History of Sleep Remedies

History of Sleep Remedies

For thousands of years, humans have been using natural herbs to cure insomnia, sleep deprivation and other sleep disorders. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century we started trying to manufacture chemical sleeping pills. Let’s have a look at some of history’s best developments in sleep remedies.

Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used this powerful drug as a sleeping aid. Hypnos – the ancient Greek god of sleep – is often depicted carrying an opium poppy. In 1805 chemist Fredrick Setumer synthesized opium for the first time, sparking an interest in synthesizing sleep remedies.

Chloral Hydrate
German chemist Justus von Liebig created the first of many chemical sleep remedies. Choral hydrate was a fast-acting depressant of the central nervous system, inducing sleep very quickly. The problem was, it was particularly effective when mixed with alcohol; so much so that even the slightest overdose meant the subject didn’t ever wake up. This is certainly a concern for Doctors prescribing sleeping pills today as many people do in fact drink alcohol when on prescription sleeping meds despite being warned not to.

Valerian Root
Potentially one of the most potent ingredients in herbal sleep remedies, valerian has been in use as a sleep aid since ancient times. The Greeks prescribed valerian as a sedative, but it was also used to treat urinary tract infections, epilepsy, liver conditions and digestive problems. Valerian is excellent for soothing anxiety. The problem with valerian as a sleep aid is that in a high number of people it actually causes them to wake up – which is not what we are after. For this reason SleepDrops contains no valerian.

Ancient Greeks and Romans used mandrake mixed with wine as an anaesthesia and sleep aid.

John Gerard, an Elizabethan herbalist said of henbane: “the leaves, the seeds and the juice, when taken internally, cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness.” Henbane produces a coma-like sleep, and can be dangerous.

Modern Sleeping Pills
Nowadays, you can get prescription sleeping pills (usually benzodiazepines – which are still addictive and carry strong side effects), over-the-counter pills (antihistamines – which can cause Daytime drowsiness) and herbal sleep remedies, which have no side effects and contain many ingredients like chamomile and passionflower that have been used for centuries to cure sleep problems.


Probably the oldest and most widely known of all herbal sleep remedies, chamomile is commonly drank as a tea and is used by Herbalists the world over for digestive disturbances, anxiety and to encourage better sleeping. It acts as a muscles reliever, reducing stress and helping a person to drift off to sleep too.

Popular in the early 20th century, when combined with other chemicals, barbiturates created powerful sedatives commonly used as sleep remedies. These sleep remedies proved extremely dangerous if mixed with alcohol, had several severe side effects – like dizziness, respiratory depression and paralysis – and were strongly addictive. By the 1970s, benzodiazepines replaced barbiturates as the dominant component in chemical sleep remedies, as they were less harmful.

Naturopathic tip: Combining herbs with homeopathic sleeping remedies and flower essences and taking the nutrients essential for sleep can make a dramatic improvement in helping sleep related health issues.