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Garlic for Insomnia: Does It Improve Sleep?

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Sep 24, 2020

Historically, symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and insomnia were all treated with garlic (1).

Research has shown that garlic is beneficial to heart health and even inhibit some types of cancer growth, so it’s not exactly far-fetched to think it might be helpful for sleep (2).

But many things have been treated wrong historically, so let’s look at more modern research for an answer.

Research Summary of Garlic and Sleep

Unfortunately for us, there’s not much research about the effects of garlic on sleep.

I was able to find a few isolated studies that claimed positive things about garlic and sleep. In one, a garlic cream helped improve circadian rhythm disorder (3). In another, garlic supplementation and exercise helped improve glucose and insulin control, along with sleep (4).

The problem is that those studies are in Chinese and Arabic, so I could only look at the translated abstracts. Regardless, those are just 2 studies on very specific topics that aren’t exactly what we’re looking for.

SummaryThere’s little to no research on garlic and insomnia, but a few isolated studies do suggest that garlic could play a small role in improving sleep.

Why Might Garlic Help Sleep

Just because there’s no research on it, doesn’t necessarily mean that garlic can’t have an effect on sleep.

Many people claim that garlic has helped them, so we can speculate a bit to see if we can find some reasons that could explain it.

I’ve seen 4 main claims of why garlic might help sleep, let’s look at the validity of each.

Claim #1 - Garlic is High in Zinc, and Zinc is Good For Sleep

It’s true that zinc is usually good for sleep and insomnia, however, this claim doesn’t have much behind it.

If you look at the amount of zinc in 1 clove (1 tsp or 3 grams) of garlic, there’s under 0.1 mg (essentially none).

When you have only a few grams of food, there just can’t be “a lot” of any vitamin or mineral.

SummaryIf garlic does help sleep, we can pretty safely say it isn’t because of its zinc content.

Claim #2 - Garlic Contains Allicin, Which Promotes Relaxation

Garlic has a metabolite called allicin.

A study on rats does suggest that garlic causes a relaxation effect because of allicin (through nitrous oxide formation) (5).

Does this translate to humans? No idea, there doesn’t seem to be any studies on the topic, but it’s possible.

But if it does, it could be a genuine way of explaining how garlic could help people sleep. Being relaxed is arguably the most important part of getting to sleep.

SummaryThere’s some evidence that the allicin in garlic may promote relaxation, which could in turn help sleep quality.

Claim #3 - Garlic Can Help Clear Nasal Passages

Garlic does have a notoriously strong smell.

I’ve seen claims that this smell can clear a stuffy nose, leading to easier breathing, which could help sleep.

This seems like it would vary from person to person, but is a reasonable theory to me.

There’s an old folk remedy of putting a clove of garlic under your pillow while you sleep. This would explain it.

SummaryIf sleep troubles were caused by breathing troubles, and the smell of garlic helps clear the nostrils, it’s possible that it could improve sleep.

Claim #4 - Garlic Can Cause a Placebo Effect to Improve Sleep

If you actually believe that garlic can help improve sleep, that can cause a placebo effect and improve sleep (whether or not the garlic does anything).

The placebo effect is very real, and if you can get benefits from it, why not take them.

SummaryIt’s possible that garlic does help some people through the placebo effect.

Should You Try Garlic If You Have Insomnia?

Overall, a few of those claims seem like they could be reasonable, even if we don’t have good evidence to support them.

It’s also a food that we know is safe, so it’s unlikely to hurt.

However, even if garlic helps improve sleep, it’s only going to help a small amount, and it’s not going to cure insomnia.

If you suspect you actually have insomnia, go see a doctor. They can run a sleep study if necessary and get you on a proven treatment plan.

Insomnia is not something to mess around with, long term side effects of insomnia can range from depression to heart problems.

References

  1. Historical Perspective on the Use of Garlic
  2. Garlic in health and disease
  3. Treatment of sleep deprivation-induced circadian rhythm disorder by applying garlic cream on acupoint Shenque (CV 8)
  4. The effect of aerobic exercise and garlic supplement administration on insulin, glucose, and sleep pattern of prediabetic obese women with sleep disorders
  5. Garlic And Its Active Metabolite Allicin Produce Endothelium‐ And Nitric Oxide‐Dependent Relaxation In Rat Pulmonary Arteries

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualitified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.