Sleep is essential to healing the body and recharging the mind, and its central role in the way we function makes it all the more frustrating when it becomes elusive. If you’re desperately seeking the sandman after an occasional or even frequent losing battle with your consciousness, you’re probably considering using a sleep aid and want to know what the natural options are before turning to something more serious. In this article, we give you the lowdown on herbal sleeping aids and other options to help you get back on track to a good night’s rest.
Overview: Natural sleep aids
When is it okay to consider using natural sleep aids?
Before reaching for (herbal) sleeping tablets, it’s important to find out why you have trouble sleeping. Sleep problems can often have psychological causes, like stress or an important upcoming event like an exam. If you know why you’re having trouble sleeping and it only happens occasionally, then herbal sleeping tablets and other natural remedies to aid sleep may be helpful.
If you frequently suffer from problems falling asleep or sleeping through the night, and have for a longer period of time, you should speak to a doctor. These types of issues may be diagnosed as a sleeping disorder like insomnia, which is when someone has trouble sleeping at least three days per week for one month or more. Natural sleeping tablets can sometimes be used in such cases, but a doctor’s approval is important, because sleeping disorders can also be a sign of illnesses such as hyperthyroidism or depression.
For many, herbal sleeping aids can be a viable alternative to prescription sleeping pills that may have strong side effects, interact with other medication, or even lead to addiction. Herbal sleeping pills can also have the same downsides, but usually to a much lesser extent. But then the question is, if natural sleep remedies aren’t as strong as pharmaceutical sleeping pills, can they actually help improve sleep quality?
Do natural sleep aids really help?
In many ways, the plant kingdom is still a huge mystery to science. Humans have been using plants for healing since time immemorial, yet the effects of a vast number of what are considered “medicinal plants” are yet to be proven by science.
There are several reasons for this, but one major factor is that the necessary research is complex and expensive. There is no significant interest in researching natural sleep aids in comparison to more major concerns like cancer research and contagious diseases. The lack of scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that these sleeping aids are ineffective — and many users will testify to the opposite — but it just doesn’t translate into verified evidence. A good example of this is the current state of research on the cannabis plant.
Another thing that complicates matters is the “entourage effect”. This technical term describes the potential interaction between certain plant substances that enhance one-another’s effects. Researching this phenomenon is a real challenge; to use cannabis as an example again, almost 600 chemical compounds have been identified in the plant alone, and the number of possible combinations of these compounds poses a huge problem during research.
In short, more investigation is needed to scientifically prove if herbal sleep aids are actually effective, but there is an abundance of positive user testimonials that indicate they can contribute to better sleep. Now let’s take a look at some of those renowned natural sleep aids.
Well-known herbal sleep aids
The following plants are often considered the best natural sleep aids and are available in everything from capsules to oils and drops or teas. Sleep teas in particular often contain a combination of several plants, but here we’ll look at them individually to provide more information about how well they’ve been researched.
Valerian as a natural sleep aid
Valeriana officinalis is thought to be one of the strongest herbal sleep aids and has been used in folk medicine since ancient times. Its effects have been comparatively well researched and are now considered to be proven, even if different studies tend to turn up different results. For valerian to work, the dosage is important and should be discussed with a pharmacist or doctor. Although generally considered effective, it can still take several days or even weeks before sleep problems improve.
Cannabidiol (CBD) as a natural sleep aid for adults
Known more popularly as CBD, cannabidiol is a chemical compound extracted from the hemp plant. It is currently believed that CBD interacts with the human body’s endocannabinoid system via receptors in the brain. There is much anecdotal evidence that CBD can be used successfully as a natural sleep aid.
Initial studies  suggest that CBD may contribute to better sleep, but the results are still inconclusive. Cannabidiol can be taken many different ways, but two of the most popular are as CBD oil or in a diffuser pen.
Lemon balm, passion flower and lavender
These three plants are all thought to similarly promote calming, relaxation and sleep. They’re popular additions to sleeping teas and are also available as scented oils or capsules. However, the research here is a little thin compared to valerian. For example, one study conducted on lemon balm  was done without a placebo control group, so there is definitely more research needed before any of their effects can be considered proven.
Homeopathic sleeping pills
Homeopathy suffers from the same conundrum as the other herbal sleep remedies we’ve introduced to you here: some people swear by it, but it’s still unproven by science. When seeking homeopathic sleep remedies for adults, be sure to enlist the help of a licensed homeopath, as there are very specific treatments for situations like insomnia, stress and grief.
Other natural ways to fall asleep
There are other things besides herbal sleep aids that you can try when having difficulties with sleep.
Perhaps the most interesting option is melatonin. This hormone is produced naturally by the human body, and influences when we feel tired. Some foods also contain melatonin, which you can learn more about in our article on sleep-inducing foods. Although in the UK, natural sleep aids with melatonin are not available over-the-counter, you can try encouraging melatonin production in the body with certain nutrients, like those in our VAAY #Sleep products.
However, despite how tempting it is to turn to natural sleep aid supplements or tablets, it’s also important to take a more holistic approach to getting a good night’s sleep. For example, getting enough exercise can help you feel genuinely tired at night. And perhaps the best natural sleep aid is to practice good sleep hygiene, which can help set you up for regular, high-quality sleep without relying on herbal remedies.
Sources  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30624194/, retrieved 26.02.2021  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230760/, retrieved 26.02.2021