Which Supplements Work For Insomnia?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Sleep plays a huge role in health, wellbeing, and long-term memory. Many folks turn to herbal remedies and supplements when they are struggling with insomnia.

Insomnia can be a sign of an underlying medical disorder, mood disorder (depression and anxiety) or a medication side effect, so first see your doctor to help you rule those out. For folks who want to stay away from over the counter Benadryl or prescription medications like Zolpidem, Eszopiclone, and Zaleplon, herbal remedies may be worth a try.

Let’s take a look.

Worth a try…


It’s not an herbal remedy, rather melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. It does not appear to be beneficial as a treatment for insomnia in most patients with two exceptions: patients who have delayed sleep phase syndrome (problems falling asleep) and in patients with low melatonin levels. One major issue with melatonin is the lack of control over what you’re actually getting when you buy it.  A recent study found that melatonin levels in the pills ranged between 83% and 478% of the melatonin dose reported on the label and that 26% of products also contained serotonin. Hmmm.


A few smaller trials have looked at chamomile given as a tea (3 cups per day) or in tinctures (1–4 ml per day).  Chamomile does appear to have a modest benefit for insomnia in some small studies. Given the safety profile of chamomile, it may be worth a shot for insomnia symptoms.


Lavender, specifically English lavender, has been used for insomnia in the form of oil or tea. Several small, very short-term (<1 week) studies in suggest that lavender oil may improve sleep quality. Worth a try.

Equol or S-Equol.

This has been studied for insomnia, but for women only. In women going through menopause experiencing insomnia (91%) this soy-based supplement S-Equol or Equol was found to significantly improve insomnia symptoms.

Don’t bother…


Valerian has been the best studied yet results show little benefit for the treatment of insomnia compared to placebo (an ineffective sugar pill).Given the limited evidence supporting meaningful change in sleep pattern, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) guides practitioners not to recommend valerian for insomnia.


This herbal formulation was studied in 2013 and found to have no benefit over placebo for insomnia.

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Kava, the herbal extract, was also found to be no better than placebo for the treatment of sleep disorders.


The amino acid l -tryptophan has only limited studies on sleep and there isn’t any real evidence suggesting it improves sleep. Also, remember in the 1990s, l-tryptophan was recalled from the market due to safety concerns – it was linked to more than 1500 reports of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome – so maybe skip it.

Hope this helps.

Dr O.

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