Answer: Obviously much depends on the reasons a person is unable to sleep. It's important to consider diet, exercise and any health problems when addressing sleep issues. Any nourishing herbs can be helpful when dealing with chronic sleep issues. I believe the body can relax and rest better when all nutrients are supplied. Calcium, magnesium and the B vitamins are especially important for a good night's sleep. Oatstraw infusion is one of my favorites for building overall health and it is also a soothing herb for the nervous system which makes it a great herb to try if you are dealing with sleep issues related to nervous tension. Oatstraw, nettle and any other herbs which nourish the body can help with energy levels. The more energetic you are during the day, the more likely you will sleep soundly at night.
Catnip is my favorite herb for times when a person is "too tired to go to bed" or when one's mind goes round and round and won't stop. I steep two teaspoons dried herb in one cup of boiling water, covered, for about seven minutes and then strain and add a little milk and a drizzle of honey. (You may want to omit the honey or have a small glass of water to rinse your mouth afterwards if you are concerned about dental issues.) I complete my bedtime routine and get into bed and slowly sip the tea, cradling the cup's warmth in my hands and inhaling the steam. When finished I set the cup on my nightstand and lie down, taking soft, deep breaths and allowing the relaxation to permeate my body.
Another relaxing tea which can be taken at bedtime is a blend of equal parts catnip, chamomile, roses and spearmint. I call this tea Sani-tea because it can be very calming for children and adults in any kind of stressful situations. Follow the directions for catnip tea.
Valerian is another traditional herb for sleep but I prefer to avoid it except in cases of great need because it is a very potent herb which can be hard on the body. It is, however, very effective for many people and can induce a hard sleep. It is especially helpful for cases where someone cannot sleep due to illness such as the flu. Steep one teaspoon of the dried root, covered, in one cup of boiling water for five to seven minutes. Strain out the root and drink the tea. The tea has an unpleasant flavor but it can be worth enduring if you really need the sleep. There is a small percentage of the population which reacts differently to valerian. Instead of acting as a sedative it acts as a stimulant for these people. If valerian makes you jittery instead of relaxed you are in this group and should avoid using it.
Some other herbs which may be helpful for sleep issues are passionflower, lemon balm and hops taken as tea.
Susun Weed suggests passionflower tincture taken in the morning for people with insomnia due to abuse or similar trauma.
Sleep pillows can also be useful. These are small pillows loosely stuffed with dried herbs and slipped under one's regular pillow at night. They should be refreshed with new herbs every three or four months. See the answer to the question below for ideas of herbs to use. Hops can be included in pillows for adults.
Question: I would love to make some herbal sleeping pillows for my kids. Any suggestions for mixtures?
Answer: My favorite sleep pillow blend for children is a combination of dried catnip, roses, chamomile, lavender and rosemary. Some people also like to add hops but I prefer to skip it in children's pillows because its sedative effects can reputedly be rather strong. I use a handful or two each of catnip, roses, chamomile and lavender and use a couple of pinches of rosemary. If your child has a ragweed allergy and doesn't already use chamomile, you may want to omit the chamomile just to be on the safe side. The first four herbs are all calming herbs but I include the rosemary for a special reason. Traditionally it has been used to prevent nightmares and strangely, I've found it seems to have that effect on my children. I discovered this when one or the other of them would get into a pattern of having nightmares and dreading going to sleep which would in turn be more likely to cause nightmares. I placed a sprig of rosemary under their pillows and told them how it was used to prevent nightmares. On each occasion I've used it, they've slept soundly without any night mares. The effect may be purely psychological but rosemary's scent does seem to have a steadying quality so I like to include in all sleep pillows for children.