels (200 mg/kg to 500 mg/kg) of efficacies compared to the standard preparation (125 mg/kg). One product was found to have no anti-anxiety activity.

This study highlights the need for standardization in the passion flower products. However, the researchers identified that there are other bioactive phytochemicals in the herb besides the benzoflavone compound, and these need to be identified before a uniform standard can be established for passionflower supplements.

Lastly, a 2001 study published in the journal, Fitoterapia, compared the anxiolytic effects of different extracts of passionflower to the standardized benzoflavone extract mentioned above.

For the study, the researchers prepared different extracts with petroleum ether, chloroform, methanol, and water from each of the different plant parts as well as the whole plant.

The results of the study showed that the methanol extracts had the best anxiolytic effects.

The methanol extract prepared from the leaves (100 mg/kg) and stem (125 mg/kg) exhibited the most significant anti-anxiety effects. The flower (200 mg/kg) and whole plant (300 mg/kg) extracts were not as effective. And the root extracts had no anxiolytic effect.

This study proves the dried leaves and stems of Passiflora incarnata are the most effective parts of the plant. Therefore, the right passion flower herb to use (in the form of tea) for relieving anxiety should be prepared from the leaves and stems.

In contrast, the flower and root of the plants are simply adulterants and should be removed from the herb during preparation.

Passion Flower vs. Oxazepam

In a double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics in 2001, researchers compared the anxiolytic effects of passionflower to the anxiolytic drug, oxazepam.

For the study, they recruited 32 people who suffered from GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).

These participants were divided into 2 groups. For 4 weeks, one group received 30 mg/day of oxazepam while the second group was given 45 drops of Passiflora incarnata extract per day.

The results of the study showed that both passionflower and oxazepam significantly reduced anxiety in the participants.

Also, oxazepam reduced anxiety faster than passionflower. However, oxazepam affected motor and mental performances more than passionflower.

This study shows that passionflower is an effective alternative to prescription anxiolytics. Even though it does not have a rapid onset of action, it does not impair the activities of the users too. This is especially important for those who want to reduce their anxiety and yet go about their work.

Reducing Anxiety without Inducing Sleep

A 2008 study published in the journal, Anesthesia, and Analgesia, investigated the benefits of oral passion flower extract for reducing anxiety in surgery patients.

For the study, the researchers recruited 60 outpatients who were to undergo different surgeries. Thirty of these patients received 500 mg of oral Passiflora incarnata supplement while the other 30 patients were given a placebo.

The patients received these treatments 90 minutes before their surgeries. By monitoring anxiety levels and sedations at different intervals (10, 30, 60, and 90 minutes) after giving them these medications, the researchers found that passionflower was able to reduce anxiety without inducing sedation.

Therefore, they recommended oral passion flower extract for reducing anxiety in outpatients who are agitated about their surgical procedures.

This study showed that at some doses, passionflower can be safely used to reduce anxiety without inducing sedation.

This finding implies that certain doses of passionflower can help calm down the user without putting him to sleep. This is important for people who need to be mentally and physically relaxed and yet be alert to perform certain tasks.

All Passion Flower Extracts Are Not Equal

Because Passiflora edulis is regularly confused with Passiflora incarnata, it is important to differentiate between the two species of passionflower and compare their anxiolytic effects.

In a 2001 study published in the journal, Fitoterapia, some researchers compared the biological activities of both Passiflora plants. Their findings show that while the methanol extract of P. incarnata had a significant anxiolytic effect at 125 mg/kg, the extract of P. edulis barely had any anxiolytic activity.

This study is important because it establishes the difference between the two most popular species of passionflower (there are over 500 members of this passion flower plant family).

Furthermore, the study shows that P. edulis cannot be substituted for P. incarnata as an anxiolytic herb.

Passionflower + Other Sedative Herbs

A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology compared the efficacy of a 3-herb combination to zolpidem, a sleep medication, in the treatment of insomnia.

The polyherbal preparation used contained passionflower, hops, and valerian. By giving one tablet of either the polyherbal preparation or zolpidem to the patients at bedtime for 2 weeks, the researchers determined that both treatments improved both the duration and quality of sleep.

They also found that there was no difference between the groups taking the herbal preparation and the group that was given the sleep medication.

Also, the study showed that both groups encountered similar and mild side effects.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that the herbal combination of hops, valerian, and passionflower was a safe and effective alternative to zolpidem in the treatment of insomnia.

This study confirms that the combination of sedative-hypnotic herbs produces excellent results for insomnia patients. It also demonstrates that these herbs can be safely combined and that they produce better results than individual herb for reducing anxiety and inducing sleep.

5. Chamomile

Chamomile is the name for several daisy plants in the Asteraceae family. The most commonly used species in traditional medicine is the German chamomile or Matricaria chamomilla.

The chief traditional use of the herbal remedy prepared from chamomile is as a gentle sleep aid.

While both Roman (Chamaemelum Nobile) and German chamomile can both aid in sleep, one key difference is that German chamomile is annual, while Roman is perennial.

Chamomile is also used in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome and stomach troubles. Besides its sedative effect, the herb also has anxiolytic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-mite, and laxative properties.

The gentle oil is one that is safe to use when pregnant and can even be used on infants (6-12 months) in minimal amounts.

The part of the plant used in the preparation of the herbal remedy is the flower. The dried flowers of chamomile are steeped in hot water for 10 – 15 minutes and kept covered to prevent the volatile essential oil from evaporating.

Some of the bioactive phytochemicals in chamomile are found in these essential oils. These include flavonoids (such as chrysin, luteolin, and apigenin), coumarin, terpene bisabolol, farnesene, and chamazulene.

It is important to prepare chamomile rightly to ensure that the active ingredients are present in the herbal extract.

The processes of drying the flowers and making it into an herbal tea are the most delicate parts of its preparation. At these stages, the temperature to which chamomile is exposed to has to be properly regulated to prevent the volatile oils from evaporating.

Lastly, it is also important to press the marc (pulp) of the dried flower while making chamomile tea.

By pressing the marc, the plant cell walls are broken and even more bioactive compounds are released into the tea solution.

Besides the tea form, other dosage forms of chamomile are capsules, tincture, liquid extract, cream, and ointment.

Chamomile is generally well-tolerated and considered safe. However, it can cause vomiting when taken in large amounts. Also, the herb should not be used along with blood thinners because its anticoagulant effect may increase the risk of bleeding.

Lastly, chamomile is not recommended for pregnant women because it can cause uterine contraction and, therefore, induce premature labor.

The Sedative and Hypnotic Effects of Chamomile

While different studies have established that chamomile can relieve anxiety, improve mood, and promote sleep, the exact mechanisms by which this herb produces these effects are still unknown.

However, a 2011 study published in the journal, European Neuropsychopharmacology, showed that the phytochemicals in chamomile do have 3 effects on the central nervous system that contribute to the herb’s anxiolytic and sedative properties.

How Chamomile Improves Sleep and Anxiety
  • Modulate neurotransmitter transmission in the brain
  • Bind to GABA receptors
  • Influence the actions of neurohormones

Action on GABA Receptors

The major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system is GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

Even though GABA is technically an amino acid, the body does not use it to synthesize proteins. Rather, it blocks the excitatory effects of certain neurotransmitters. Therefore, it blocks neuronal conduction and reduces the activity of the cells in the sleep center of the brain.

The overall effect of GABA in the brain is the promotion of calm (relieves anxiety) and the induction of sleep (sedative effect). Also, GABA relaxes the muscles and can, therefore, produce a calming effect on the muscles too.

To produce these effects, GABA, as well as other medicinal agents (drugs, herbs, and dietary supplements) that increase its concentration and/or activity, need to bind to GABA receptors.

There are 3 types of GABA receptors: GABA-A, GABA-B, and GABA-C receptors. GABA-C receptors are a subset of GABA-A receptors.

Of these GABA-A receptors are the most important ones with regards to sleep and anxiety.

Therefore, when phytochemicals in chamomile such as chrysin bind to GABA receptors, they reduce brain activity and produce an overall calming effect in the central nervous system.

At low doses, chamomile can provide relief for anxiety without necessarily inducing sleep. However, insufficiently high doses, chamomile can also promote sedation.

Effect on Neurotransmitters

Besides GABA, there is evidence to show that some of the active phytochemicals of chamomile can also affect other neurotransmitters in the brain. These neurotransmitters are the ones belonging to the monoamine family.

Monoamine neurotransmitters include serotonin and dopamine.

Serotonin is involved in sleep and mood while dopamine is strongly involved in mood.

Therefore, the effects of chamomile on monoamine neurotransmitters will not only improve sleep but also relieve depression.

Depression is closely linked to anxiety and insomnia. Researchers believe that the underlying causes of all three conditions involve the same set of neurotransmitters and the same parts of the brain. Also, there is evidence to suggest that patients record improvements in their sleep quality and anxiety levels when treated for depression.

Effect on the Neuroendocrine System

Besides neurotransmitters, neurohormones can also affect sleep and the cognitive performance of the brain. The most important neurohormone involved in sleep is melatonin.

Melatonin is released from the pineal gland in response to darkness. It is important for maintaining the sleep-wake cycle.

When melatonin production falls, it becomes difficult to sleep at night. Therefore, chamomile can help with insomnia by acting on the neuroendocrine system.

Studies on Chamomile, Insomnia, and Anxiety

There are very few human studies done to investigate the therapeutic benefits of chamomile. However, almost of all these have been positive.

The NCCAM Study

This 2009 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology is the most detailed human trial investigating the effect of chamomile on anxiety. It was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study determined the efficacy and tolerability of chamomile on a group of patients with mild to moderate GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). For this study, the researchers gave 57 such patients either placebo or chamomile extract for 8 weeks.

Initially, the chamomile group received 220 mg per day of chamomile extract standardized to contain 1.2% apigenin. This dose was present in 1 capsule of the chamomile product.

The daily dose was increased to 2 capsules in the second week. Some participants received increasingly higher doses (to a maximum of 5 capsules per day) up to the end of the study.

To determine the effects of both treatments, the researchers tested the outcomes with

  • HAM-A (total Hamilton Anxiety Rating) test
  • Beck Anxiety Inventory
  • Psychological Well Being
  • Clinical Global Impression-Severity

The results of the study showed that the patients who received chamomile scored better on all 4 outcome tests than the placebo group. Additionally, there was no difference in observed side effects between the 2 groups.

This study is significant because it is the first controlled clinical trial involving chamomile extract in the treatment of GAD.

In their conclusions, the researchers recommended chamomile for treating anxiety disorders.

They also called for larger and longer studies to further investigate the anxiolytic and sedative effects of chamomile.

However, they cautioned researchers to expect different results from different chamomile dosage forms (tea, oil, capsules, etc.) as well as from chamomile extracts standardized to constituents other than apigenin.

Can Chamomile Help with Depression Too?

In 2012, another paper published in the journal, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, took data from the NCCAM study to determine whether chamomile has both anxiolytic and antidepressant effects.

The authors of this paper noted that of the 57 participants who undertook the 2009 study, 19 also suffered from depression while another 16 had past histories of depression. For this study, the authors extracted the relevant data of the participants from their (HAM-D) Hamilton Depression Rating scores.

The results of this study showed that chamomile improved mood in all 57 participants.

Its antidepressant effects were most effective in the participants who suffered from anxiety and depression at the time of the trial.

The researchers, therefore, concluded that the combined anxiolytic and antidepressant activities of chamomile may be especially useful for patients who suffer from anxiety disorders comorbid with depression.

Long-lasting Effect

One of the proposed advantages of chamomile over prescription sedative and anxiolytic drugs is that its medicinal benefits can outlast those of these drugs.

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry provided scientific proof for this claim. The researchers used urine analyses to determine the longevity of the active phytochemicals of chamomile.

By determining the constituents of the participants’ urine samples for 2 weeks before, 2 weeks during and 2 weeks after taking chamomile tea, the researchers were able to determine the rate at which the body metabolized this herb.

Their results showed that chamomile has a long-lasting effect because even after 2 weeks, there were still appreciable levels of certain chamomile phytochemicals (especially glycine, a muscle relaxant, and hippurate, an anti-inflammatory agent).

This result is important because it indicates that the sedative and anxiolytic effects of chamomile may persist long after its use has stopped.

Therefore, people who take chamomile tea to help with their insomnia and anxiety should get a prolonged response and may not need to use the herb every day.

Chamomile Jelly

While most studies that have investigated the sedative effects of chamomile used animal models, this study published in ISHS Acta Horticulturae and presented at the International Symposium on Chamomile Research, Development and Production detailed the sedative effect of chamomile on human subjects.

The researchers recruited 40 adults and gave them either warm chamomile jellies or ordinary chamomile-free jellies.

They found that the ingestion of warm chamomile jellies raised skin temperatures. More significantly, the researchers found that those who consumed chamomile jellies were more relaxed, slept faster, and stayed asleep longer than those who took the chamomile-free jellies.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that chamomile (through warm chamomile jelly) can improve sleep and may be helpful in the treatment of insomnia.

6. Lemon balm

Lemon balm is another sedative herb commonly consumed as a tea. It has a mild sedative effect and a significant anxiolytic property.

The sedative and anxiolytic properties of lemon balm are linked to one of its phytochemicals, rosmarinic acid. This natural antioxidant inhibits the enzyme, GABA transaminase. Therefore, it prolongs the actions of GABA in the brain.

Besides directly increasing GABA levels, lemon balm can also improve mood and reduce stress.

All of these beneficial medicinal effects can help provide relief for people with insomnia.


Because most sedative drugs and herbs target GABA and its receptors, some health experts recommend simply taking GABA supplements to treat insomnia and anxiety.

However, oral GABA supplements do not necessarily lead to increased GABA levels in the central nervous system. For one, GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier in appreciable amounts. Rather, it is synthesized in the brain from amino acids such as glutamate.

On the other hand, some studies have reported the calming effect of GABA after the ingestion of oral GABA supplements.

To support this result is the observation that the blood-brain barrier does not effectively shield certain parts of the brain.

One of these exposed areas is known as the periventricular nucleus, a part of the hypothalamus.

Since the hypothalamus controls sleep and the circadian cycle, oral GABA supplements may induce sedation and increase GABA levels in this part of the brain. However, the periventricular nucleus has only been reached by GABA injections.

Furthermore, there is evidence that certain GABA formulations may pass through the blood-brain barrier by tweaking the drug delivery mechanisms.

Specifically, supplements made from niacin and phenylated GABA act as prodrugs and can cross into the brain. Once across the blood-brain barrier, these supplements split into niacin and GABA, two natural supplements are proven to help insomnia.

8. Tryptophan, Serotonin, and Melatonin

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that serves as the precursor for some important compounds including niacin, serotonin, and melatonin.

This means that tryptophan is a starter molecule in the syntheses of different supplements that can improve mood and sleep. Therefore, it is commonly recommended to help insomnia.

On one hand, tryptophan can increase the level of niacin. On the other hand, it can be used to make serotonin and then melatonin. While the second pathway has a more profound effect on sleep, it is the minor pathway.

Therefore, serotonin and melatonin supplements are sometimes preferred because they are likely to produce better results. Serotonin also has the added benefit of relieving depression, a cause of insomnia.

Melatonin supplement does not always work for insomnia. This is because melatonin is not the direct sleep trigger that it is advertised to be. It is simply a part of the sleep equation.

Melatonin is released only when it is dark and, therefore, its release is linked to the normal sleep-wake cycle. Studies show that melatonin supplements produce the best results for night shift workers and those experiencing jet lag.

9. Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the essential minerals needed by the body. It is required for the syntheses and activities of many important compounds including the chief energy molecule of cells, ATP (adenine triphosphate), as well as the genetic materials, DNA and RNA.

In adults, the daily recommended magnesium intake is 300 – 400 mg. This can be obtained from supplements or foods rich in the mineral.

Magnesium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, milk, halibut, oats, peanut butter, and unprocessed brans of grains such as wheat and rice.

Of its different roles in the body, the most important functions of magnesium in the body involve nerve conduction, glucose tolerance, blood pressure, and sleep.

Magnesium can act directly on cell membranes by closing calcium channels. This reduces electrical conduction in nerves and muscles. Its ability to calm neuronal activity is responsible for its muscle-relaxant and sedative properties.

Because magnesium can also reduce blood pressure, its salts are commonly used to treat hypertension. Magnesium salts are the safest antihypertensives for pregnant women. Therefore, they are the first-line treatment for eclampsia.

Although magnesium deficiency is rarely the result of poor nutrition, low magnesium levels can be slowly established by dietary choices such as excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, and soda drinks.

Also, high salt intake and prolonged intravenous feeding can lower magnesium levels.

Other causes of magnesium deficiency include diuretic use, chronic pain, and excessive physical exercise.

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Muscles spasm, cramp, and weakness
  • Migraines
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases

Magnesium Deficiency and Insomnia

Magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia by different mechanisms all of which involve hyperexcitability.

One way by which magnesium deficiency may disturb sleep is through restless leg syndrome. Low magnesium levels lead to poor control of electrical conduction in the neurons present in the muscles. This leads to a prolonged opening of the calcium channels and increased muscular activity.

The result of such magnesium deprivation is muscle spasms that present as restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome is the term used to describe the involuntary movement of limbs caused by magnesium deficiency. In most cases, it gets worse at night and can, therefore, interfere with sleep.

Restless leg syndrome causes the sufferer to wake up repeatedly during the night. In this way, it induces insomnia. To correct this type of insomnia, the underlying cause (restless leg syndrome) must first be addressed by raising magnesium levels.

Besides muscle spasms and restless leg syndrome, magnesium deficiency can also directly lead to insomnia.

There are reports that magnesium supplementation increases vivid dreaming in some users. While this is often described as a side effect, it is the result of the effect of magnesium on sleep architecture.

Increased vivid dreaming is an indication that magnesium promotes slow-wave or “deep” sleep.

Much as magnesium reduces nerve conduction in the muscles, it can also slow down neuronal activities in the brain. By reducing the electrical conduction between brain cells, magnesium reduces the “noise” signals that cause anxiety and sleeplessness. Instead, it induces calm and promotes sedation.

Because even marginal magnesium deficiency can cause muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, and hyperexcitability, it is quite easy for low magnesium levels to set off insomnia.

Fortunately, such insomnia can be treated by simply raising magnesium levels with diet or supplements.

Studies on Magnesium Deficiency and Insomnia

Effects of Sleep and Stress on Magnesium Level

This study shows that stress can lower serum magnesium levels.

Therefore, one of the ways by which stress triggers insomnia is by lowering magnesium levels.

In this 2004 study published in the journal, Clinical Cardiology, the researchers recruited 30 healthy male college students who were about to write their examinations.

By monitoring signs of stress before and after the students’ 4-week examination period as well as their red blood cell magnesium levels, the researchers were able to determine the effect of stress on magnesium level. Also, the researchers noted that during the 4-week examination period, the students suffered from chronic sleep deprivation.

The results of the study showed that stress and chronic insomnia reduced vasodilation in the students as well as red blood cell magnesium levels.

In contrast, vasodilation induced with nitroglycerin did not affect red blood cell magnesium concentration.

This study shows that chronic stress and sleep deprivation can affect vasodilation and reduce intracellular magnesium levels.

Therefore, while magnesium deficiency can trigger insomnia, sleep deprivation can also reduce magnesium levels.

Magnesium Deficiency and Sleep-Wake Rhythm

Besides directly affecting the duration and quality of sleep, studies show that magnesium can also affect sleep structure especially the normal sleep-wake rhythm.

In a study published in the journal, Neuropsychobiology, in 1993, the researchers demonstrated this effect in a group of rats. They divided the rats into 2 groups. The first group was fed on a magnesium-deficient diet for 9 weeks while the second group only stayed on the magnesium-deficient diet for 7 weeks and was thereafter given a normal diet for another 4 weeks.

The results of the study showed that magnesium deficiency increased periods of wakefulness and reduced slow-wave sleep.

Additionally, the rats in the first group experienced a disorganized sleep structure in the form of light sleep and frequent arousal from sleep. In contrast, the rats in group 2 recovered their sleep organization following the reintroduction of magnesium in their diet.

This study confirms that magnesium deficiency affects the structure and quality of sleep.

The researchers also concluded that magnesium was required for protecting the neurons of the central nervous system from oxidative stress.

Magnesium + Zinc + Melatonin

Besides magnesium, there are other minerals used to treat insomnia in alternative medicine. These other essential minerals include zinc and calcium. Also, melatonin (a naturally occurring sleep-promoting hormone in the nervous system) is often recommended in the treatment of insomnia.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society investigated the benefits of combining magnesium with zinc and melatonin in the treatment of insomnia in the elderly.

For this study, the researchers recruited 43 residents of a long-term care facility. Each of these participants was given either 100 g pear pulp (placebo) or a combination of 5 mg melatonin, 225 mg magnesium, and 11.25 mg zinc mixed with 100 g pear pulp 1 hour before bedtime for 8 weeks.

The results of the study showed improvements in:

  • quality of sleep
  • ease of getting to sleep
  • alertness and behavior the morning after
  • hangover on waking up
  • total sleep time

The researchers, therefore, concluded that the combination of magnesium, zinc, and melatonin is recommended for insomnia patients to improve the quality of sleep.

A review published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2005 discussed the link between magnesium and melatonin.

The authors of the review noted that magnesium supplementation promoted the activities of the enzyme, N-acetyl transferase which is involved in the synthesis of melatonin. Therefore, magnesium promotes the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland.

However, there appears to be a negative feedback control between magnesium level and melatonin production.

Therefore, raising the melatonin level is not likely to be the main mechanism by which magnesium improves sleep.

10. B Vitamins

Investigations into the use of vitamins in the treatment of sleep disorder is not a strong area of research. This is mostly because vitamins are not regarded as drugs to be used as primary treatment options but rather as dietary supplements.

Even then, some vitamins have been studied both for their ability to improve sleep or cause insomnia.

Of these vitamins, the B vitamins are best studied. While some studies found that certain vitamins may help improve the quality of sleep, other studies found that certain vitamin combinations can promote insomnia.

Generally, there are 2 ways that B vitamins may affect sleep. First, some B vitamins are needed for the syntheses and release of certain neurotransmitters and neurohormones that are involved in the regulation of sleep and the circadian cycle.

For example, studies show that certain B vitamins are used as cofactors in the enzymatic synthesis of serotonin (a neurotransmitter). Once synthesized, serotonin can then be used to produce melatonin, a neurohormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle.

The involvement of B vitamins in the production of sleep chemicals in the central nervous system is also the reason why certain B vitamin deficiencies cause insomnia.

The second mechanism by which B vitamins may promote sleep is by providing relief for diseases that may disrupt sleep.

The most important example of this mechanism is the use of B vitamins in the treatment of restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome causes the involuntary movements of limbs. This movement disorder can interfere with sleep and then lead to frequent arousal during the night.

Therefore, when B vitamins improve the symptoms of restless leg syndrome, they can improve the quality of sleep by increasing the duration of sleep and reducing the time taken to fall asleep.

On the other hand, B vitamins are also required in the production of excitatory brain chemicals. Therefore, some of them can increase arousal and interfere with sleep. Discussed below are the most important B vitamins with regards to the sleep-wake cycle.

The table below summarizes the benefits of B vitamins in the treatment of insomnia.

B Vitamins and Insomnia
  • Thiamine – thiamine deficiency may cause insomnia because it is also linked to magnesium deficiency. Additionally, thiamine is a cofactor in the enzymatic synthesis of GABA. Therefore, thiamine supplementation may help insomnia. However, taking high doses (higher than 5,000 mg per day) of thiamine can also cause insomnia.
  • Niacin – niacin deficiency can cause depression and insomnia. Studies confirm that niacin supplementation can improve mood and relieve insomnia.
  • Pyridoxine – pyridoxine is used in the syntheses of serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Therefore, it can also improve mood and relieve insomnia.
  • Folic acid – folic acid deficiency can cause depression, mental confusion, anemia, restless leg syndrome, and other symptoms that may cause insomnia.
  • Cobalamin – cobalamin is linked to folic acid and iron. Therefore, its deficiency can also cause depression, irritability, restless leg syndrome, mental confusion, and other factors that contribute to insomnia.


Thiamine is also known as vitamin B1. Because derivatives of thiamine are present as functional molecules in all cells of the body, thiamine deficiency can cause severe damage to all the organs of the body especially those in the nervous system.

Therefore, low thiamine levels can cause mental confusion, irritability, depression, and weight loss.

Thiamine deficiency has been linked to some diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, loss of eyesight, and the disease complex known as beriberi. Alcoholics and people suffering from diabetes are most at risk of thiamine deficiency.

Also, thiamine deficiency can be caused or sustained by magnesium deficiency.

The active form of thiamine is an essential cofactor in the enzymatic utilization of amino acid and sugars. In the central nervous system, thiamine is used in the synthesis of at least 2 neurotransmitters: acetylcholine and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

The Dual Nature of Thiamine on Sleep

Because thiamine is involved in the production of GABA, it may help improve sleep. However, it should be noted that it is only a cofactor of an enzyme involved in GABA synthesis and not a precursor of the neurotransmitter. Therefore, improvement in sleep quality from thiamine supplementation is most likely modest at best.

However, since thiamine is linked to magnesium, thiamine supplementation can also improve sleep by preventing magnesium deficiency.

On the other hand, insomnia is one of the symptoms of long-term and/or high-dose thiamine supplementation.

Studies show that taking thiamine hydrochloride in daily doses higher than 5,000 mg can cause insomnia, headache, irritability, and rapid pulse. In all cases reported, these symptoms disappeared when the dose of thiamine was reduced.

Therefore, high-dose thiamine should be avoided and low to moderate doses may help improve sleep.


Niacin is also known as vitamin B3. It is mostly known for the disease caused by its deficiency.

Niacin deficiency causes pellagra, a disease complex with symptoms including dementia, dermatitis, diarrhea, insomnia, and general weakness.

Therefore, niacin supplementation can help treat insomnia triggered by niacin deficiency.

Like thiamine, niacin is essential to every cell in the body. It is essential to the breakdown of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins; to the repair and functioning of DNA; and to cholesterol and fatty acid syntheses.

Niacin deficiency severely affects organs with high demand for the vitamin. The brain is the prime example of organs that constantly need niacin to function. This is why the most severe symptoms of pellagra affect the central nervous system.

Studies confirm that niacin deficiency can affect sleep and that taking niacin supplements can help improve sleep quality.

Tryptophan, an amino acid that serves as a precursor of niacin, is commonly recommended in the treatment of insomnia. While tryptophan is also used to synthesize serotonin and, ultimately, melatonin, only 1% of dietary tryptophan is used in this pathway. The rest is used to make niacin.

How Niacin Improves Sleep

The exact mechanism by which niacin improves sleep is unclear. However, it appears that low niacin levels disrupt the firing of brain neurons and, therefore, affect the sleep-wake cycle.

Also, low niacin levels promote depression and have been linked to anxiety disorders. These can affect the quality of sleep. Therefore, by treating depression and anxiety, niacin can also improve sleep.

In a 2005 review published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the authors reported a small study in which niacin was given to a group of participants for 23 days. The result of the study showed that niacin slightly improved REM (rapid-eye-movement or paradoxical) sleep.

The same group of researchers also gave niacin to a couple of women with insomnia and found that the vitamin improved the quality of sleep.

In both cases, the participants relapsed after the niacin supplements were withdrawn

While this study is small, it clearly shows that there is a benefit to niacin supplementation in the treatment of insomnia.


Pyridoxine or vitamin B6 is another essential B vitamin. Its active form is pyridoxal phosphate and it acts as cofactors in amino acid metabolism and also in the release of glucose from glycogen.

With regards to sleep, pyridoxine may make a modest contribution through neurotransmitter syntheses.

This B vitamin is required in the syntheses of several neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine, GABA, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Because this list includes both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, it is unlikely that vitamin B6 improves sleep simply by increasing the levels of certain brain chemicals.

However, some experts suggest that vitamin B6 may provide relief for depression and mood disorders because it raises the concentrations of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

Therefore, it can improve the quality of sleep by its modest antidepressant effect.

Besides this, vitamin B6 is also involved in the synthesis of melatonin (through serotonin). Therefore, it may affect sleep by improving the quality of sleep and preserving the circadian rhythm.

Food Sources of B Vitamins
  • Thiamine – yeast, pork, oatmeal, wheat flour, brown rice, sunflower seed, orange, eggs, asparagus, kale and animal liver
  • Niacin – animal liver, kidney, and heart, beef, fish, eggs, leafy vegetables, asparagus, nuts, whole grains, legume, and mushrooms
  • Pyridoxine – fish, beans, tuna, salmon, shrimp, milk, cheese, meat, whole grains, banana, nuts, and vegetables
  • Folic acid – Egg yolk, baker’s yeast, legumes, leafy vegetables, sunflower, seed, grains, liver, and kidneys
  • Cobalamin – meat, poultry, seafood, fish, eggs and dairy products

Folic Acid

Folic acid or vitamin B9 is another essential B vitamin. Its actions and uses are intertwined with those of vitamin B12.

Folate deficiency causes many symptoms including irregular heartbeat, anemia, nerve damage, mental confusion, impaired memory, depression, headaches, and irritability. These symptoms can affect sleep either directly or indirectly.

Depression, mental confusion, irritability, and impaired memory are signs of neurotransmitter imbalance and damage to the neurons of the central nervous system.

These psychological symptoms can make sleeping difficult and cause insomnia. Therefore, treating folate deficiency may help improve sleep.

Another way by which folate deficiency may impair sleep is through the iron deficiency and vitamin B12 deficiency brought on by anemia. The exact interplay between these nutrients is not clear but it can produce dramatic results.

For example, low levels of iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 can contribute to restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement, both of which disrupt sleep.


Cobalamin or vitamin B12 is important for some essential processes in the body including the production of DNA and RNA, the regulation of blood cell formation, and the maintenance of neurons.

Much like folate deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency results in anemia, nerve damage, depression, memory impairment, irritability, psychosis, and personality changes.

Vitamin B12 deficiency causes depression and other psychological symptoms because the vitamin is required for the formation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. These symptoms are further worsened when folate deficiency is also present.

Therefore, vitamin B12 supplementation can improve sleep by providing relief for depression and by preventing damage to nerve cells in the brain.

Vitamin B12 and the Circadian Rhythm

A 1990 paper published in the journal, Sleep, demonstrated the positive effect of vitamin B12 on the sleep-wake cycle.

The authors described 2 case studies. The first was of a blind girl who had an abnormal sleep-wake cycle for the first 13 years of her life. By placing her on 1.5 mg of vitamin B12 given 3 times daily, the researchers trained her sleep-wake rhythm to fall into the normal 24-hour cycle.

When the vitamin B12 supplementation was stopped, she lost the established sleep-wake cycle within 2 months.

The second case study involved a 55-year old man who had experienced delayed sleep phase syndrome since he was 18 years of age. After he was given 1.5 mg/day of vitamin B12, his sleep-wake cycle returned to normal.

A similar treatment protocol was also the subject of a 1991 study published in the same journal.

In the 2 cases discussed in the 1991 paper, the researchers were able to restore long-standing sleep-wake cycle disorders with daily administrations of 3,000 micrograms of vitamin B12.

In all 4 cases, none of the patients showed any sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. Also, laboratory tests showed that their serum vitamin B12 levels were normal.

These case studies show that low vitamin B12 levels in the central nervous system can cause insomnia and other sleep-wake disorders long before vitamin B12 deficiency can be diagnosed from low serum levels and clinical symptoms.

Therefore, vitamin B12 supplementation should be considered for insomnia patients even when there is no evidence of vitamin B12 (or folate) deficiency.





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