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Fife medical herbalist shares top natural remedies to help 7 common sleep problems

Medicinal herbs in a mortar and pestle with leaves and roots on a table
We speak to Keren at Health Food and More in Kirkcaldy, to find out about natural remedies for sleep. Image: Shutterstock/DC Thomson.

If you need help getting a good night’s sleep, natural remedies can be a great place to start looking for the help you need.

But what are the best natural remedies to help you get the best sleep possible?

We speak to owner of Health Food and More in Kirkcaldy, Keren Brynes MacLean, to find out about the top natural remedies to combat common sleeping problems.

Best natural sleep remedies

1. Insomnia – trouble falling asleep

Keren says: “Often problems falling asleep will be tied into having a really active mind. You want to try and calm down some of that mental chatter that’s going on.

“One of the traditional herbs we’d use for that as a relaxing remedy, valerian root, which is a really longstanding remedy.

“We’ve been using it for hundreds of years in this country to help with stress and insomnia.

Valerian root in a wooden spoon on a table
Valerian root can prevent insomnia. Image: Shutterstock.

“Valerian is fantastic for sleep. Lots of research suggests valerian can increase the duration of sleep significantly. It’s also very good if you’re in discomfort or pain.

“Lemon balm is another herb and L-theanine – an amino acid extracted from green tea – works as well.

“Other things like using lavender essential oils on the pillow can be really helpful, or making a sleep pillow out of lavender flowers or hops.”

2. Insomnia – trouble staying asleep

“If someone has the type of insomnia where they’re getting to sleep but waking at 2-3am, we’d be using herbs and remedies that focus on adrenal glands.

“One of the best herbs for that is called ashwagandha. I’d also recommend rhodiola. It helps boost dopamine and ensures neurotransmitters are in a state of balance and calm.

Keren owns Health Food and More in Kirkcaldy. Image: Keren Brynes MacLean.

“The beauty of using adaptogenic herbs like these is they increase our capacity to deal with daytime stress, but can encourage restful sleep as well.”

3. Snoring

“If there was a magic remedy for snoring, whoever invented it would be a millionaire by now!

“It’s not as straightforward as just taking a remedy, you have to look at why it’s happening.

“Sometimes it will be tied into sinus congestion. That’s when we might use some decongesting herbs like elderflower or plantain.

Elderflower plant
Elderflower can benefit those who struggle with snoring. Image: Shutterstock.

“If it’s an allergic sort of congestion, reishi mushroom is really good because it has an antihistamine-like effect, but it also encourages really good restful sleep.

“Another thing that can cause snoring is reflux and some people might not know they have it.

“Simple remedies like meadow sweet or chamomile can make a difference. Or, what I’ve suggested sometimes is trying a pharmaceutical drug like Gaviscon.”

4. Restless legs

“I always recommend magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is associated with cramping and spasming in the body and can contribute towards restless legs.

“I’d usually recommend a transdermal magnesium spray – you put it directly onto the skin.

“If you use a spray on the legs at bedtime, you’re targeting where the problem is and you’ll get a localised stronger effect from the magnesium.

“It’s one of the main reasons we sell magnesium in the shop and there’s such a huge demand for it.”

5. Back ache

“It’s a really common problem for a lot of people. It depends on what’s causing the back ache.

“It could be tension and stress in the muscles, in which case magnesium could help.

Devil's claw flower
Devil’s claw can alleviate back ache. Image: Shutterstock.

“But if there is an underlying biomechanical problem, I’d think about using devil’s claw, because it’s an anti-inflammatory which works on the connective tissue and joints as well.

“Once you get the inflammation under control, that will help with pain problems too.”

6. Nightmares

“If you’re suffering with nightmares, I’d use herbs like passion flower which is really comforting and makes us feel really safe and secure.

“There’s also Californian poppy which encourages you to have more of a dreamless sleep.

“I think dreaming is quite an important part of what we do, but I’ve had a number of clients who’ve had really awful problems with nightmares.

Celery seed in a wooden spoon.
Keren advises using celery seed to help eradicate nightmares. Image: Shutterstock.

“So, the herb I use is celery seed. I’ve used it on so many occasions now on people who have nightmares and it just stops them.

“I had a lady who was waking up screaming in bed and started taking celery seed around 10 weeks ago.

“She’s woken up once in 10 weeks screaming when this was happening two or three times a week before.”

7. Menopause – night sweats

Night sweats are a really common problem for women going through the menopause.

“That can suppress the oestrogen down and can cause hot flushes.

“One of the most well-known remedies is soy which contains oestrogen and locks into oestrogen receptor sites all over the body.

Sage plant
Sage can help with hot flushes. Image: Shutterstock.

“There are some herbs that are really specific for dealing with hot flushes. One of the best is sage.

“It works as an anhydrotic, it blocks sweating and is really good for coping with menopausal sweats.

“It also boosts up dopamine levels. Using refrigerant herbs which help cool your body down can also help.

“Rose is a really good remedy for that. It’s great to use when someone is overheating, but also when they’re feeling really stressed. It can be really comforting.”