Best Nervine Herbs for Better Sleep and Stress Management

Chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, and valerian are popular nervine (impact the nervous system) herbs known for their calming effects. By incorporating nervine herbs into your daily life, you can tap into their soothing properties and create a tranquil environment for your mind, helping you drift off to sleep peacefully and manage stress more effectively.

Key takeaways:

In our modern world, where stress has become a constant companion, it's no surprise that our minds often become overwhelmed, hindering our ability to obtain the essential seven hours of sleep we need each night.

If you have ever had trouble falling asleep due to persistent worries that keep you up at night, fear not. This article will provide valuable insights on easing anxieties and achieving restful sleep through nervine herbs.

An ultimate guide to a balanced nervous system

Simply put, nervines are herbs or natural remedies that have a beneficial effect on your nervous system. There are three main groups of nervines: tonics, relaxants, and stimulants. Each group has unique properties and impacts on the body.

  • Tonic nervines. Tonic nervines strengthen, nourish, and restore our nervous system. They are particularly good at addressing shock, stress, and anxiety. They have a neuroprotective activity that can help support the aging nervous system. Commonly known tonic nervines include St. John's wort or skullcap.
  • Relaxant nervines. Relaxant nervines, as the name suggests, help our nervous system relax. These herbs have a calming effect, can be used to promote relaxation, and are perfect to use during times of stress. There are many relaxing nervines, including valerian, California poppy, and lemon balm.
  • Stimulant nervines. Stimulant nervines enhance and activate the body's physiological processes. Stimulants are commonly associated with increased energy levels, like coffee, but stimulants can affect various bodily functions. For instance, a gastrointestinal stimulant, such as bitters, can stimulate digestive activity. Stimulating our body's natural processes with herbal remedies can have both positive and negative effects.

Understanding the different categories of nervines can help you choose the most suitable herb for your specific needs and desired effects.

Four herbs for sleep, stress, and anxiety

Enhancing sleep quality and managing anxiety can be supported by specific nervine herbs known for their remarkable properties. Let's delve into four commonly used relaxant nervine herbs, each offering unique characteristics and benefits that contribute to a calm and peaceful state of mind.


Chamomile is considered a mild relaxant nervine and has been used for centuries to promote relaxation, improve sleep quality, and reduce anxiety. The plant has natural components like apigenin, which is known to have a relaxing impact on the brain. These compounds interact with receptors in our brain, including the GABA receptors, which help to slow down our central nervous system and promote relaxation.

Studies suggest that people experiencing sleep difficulties, such as insomnia, may benefit from chamomile. The research also indicates it can alleviate anxiety in individuals with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorders. Further research is still needed to fully understand how chamomile works, but it holds promise as a natural remedy for sleep problems and anxiety.

Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are both known as relaxant nervines.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm, scientifically known as Melissa officinalis, is a mild relaxant nervine known for its calming citrusy scent. It has been used for centuries to promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep. It contains volatile compounds, triterpenes, and phenolics that positively affect our well-being.

Scientific studies have found that lemon balm can increase a chemical called GABA in our brains. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm and relaxed. It is believed that lemon balm does this by inhibiting GABA transaminase, allowing more GABA to be available in our brains.

Some studies have found that lemon balm extract can improve sleep and reduce anxiety in people with mild-to-moderate symptoms. One study looked at lemon balm's effects on patients with chronic stable angina. They found that after treatment with 3 grams of lemon balm daily for eight weeks, the patients showed significant improvements in depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep problems.

Overall, lemon balm shows promise as a natural remedy for relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep. Nevertheless, more research is needed to fully understand its effects and how it compares to other treatments.


Scutellaria lateriflora, commonly known as skullcap, is a natural herb with calming effects that can help relieve anxiety. In a double-blind study, participants who took skullcap capsules experienced reduced anxiety compared to those who took a placebo. Higher doses of skullcap showed more substantial effects but may be associated with liver toxicity.

Research suggests that compounds found in skullcap have the potential to protect neurons, indicating the plant’s ability to support brain health. Thus, the skullcap plant is both a tonic for the nerves and a moderate relaxant. Additionally, skullcap contains melatonin, a compound known for its calming and sedative effects, often prescribed as an over-the-counter supplement for sleep.

Overall, skullcap holds promise as a natural remedy for anxiety relief and promoting relaxation, but as with any other herbal medicine, further research is required to establish its risks and effectiveness.

Valerian root

Valerian root is a natural herb from the Valeriana officinalis plant that has been used for centuries to help with sleep problems and anxiety. It contains compounds like valerenic acid, which has calming effects on the brain and body, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.

When we feel anxious, our brains become overactive, causing restlessness and trouble sleeping. Valerian root, like lemon balm, interacts with GABA receptors. Valerian helps increase the availability of GABA in our brain, promoting relaxation and better sleep.

Valerian is scientifically proven to enhance sleep quality and alleviate anxiety symptoms. Clinical trials have shown that individuals who struggle with sleeping have experienced better sleep after taking valerian.

For the best results, it is suggested to take valerian consistently for 26 weeks. However, it's important to note that using it for more than 28 days may be unsafe, as there is no data on its long-term safety. Individual responses may vary, and more research is needed to understand the benefits of valerian and how it fully works.

Common nervine relaxants

Many medicinal plants fall under the category of nervine, with some more commonly known for promoting a healthy nervous system, relaxation, and even sleep. A few of the most popular nervine relaxants include:

  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Some studies suggest combining herbal blends may offer superior benefits for managing stress, anxiety, or sleep compared to using a single relaxant nervine, but further herbal medicine research is needed, and the specific herbal blends and dosages can vary.

Ways to incorporate nervines into your daily life

Adding more tasks might feel overwhelming when dealing with sleep issues and elevated stress levels, but incorporating nervines can be as effortless as taking a vitamin, making it an easy and accessible addition to your nightly routine.

Nervine herbs come in various forms, making it convenient to choose the one that suits your preferences.

  • Herbal teas. Enjoy a soothing herbal tea infused with nervine herbs like chamomile, lavender, or lemon balm. Steep the herbs in hot water and savor the calming effects.
  • Herbal tinctures. Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of herbs. You can add a few drops of a nervine herb tincture to water or juice for an easy and quick way to incorporate them into your daily routine.
  • Herbal capsules/tablets. Nervine herbs are also available in capsule and tablet form, allowing for convenient and precise dosing. Follow the recommended dosage instructions provided by the manufacturer or consult a healthcare professional.

You have two options for obtaining supplements: researching companies to purchase them from or growing your nervine herbs in a garden to always have them available when needed. The choice ultimately depends on your lifestyle and preferences.

What to consider when using nervine herbs

While nervine herbs are generally safe for most people, it's vital to keep a few considerations in mind.

  • Dosage and duration of use. Follow the recommended dosage instructions on the herbal product packaging. It's advisable to start with the lowest effective dose and gradually increase if needed. Avoid using nervine herbs for extended periods without consulting a healthcare professional.
  • Allergies. Some individuals may have allergies or experience interactions with certain herbs. If you have known allergies or sensitivities, do your research, identify any potential allergens, and consult a healthcare provider.
  • Medication interactions. If you take any medications, be aware of possible herb-drug interactions and consult a healthcare professional before taking any herbal supplements.
  • Side effects. Most medicinal herbs require more research. While the FDA classifies most herbal remedies as "generally recommended as safe," the risk of side effects and potential increased interactions or risks with specific disease processes remain.
  • Doctor recommendations. Before adding nervine herbs to your health and sleep routine, it is advisable to seek advice from a healthcare professional especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking medications.

Incorporating nervine herbs into your daily routine can help you experience their calming effects, which can aid in better sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve your overall mental well-being.

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