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Herbs for sleep

By Nadia McMorran

Herbal sleep remedies and the traditional Chinese Organ Clock

There are so many reasons, both physically and emotionally that can get in the way of a good sleep, and herbal remedies are able to provide solutions to a large number of them.


Also known as ashwaghanda, this Ayurvedic herb is well known as an adaptogen that can regulate stress hormones and works well as a relaxant and sedative, helping to promote a restful sleep.

Californian Poppy

This herb is traditionally used to help with insomnia and also works as an analgesic, so is a particularly good remedy for those that have pain that prevents a restorative sleep. The Californian poppy is distantly related to the opium poppy, however does not contain opium.


Valerian has a long history of benefiting those that are unable to sleep well, but it can also benefit people that suffer from anxiety and restless legs.


Yes, Hops is what they use to make beer! It also has wonderful therapeutic properties, including help with sleep and anxiety. When coupled with valerian, it has an even better effect on sleep patterns.


Kava is traditionally used in the Pacific Islands, and is well known for making you feel relaxed and sleepy. It also works wonders for nerve and tooth pain and reduces anxiety.


This versatile herb covers a range of conditions including insomnia, stress, anxiety and can even help with night sweats, excessive sweating, hypertension and heart palpitations.

Herbs that are used for sleep and anxiety may have interactions with various medications, please speak to your naturopath or herbalist before undertaking a course of herbal treatment if you are taking pharmaceutical medicines.

Traditional Chinese Organ Body Clock

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is believed that throughout a 24 hour cycle each organ in the body has a point of lowest and highest energy. If there is a certain time of night that you often wake, it may be that the organ related to that time of day is suffering and needs support, or that there are emotional issues related to that organ that need to be resolved.

11pm-1am Gall Bladder

During this time of night your body should be at rest if you want to wake feeling energised, and is an important time for regeneration and cellular repair.

The gall bladder can be related to feelings of bitterness and resentment.

1-3am Liver

This is a time when you should be sleeping, as toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is being made. If you regularly wake around this time, you may have problems with your liver or detoxification pathways. A daily supplement of herbs for liver support, such as milk thistle, could help with this and therefore encourage a more restful sleep.

The liver is associated with feelings of anger, frustration and rage, so working through these feelings may also help your sleep.

3-5am Lungs

If you wake at this time, particularly if you are coughing, your lungs may be trying to expel waste. You should try to keep warm so that the lungs can replenish the body with oxygen. The lungs are responsible for moving qi (energy) throughout the meridians of the body and providing immune protection. Try breathing exercises, such as breathing in through your nose for a count of 5 and out through your nose for a count of 5, in order to relax your body and lungs and go back to sleep.

This time of the morning can also relate to feelings of grief and sadness.

There are a huge variety of reasons that you may be suffering from poor sleep. If you are unsure which herb may be right for you, see your naturopath or herbalist for a consultation and they will be able to provide a personalised remedy to get you sleeping well again.