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5 Natural Knockouts for a Good Night’s Sleep

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Dr. Aimée Shunney of Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine reviews

five natural herbal remedies that can help you turn out the lights

and get the healthful, restful sleep your body needs

Are you getting enough quality sleep?

Sleep is something we often tend to neglect, but shouldn’t. Poor sleeping habits have been linked to:

increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity
decreased ability to concentrate and focus
increased hunger and disrupted of metabolism
anxiety and depression

Conventional medical sleep treatment focuses on prescription medications that are often habit-forming, have problematic side effects, and don’t provide the deep restful sleep we so desperately need. While some cases of insomnia may require these medications, many do not. I have found that herbal medicine can be profoundly effective to manage occasional sleep issues, and even regular bouts with insomnia:

Cannabidiol (aka CBD) from Hemp You can get CBD oil from medical or recreational cannabis, too, but I choose hemp because I know that a hemp-derived CBD product can’t contain more than 0.3% THC. THC, the cannabinoid most known for its psychoactive effects, can help some people fall asleep faster, but it can also worsen sleep quality long-term. On the other hand, CBD, which has no psychoactive effect, shows promise for supporting sleep quality including REM sleep. In an open label trial, hemp-derived CBD improved sleep by 67% after 4 weeks. CBD helps to balance our endocannabinoid system which is the system that keeps us balanced by regulating the fight or flight response, modulating the endocrine system, and supporting immune function, including a healthy inflammatory response. That means that while CBD may help you sleep, it could also be quieting your anxiety and decreasing pain and inflammation.

5HTP is a form of the amino acid tryptophan derived from Griffonia simplicifolia, a woody climbing shrub. 5HTP has been reported in numerous double-blind studies to decrease the time required to get to sleep and to decrease the number of night awakenings. Taking 5-HTP will raise serotonin levels, an important initiator of sleep. If estrogen levels are fluctuating, serotonin production will be affected – an explanation for the prevalence of sleep issues at times of hormonal change. Also, adequate serotonin is needed to make melatonin, another important hormone for sleep.
Nervine (Calming) Herbs – This class of mildly sedating herbs, called nervines (also includes skullcap, catnip, chamomile, and California poppy), has been used traditionally for centuries by herbalists for sleep disturbance, anxiety, and nervous restlessness. Valerian has been used for centuries as a sedative, including as an aid for insomnia. The German Commission E and the World Health Organization (WHO) endorse the use of valerian for sleep. In fact, the WHO lists valerian as a milder alternative to or possible substitute for stronger sedatives like benzodiazepine drugs.

Cinnamon, Holy Basil, and a protein snack at bedtime can support blood sugar balance while you sleep. If your blood sugar drops during the night (from too much alcohol, sweets, or carbs before bed), your cortisol will spike and may wake you up. To avoid nocturnal awakening, I recommend that my patients cut the sugar and carbs at bedtime, and instead have a protein snack like hummus and carrots, rice cake and nut butter, or small portion of protein smoothie (with cinnamon!) to help keep blood sugar stable during the night.

Kava Kava has been shown to be a potent effective herb for anxiety. It impacts receptors in the brain that promote calm and focus. Long-term use of kava should be under the care of a doctor. Short-term use for 4-6 weeks, however, is considered safe.

Insomnia can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem. A qualified integrative practitioner can assist in determining the cause of your sleep disturbance by doing a thorough history and physical, ordering selected tests, and by giving instructions on the use of a sleep diary. She can then explore the various modalities appropriate for you including sleep hygiene, diet, herbs, supplements, homeopathy, hormones, and prescription medicines.


1. What health problems are often triggered by getting too little sleep?

2. At the top of your list of natural sleep remedies you recommend “CBD” oil, a chemical compound found both in the hemp plant and its biological cousin, the marijuana plant. Tell us a little about CBD and its history.

3. What improvements in the sleep and/or health of your patients have you noted after putting them on a CBD supplementation program?

4. Is CBD available without a prescription and is there a specific brand you recommend?

6. “What healthy bedtime habits or routines should we practice to improve our quality of sleep?

7. Which of the natural remedies on your list would you recommend for anxiety or nervousness?

8. You don’t recommend taking multiple sleep remedies simultaneously. Do you have a particular one that you normally prescribe first?

9. Where can listeners go for more information? www.pluscbdoil.com


Aimée Gould Shunney, Naturopathic Physician, is in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA where she blends conventional medical diagnosis and treatment with the use of natural therapeutics. Dr. Shunney was graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a BA in psychology. She attended the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon where she received her Naturopathic Medical Degree in 2001. Dr. Shunney is licensed to practice medicine by the state of California and serves as Medical Advisor to CV Sciences, makers of PlusCBD oil.

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