Melissa officinalis or lemon balm has been used for centuries as a gentle relaxant that can help people sleep at night.
An early animal study in France found that the hydroalcoholic extract of lemon balm acted as a mild sedative, reduced pain reactions, and improved the effects of pentobarbital, a barbiturate or sedative, so that lower amounts of pentobarbital were effective for sleep induction (Soulimani R: Neurotropic action of the hydroalcoholic extract of Melissa officinalis in the mouse, Planta Med April 1991, p105-9).
A later animal study tested several herbs for sleep enhancement and found that both lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) enhanced sleep without side effects.
The lemon balm shortened sleep onset from 24.7% to 51.2% and prolonged sleep duration from 37.9% to 131.7% depending on the dosage.
The lavender shortened sleep onset from 7.6% to 51.5% and prolonged sleep duration from 9.9% to 80.2% depending on the dosage.
In addition, the combination of lemon balm and lavender showed some additive effects (Hajhashemi V and Safaei A: Hypnotic effect of Coriandrum sativul, Ziziphus jujuba, Lavandula agustifolia and Melissa officinalis extracts in mice, Res Pharm Sci November-December 2015, p477-484).
A more recent study examined 100 women, age 50-60, who were experiencing sleep disorders during menopause.
The researchers found a significant improvement in reported restful sleeping when the women were given an herbal lemon balm combination compared to placebo (Taavoni S et al: Valerian/lemon balm use for sleep disorders during menopause, Complement Ther Clin Pract November 2013, p193-6).
Many have completely eliminated insomnia
Another study in France used 20 volunteers (6 men and 14 women, age 18 to 70) who had reported both insomnia and anxiety stress symptoms.
During the 15 day study, the volunteers received a standardized lemon balm extract of 600 mgs., once in the morning, and once before bedtime.
By the end of the study, all the volunteers reported significant improvements in sleeping, with 17 out of the 20 reporting complete remission or elimination of their insomnia symptoms.
In general, the measurements of initial insomnia were reduced by 53%, middle insomnia was reduced by 45%, and delayed insomnia by 28% (Cases J et al: Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances, Med J Nutrition Metab December 2011, p211-218).
Many researchers are recommending extended studies for the effects of this herb on insomnia, especially for vulnerable groups of people like cancer patients.
An earlier study in Switzerland gave a valerian/lemon balm herbal sleeping aid to patients in a multi-center study.
They found that the herbs were well tolerated and that a significant 33% of the patients reported improved sleeping compared to only 9% improvement in the placebo group (Cerny A and Schmid K: Tolerability and efficacy of valerian/ lemon balm in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebocontrolled, multicentre study, Fitoterapia June 1999, p221–228).
Because lemon balm may enhance the effectiveness of prescription drugs leading to an incorrect dosage, it is important to consult a health care provider before making dietary changes.
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