From posts in both WebMD, and in Alternative and Complementary Therapies comes confirmation of something I’ve suspected as I’ve wandered through the muriad of ”herbal remedies for sleep and insomnia”.
I’ve come to the conclusion that these therapies, when they work, have much more to do with the placebo effect than any physiological action.
In other words – if they work for you, it’s because you think they will work for you.
There Is No Science
Both articles are based on meta-analysis of research done on herbal treatments for insomnia (meta-analysis is the “study of studies”). The first thing you find when you read these reports is the general dearth of any real research on herbal sleep remedies and insomnia. Most often, they have been evaluated (poorly, mostly) on some other property – like kava for anxiety. When they do find a link between either the quantity or quality of sleep and one of the herbal treatments, it’s very subtle. And likely not reproduced in any clinical setting.
This is from the Alternative and Complementary Therapies article/study (note that CAM stands for Complimentary Alternative Medicine), the people you would think would be most likely to try and support a link between better sleep and herbal remedies – if only there was one:
“It is surprising that time-honored herbal remedies commonly used for insomnia and sold OTC have received very little research attention. Considering the rise in the use of CAM in general, it would seem appropriate that such preparations are assessed scientifically for their therapeutic potential and safety, especially considering the benefits that a natural-management strategy could offer patients with insomnia as an alternative to pharmacological interventions.”
Bottom line, this stuff has never been seriously tested. The efficacy is all anecdotal, and never proven. No controls at all, so you have no idea whether it was the Valerian Tea that helped with sleep, or the marathon the subject just completed.
So if you’re into valerian, kava, chamomile – whatever – reading these studies might just destroy any benefit you’re currently getting from the herb.
I’ve said it many times in this blog: “Sleep Is All In Your Head”.