A Simple, Scientific Guide to Passionflower as a Natural Sleep Aid

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    Passionflower is a gentle herb often used when sleep loss is an issue. Its safety, efficacy, and other potentially calming uses are explored here.

    What is passionflower?

    Passionflower is a climbing vine with white and purple flowers that is native to the southeastern United States, Central, and South America. Its Latin name is Passiflora incarnata and it is also called maypop, apricot vine, maracuja, and water lemon. Traditionally it was used in the Americas by indigenous populations and later in Europe as a calming herb. It is currently promoted as a dietary supplement for occasional stress and sleep issues from time to time.

    Does passionflower actually work for sleep? What the research says

    In herbal medicine, passiflora incarnata is known as a nervine, which is a nerve that helps to support the entire nervous system. Passionflower soothes the nerves, promotes relaxation and rest, and helps to ease minds into getting some much-needed sleep. This abstract reports that initial findings suggest that the consumption of a low dose of Passiflora incarnata, (in the form of passionflower tea), yields short-term sleep benefits for healthy adults with mild sleep quality fluctuations. While some clinical studies on humans and several controlled experiments on laboratory animals have demonstrated enhanced sleep using passionflower, there is still not a significant body of research.

    Scientists believe passionflower works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA, an amino acid that lowers the activity of some of the brain cells, has been cited for its stress-reducing and sleep-enhancing effects on the mammalian brain.

    How much passionflower should I take for sleep?

    The amount of passionflower you take depends upon the type of supplement you are taking. If it is a night time tea, the typical suggestion is one cup 30 minutes before bedtime for at least seven consecutive nights. Care/of’s premium quality sleep blends Sleep and vegan Sleep Blend The Snooze Button each contain 100 mg per serving. Passionflower is also available in tincture, capsule or tablet form, and as a homeopathic remedy. As always, read the labels carefully and check with your physician or healthcare provider before you begin taking a new supplement.

    When should I take passionflower?

    There are a number of reasons people take passionflower and individual circumstances would dictate the optimal time for a person to do so. If it is being used as a sleep enhancement, it is typically taken as a tea 30 minutes before bedtime. This study found that administration of Passiflora incarnata to ambulatory surgery patients as a preoperative medication to reduce occasional tension without sedation was effective 90 minutes pre-op. Situational tension would require a much less predictable time table than longer term use of tinctures, homeopathics, and capsules. Your physician or healthcare provider would be able to give you the best recommendations for when to take passionflower for optimal results.

    What are the other benefits of passionflower?

    Sleep issues are hardly the only challenge that passionflower has been used to improve. Native Americans used to use it to manage skin and liver health, and even as food. The Aztec culture used it to treat urinary tract health and bone health. Currently, passionflower has been used to reduce occasional stress and tension, soothe irritability from time to time, promote cognitive concentration levels,and promote relaxation. Its calming effect does not typically create a drowsy sensation, so most people are able to use it during the daytime. Moderate users report that it supports a feeling of tranquility.

    Passionflower for occasional stress

    There is evidence to support the contention that passionflower can manage occasional stress and have a positive impact on the nervous system. This animal study shows that passionflower may have an affinity for GABA receptors although the true mechanism of action is not well known in humans.

    Does passionflower have any side effects?

    There are few known side effects or contra-indications for passionflower, though it can occasionally cause mild dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness. People with sensitive skin should be aware of the potential for increased light sensitivity of the skin.

    Passionflower vs. other sleep aids

    Most over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids contain antihistamines that cause drowsiness, whereas, passionflower promotes a more soothing, calm-induced state of relaxation that can ease you into a natural state of sleep. In addition, a tolerance to antihistamines can develop over time making OTC sleep aids less effective.

    Passionflower vs. melatonin

    Passionflower is an herb derived from a plant that, in its simplest form, can be made into a tea that promotes a soothing state of calm and relaxation that often results in natural sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced by your brain to signal sleep. In supplement form, melatonin is typically a synthetic form of the hormone.

    Passionflower vs. valerian

    Valerian is also an herb that is often used to promote sleep. Passionflower is considered to be a much milder herb than valerian. It has soothing benefits to the nervous system AND helps with relaxation and relief from generalized anxiety, while valerian is mostly used for sleep support.

    Who should not take passionflower?

    Pregnant or breastfeeding persons should not use passionflower. It should also not be taken when drinking alcohol or taking sedating medications like benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants, barbiturates, or antidepressants (especially monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs).. Passionflower may also cause dangerous side effects when taken with blood thinners. It is always best to consult your physician or other healthcare provider when adding supplements to your daily regimen.

    Meet our sleep Sleep Blend

    Care/of’s premium quality supplements include Sleep Blend The Snooze Button, a high-quality capsule that helps relax your mind for a better quality of sleep.

    Key takeaways

    Though there is not a significant amount of scientific data on it, passionflower is an ancient herb that is regularly used as a gentle sleep aid. It is also believed by many to promote occasional stress reduction, tension relief, and an overall sense of calm. When sleep loss or insomnia become a concern, it is important to talk to your doctor and take a look at overall sleep hygiene. A cool environment, warm shower or bath before bed, reading, avoiding electronics and phones 2 hours prior to bedtime, and a regular bedtime help to support sleep. If you are considering supplementation as part of your routine, it is always best to consult your physician for the best options available to help facilitate restful sleep.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Our Editorial Staff
    Freelance Contributor
    The Care/of Editorial Team is made up of writers, experts, and health enthusiasts, all dedicated to giving you the information you need today. Our team is here to answer your biggest wellness questions, read the studies for you, and introduce you to your new favorite product, staying up to date on the latest research, trends, and science. Each article is written by one of our experts, reviewed both for editorial standards by an editor and medical standards by one of our naturopathic doctors, and updated regularly as new information becomes available.