Natural Sleep Aids | 10 Best Herbs for Sleep + Sleep Support Teas and Houseplants - Vital Plan

Natural Sleep Aids | 10 Best Herbs for Sleep + Sleep Support Teas and Houseplants

We’ve all been there: Exhausted, but sleep just isn’t happening. Maybe your brain won’t shut down, or you can’t get comfortable. Or perhaps you did manage to drift off but woke up feeling groggy like you ran eight miles, not slept eight hours.

What gives? There’s likely a disruption in the normal tides of brain chemicals that are tuned into your circadian rhythms, which help regulate your cells, organs, and systems, says Dr. Bill Rawls, Medical Director of Vital Plan. These rhythms are what either keep us awake or put us to sleep.

“During the day, levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated, which helps us get through day-to-day activities,” Dr. Rawls explains. In the evening, cortisol and its cohorts are supposed to reduce, making way for a new set of relaxing chemicals that induce and sustain sleep. However, stress and other factors, such as stuffy sinuses or aches and pains, can throw off the chemical tides, as well as your Zzzs.

Casual beautiful woman working on a laptop at the night at home, tired and stressed.

While you may be tempted to pop a sleeping pill, they can come with dependency and other unwanted side effects. Instead, consider nature’s pharmacy. Research shows it’s stocked with herbs and plants that can promote a healthy sleep environment and help you unwind, drift off, and wake up feeling energized and refreshed.

Here are 12 herbs to help you sleep, plus soothing teas and houseplants that belong in your bedroom if you genuinely want to sleep like a dream.

Natural Remedies for Sleep: Herbs, Teas, and Plants for Sleep

Herbs for Sleep & Occasional Sleeplessness

Certain herbs are believed to help you rest by affecting the brain’s gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a key neurotransmitter that induces sleep, Dr. Rawls says. Other herbs support sleep by helping promote a sense of calm and relaxation in the body, warding off feelings of agitation that can get in the way of sound sleep.

Here are a few of Dr. Rawls’ favorite herbs and supplements he recommends for occasional sleep support:

passion flower growing in the wild


This exotic purple vine flower is as beautiful as it sounds and has been used in Western herbalism for occasional sleeplessness for the past 150+ years. One species in particular — passiflora incarnata — is praised for its ability to quiet the mental static that can push sleep out of reach. In the Journal of Anesthesia, one study found that patients about to undergo spinal anesthesia who took passionflower extract felt calmer than those who received a placebo.

lemon balm growing outside

Lemon Balm

Another favorite is lemon balm, which provides a wide range of nervous system support, helping calm stressed nerves and promoting deeper, more restful sleep. Lemon balm is a mildly sedating herb, so it pairs well with passionflower before bed. While this herb is sold as a powdered whole herb in capsules, it’s best to use a powdered extract rather than a whole herb for more potent benefits.

If you’re ready for a more peaceful, calming, and restful night’s sleep, try Vital Plan’s Sleep Complete, which has a specific lemon balm powdered extract to maximize its benefits, plus passionflower and other herbs to help melt sleep anxiety and turn on sleep mode. 

small white bacopa flowers, herb


An herb native to India, bacopa has been used for thousands of years and is best known to help support memory, focus, and mental function. But it’s also calming and has a very mild sedative effect, Dr. Rawls says. One study, for example, showed the herb could help mitigate some of the impact of stress.

pink motherwort flowers growing, herb


Although it originated in central Eurasia, this member of the mint family has long been used in herbal medicine and now grows in gardens in temperate areas of the world. “It’s a nice, calming herb that affects dopamine and has sleep-promoting qualities,” Dr. Rawls says. Russian researchers found that in subjects with high blood pressure and sleep problems, 80% of those who took motherwort saw significant or moderate improvement in low mood and related sleep trouble.

CBD oil in dropper

CBD from Hemp

Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a natural compound in the hemp plant that works by mimicking endocannabinoids in the body, Dr. Rawls explains. Endocannabinoids are part of the endocannabinoid system, which oversees or regulates parts of the nervous system, mood and emotions, endorphins, hormones, and more.

Dr. Rawls says that by mimicking endocannabinoids, CBD can help increase calmness and a sense of well-being and improve sleep.

To get the benefits, take 15-30 mg of full-spectrum CBD oil before bed, as needed. You might need more or less, but it’s best to start at a lower serving and gradually build up until you find the amount that works for you.

“The key to a good night’s sleep isn’t just what you do at bedtime — it’s also what you’re doing during the day,” Dr. Rawls says. 

Read on to learn about adaptogens and other herbs that can help moderate daytime stress and set the stage for healthy sleep at night.

Daily Herbs to Keep Sleep-Stealing Stress in Check

ashwaganda leaves, dull green color with small flowers in the middle

Ashwagandha for Sleep

Native to India and Africa, ashwagandha is one of the better-known adaptogens, a category of herbs that help the body adapt to stress and keep you calm in the face of adversity. That’s a desirable benefit for many reasons, including the fact that mental stress is a top enemy of sleep.

Dr. Rawls explains that ashwagandha is particularly useful in balancing the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis or HPA axis. This central pathway facilitates the body’s stress response and secretion of hormones, like cortisol (a stress hormone), quickly and efficiently.

Researchers have also identified a component in Ashwagandha called triethylene glycol that may be directly linked with inducing sleep. Taking this with anolide — a naturally occurring steroid in Ashwagandha leaves — corresponded significantly higher amounts of non-REM sleep in mice. Dr. Rawls recommends taking it both in the morning and evening to get the most out of ashwagandha's balancing powers.

two spoons filled with dried tea leaves

L-theanine Benefits for Sleep

This calming amino acid found naturally in green tea is why the caffeinated brew isn’t as jitters-inducing as coffee — it helps counteract the stimulating effects of caffeine, says Dr. Rawls.

Similarly, l-theanine helps keep our brains from overstimulating: It works on neurotransmitters to promote relaxation and keep anxious feelings in check.

Research shows this can also translate to improved sleep. For instance, one study found that l-theanine helped reduce sleep latency and increase sleep duration. In other words, it significantly increased the total time spent asleep. This is another herb you can take both in the morning and at night to moderate stress and is also found in Vital Plan’s Sleep Complete.

dried Chinese skullcap mushrooms

Chinese Tree Bark Extracts

A combination of two Chinese tree barks — magnolia and phellodendron — has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for more than 1,500 years to help promote a healthful reaction to everyday stress, anger, tension and fatigue. Add these barks to your twice-a-day routine to help optimize your ability to cope in the face of stress.

To help improve your body’s ability to handle stress, we encourage you to try Vital Plan’s HPA Balance, which contains all three of the stress-reducing herbs listed above - ashwagandha, l-Theanine, and Chinese tree bark extracts. With Vital Plan’s HPA Balance, you will improve your quality of sleep as you feel more relaxed and in control throughout the day.

Herbs for Pain and Aches that Make You Toss and Turn

orange turmeric powder in bowl beside turmeric root

Benefits of Turmeric

If achy knees, hips, or other joints are keeping you up nights, consider turmeric your new go-to. The classic spice that gives Indian dishes their yellow hue, turmeric is increasingly admired for its ability to help soothe and comfort sore joints.

Much of the credit goes to curcumin and other curcuminoids, active compounds in turmeric with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits

While it’s easier than ever to get more turmeric in your diet, thanks to trendy turmeric lattes and golden milks, it’s tough to get therapeutic levels from dietary sources. A better bet is to choose a full-spectrum extract with 200-400 mg, twice a day, to reap the most benefits.

green boswellia leaves

Boswellia Herb

Another Indian native, boswellia is a close relative of frankincense. And while it may not be a household name like turmeric, boswellia deserves similar attention for its antioxidant activity and joint comforting capabilities. 

Pairing boswellia with turmeric seems to enhance boswellia’s effects, suggesting a synergistic relationship, says Dr. Rawls. To get the benefits, he recommends taking 100 mg, twice daily.

Herbal Tea For Sleep: Promote Soothing Bedtime Rituals

clear tea pot full of dark tea and herb leaves. blurred background of two full, glass tea cups.

There’s something immediately calming about cupping your hands around a warm mug of herbal tea and breathing in the steam that wafts up. But the right mix of steeped herbs in your cup could make the ritual even more effective.

Here are three teas to look for:

Passionflower Tea

“Passionflower helps bring on calm, and it also promotes muscle relaxation,” says Dr. Rawls. Those two benefits make this Amazonian plant especially effective for promoting sleep. In fact, people who drank passionflower tea for a week reported better sleep quality than when they drank a placebo tea, according to a study from Monash University in Australia.

Chamomile and Valerian Tea

Perhaps the two most common herbal ingredients found in bedtime teas, their sleep-supporting benefits are well supported by research. For example, postnatal women who drank chamomile tea for two weeks reported less sleep interference from physical symptoms, according to a study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Just be sure to listen to your body if you try these teas. While chamomile works well for many, it may keep others awake, Dr. Rawls says. Likewise for valerian: “About 25 percent of people who take it can feel agitated,” he says.

Bring Nature Into Your Bedroom

all white bedroom with lots of plants behind bed, against the wall, on tables. Clean, relaxing vibe.

In addition to taking advantage of the best herbs for sleep (as well as joint care and stress), consider what houseplants can do for you. Not only do studies suggest that simply being around plants can help you feel calmer, but certain varieties are especially effective at scrubbing the air of pollutants that cause sleep-disrupting symptoms, and others give off rest-promoting aromas.

The Best Air-Purifier Houseplants

Take your pick of any of the following:

  • Areca palm
  • Lady palm
  • Bamboo palm
  • Rubber plant
  • Dracaena
  • English ivy
  • Dwarf date palm
  • Ficus
  • Boston fern
  • Peace lily

All are on the top-10 list of best houseplants for their ability to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from indoor air, as assessed by a NASA researcher. Many building and household materials like paint, carpeting, and cleaning supplies release VOCs, known to irritate eyes and airways and trigger headaches and fatigue—in other words, symptoms that mess with sleep.

Calming Houseplants

Scents affect the nervous system, and science shows that lavender, jasmine, and gardenia are incredibly calming. For example, researchers at Wesleyan University found that when people sniffed lavender oil before bed, they spent more time in deep sleep and felt more energized and refreshed in the morning. In another study from Wheeling Jesuit University, people were exposed to jasmine scents while sleeping, causing them to move around less, indicating better-quality sleep.

The Bottom Line: Try Nature’s Pharmacy for Better Sleep

Herbal tea in clear mug, on top of copper platter with lavender and other herbs. Rustic, earthy vibe.

Utilizing herbs, teas, and houseplants as natural sleep aids may be all you need for a good night’s rest. For the best and lasting results though, Dr. Rawls recommends combining plants and herbs with sustainable lifestyle changes known to improve sleep long-term.

“Regular exercise and other stress-reducing activities, as well as practicing healthy sleep hygiene like limiting screen time at night, are also essential elements for enjoying optimal sleep,” Dr. Rawls says.

We hope these suggestions help you find more peaceful nights of deep sleep.

1. Ngan A and Conduit R. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality.” Phytotherapy Research, 2011 Aug;25(8):1153-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400.
2. Aslanargun P, et al. “Passiflora incarnata Linneaus as an anxiolytic before spinal anesthesia.” Journal of Anesthesia, 2012 Feb;26(1):39-44. doi: 10.1007/s00540-011-1265-6.
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7. Mahesh K. Kaushik, et al. “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.” PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (2): e0172508 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172508
8. Suhyeon Kim, et al. “GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep.” Pharmaceutical Biology, 2019; 57(1): 65–73. doi: 10.1080/13880209.2018.1557698
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10. Shawn M Talbott, et al. “Effect of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Relora®) on cortisol and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2013; 10: 37. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-37
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16. Milan Fedurco, et al. “Modulatory Effects of Eschscholzia californica Alkaloids on Recombinant GABAA Receptors.” Biochemistry Research International, Volume 2015, Article ID 617620, 9 pages. doi: 10.1155/2015/617620
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18. Lehrl S. “Clinical efficacy of kava extract WS 1490 in sleep disturbances associated with anxiety disorders. Results of a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial.” Journal of Affective Disorders, 2004 Feb;78(2):101-10.
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20. Ngan A and Conduit R. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation of the effects of Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) herbal tea on subjective sleep quality.” Phytotherapy Research, 2011 Aug;25(8):1153-9. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3400.
21. Aslanargun P, et al. Passiflora incarnata Linneaus as an anxiolytic before spinal anesthesia. Journal of Anesthesia, 2012 Feb;26(1):39-44. doi: 10.1007/s00540-011-1265-6.
22. Chang SM, Chen CH. Effects of an intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2016 Feb;72(2):306-15. doi: 10.1111/jan.12836.
23. Luz Claudio. “Planting Healthier Indoor Air.” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011 Oct; 119(10): a426–a427. doi: 10.1289/ehp.119-a426
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