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Herbal Medicine and Sleep: A Master Herbalists Perspective

By Mike Stuchiner, Master Herbalist

If not dealt with correctly, daily life stressors can create an anxious and overwhelmed mind and body, leading to low-quality sleep, poor recovery, and deteriorating health. In this article, I will discuss how herbal medicine’s proper application may play a significant supportive role in helping you get a great quality night of restorative sleep.

Most people lack an understanding of the critical connection between self-awareness and picking the proper herbs (based on their mechanisms of action) to correct the issues preventing them from getting a good night’s sleep. When I speak of self-awareness, I am referring to how good you are at recognizing the different problems that make you lay in bed at night frustrated, restless, and unable to stop your mind from racing 100 mph.

Ask yourself the following questions...

Do you feel anxious?

Is your body tired, but your mind is still going 100 mph?

Do you feel tense or have muscle spasms?

Do you suffer from grief or depression?

Are you in pain? If so, what kind of pain are you feeling?

Are you aware of the source of your pain?

Is there a structural issue, or is it emotionally based, manifesting itself as physical pain?

The key to using herbs successfully is to look at all aspects (physical, mental, emotional, and personality) of the individual and focus on the person rather than the condition. It is challenging for an herb company to make a formula for the masses because one formula does not fit everyone's personal needs. For this reason, I encourage people to buy all the individual herbs to make their formulas based on their specific needs.

For the sake of simplicity, I will categorize the issues that cause an individual to struggle in having a good night's sleep into two groups.

The first type is excessive insomnia.

Excessive insomnia is more commonly known and the basis for most sleep formulas. In this case, the individual can’t sleep due to anxiety, anger, and too much energy, leading to a whole host of issues like spasms, convulsions, outbursts, and an overactive mind that won’t shut down.

The second is deficiency insomnia.

While less familiar, deficiency insomnia is characterized by blood deficiencies and low energy. Commonly, the individual feels unrested after long periods of sleep. When I say less common, I am referring to needing the energy to have a good night's sleep are usually not associated with each other. Have you ever heard someone say, “I am so tired, I can’t even sleep”? It is more common than you think. In simple terms, the deficiencies do not allow the individual to produce enough energy to get into a deep sleep to induce the recovery process. The body’s energy is depleted and weak, so the result is they wake up very tired, lethargic, and still not recovered.

Please keep in mind; it is not uncommon that someone can have aspects of both types. For example, an individual can be physically exhausted, but they can’t seem to shut their mind/thoughts off. Physical exhaustion is a sign of deficiency, and the inability to calm one's thoughts down is a sign of excess.

Now that you have a very general and straightforward overview of how to classify factors that affect sleep, let’s take a look at the herbs that may support a healthy sleep state. Rather than listing many herbs and what they are suitable for, I thought it would be more fun and practical to look at a well-known formula on the market and break down the purpose of the herbs chosen for that formula. This way, you know what herbs you will want to pick when creating your formula.

While I did mention earlier how hard it is for a company to make a product for the masses, there are some very effective formulas on the market. These are products formulated by actual herbalists that understand synergy, mechanisms of action, and how to cover all the bases to create a general sleep formula. For those reasons, the formula I am about to speak about is very effective for many people.

The formula called Sound Sleep combines the following herbs:

Hops- Sedative

Valerian- Anxiolytic /Anti-Spasmodic

California Poppy- Analgesic

Passion Flower- Strong Nervine- Great for those who can’t shut their mind off

Skullcap- Those who respond to stress with spasms, convulsions fly off the handle.

Vervain- Strong Anti-Spasmodic

Gotu Kola- Cools red hot, inflamed tissue, Cerebral circulation

Kava- Anxiolytic /Anti-Spasmodic

Based on the herbs' mechanism of action, it is pretty clear that this formula would be most appropriate for someone with manifesting issues of excessive Insomnia. It addresses many of the problems that go with this form of insomnia (pain, spasms, anxiety, can’t shut their mind off, inflammation).

Because it is a premade formula, please keep in mind that there may be herbs here that are unnecessary for your needs. For example, if the pain is not an issue, then California Poppy is not required. There may also be herbs that are missing to make this formula perfect for you. A simple fix is to buy the herb separately and take it along with the formula. An example of this would be adding a nervine like Milky Oats to nourish and strengthen the nervous system, supporting overall results. It is no secret in herbal medicine that Milky Oats is the queen of restorative nerve tonics. I think you will find most herbalists agree; this superb tonic should be put into the water system so everyone can have their daily dose.

Since it is not as commonly marketed, someone who does not have proper training in herbal medicine may not recognise a more specific formula for deficiency insomnia. Therefore, I will give a hypothetical example of an individual dealing with deficiency insomnia and creating proper formulas for them. Again, in the case of deficiency insomnia, the individual lacks foundational energy. The lack of energy prevents the individual from getting into a deep restorative sleep which often creates the perfect storm for excessive signs like anxiety and overthinking.

In this case, there would be a need to create two formulas.

Nighttime formula

Milky Oats extract- Nervous system tonic, Greatest nerve trophorestorative

Passion Flower- Strong Nervine- Great for those who can’t shut their mind off

Valerian- Anxiolytic /Anti-Spasmodic

The purpose of the nighttime formula is to both calm and support the restoration of the nervous system.

Daytime formula

In the case of deficiency insomnia, the need for herbs to support energy levels is critical. By building the energy through the day, the individual will have the reserves they need to get proper sleep at night.

Red Ginseng- Warming, Stimulating, Builds energy reserves.

Holy Basil- Anxiolytic

A small amount of red ginseng with holy basil throughout the day may support this task. Red Ginseng is very warming and stimulating herb that works well to build and support energy reserves. But, be cautious if the individual is dealing with anxiety because too much at one time may overstimulate and trigger the anxiety. Therefore, it is best to combine it with an herb like Holy Basil (which works well as an anxiolytic) to balance the formula. If the individual still finds it too stimulating, American Ginseng can be used as a substitute because it may help build energy reserves but is more cooling by nature.

Ben Franklin stated, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Thanks to the mountain of research done in the area of sleep, we have learned that a good quality night of sleep and restorative daily naps are some of the most important factors to a long and healthy life. The up-and-coming research area known as sleep hygiene looks at all the elements that create an optimal sleep environment. It will be exciting to see the information that emerges from this area of study for years to come. I hope the information I have provided to you in this article regarding how to deal with sleep problems in a more targeted way has helped put things into perspective for you. Using self-awareness to produce a targeted approach to support and correct factors affecting your sleep is undoubtedly the most effective way to create long and restful nights of sleep.

If you are interested in scheduling a private herbal educational session, public lecture, or requesting me to create an article for your website, please contact me at

In great health,

Mike Stuchiner

Master Herbalist

Disclaimer: The above is for educational purposes ONLY. Any information derived from this article is NOT intended to treat, prescribe or diagnose. It should NEVER be used as a replacement for ANY recommendation by your healthcare provider.

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