Treatment for insomnia can vary greatly, with some patients opting for prescription medications, while others turn to reading or even a glass of wine. For some, herbal medicines may be an option, particularly when there are concerns with using pharmaceutical agents. However, whether these treatments are useful for treating insomnia is still unclear. In a recent study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews, researchers examined 14 studies that involved the use of herbal medicine to manage insomnia; 1,602 patients with insomnia were included, with the majority being older adults.
The four main herbal supplements assessed in these studies included valerian, kava, wuling, and chamomile, with sleep onset latency, sleep duration, and adverse events being the most frequently assessed outcomes. Based on the findings from these trials, the authors conclude that none of these herbal remedies were any more effective in improving any of the outcomes than placebo or active controls (eg, homeopathic Coffea cruda, V. officinalis, oxazepam).
With regards to safety, a greater number of adverse events were reported in patients treated with valerian, but this data should be interpreted with caution since it may be skewed by patients reporting multiple events. When compared to placebo, a similar or smaller number of events were reported with kava, chamomile, and wuling. These findings concur with previous studies which indicate that these herbal medicines are generally safe and well-tolerated in patients with insomnia.
While clinical evidence for the use of herbal medicines to treat insomnia may be lacking, the authors note that further research is justified given that the type of preparation, the dosage, or the method of extraction may have different effects on patients with insomnia.