Lemon Balm Leaf (Melissa officinalis) for Sleep: Does It Work?
Lemon balm leaf (Melissa officinalis L) has been used historically as a herbal remedy for anxiety, digestive issues, and more (1).
For now, it remains a herbal remedy, and there currently isn’t enough peer-reviewed evidence for it to be prescribed by the majority of doctors for sleep trouble (2).
But there is some research showing that lemon balm leaf can improve sleep in some situations, and I’m going to break that down for you here, along with potential side effects.
How Would Lemon Balm Improve Sleep
The main way that lemon balm appears to improve sleep is by reducing stress and anxiety (3).
Considering sleep anxiety is one of the most common causes of insomnia, this result makes sense if lemon balm does in fact reduce stress.
Let’s take a look at a few studies looking at this effect...
Melissa Tea Improved Anxiety and Depression in Burn Patients
Burn patients are known to have elevated levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia after being injured.
Researchers had 36 burn patients consume either black tea or Melissa (lemon balm) tea daily for 20 days (4). The black tea group served as a control group.
The experimental (lemon balm tea) group had significant improvements in stress, depression, and sleep quality.
The only measurement that the lemon balm tea did not see an improvement in was antioxidant levels.
Lemon Balm Oil Aromatherapy Reduced Agitation in Dementia Patients
Researchers combined either lemon balm oil or sunflower oil (placebo) with a base lotion, and applied it to dementia patients’ faces and arms twice a day (5).
After 4 weeks:
No significant side effects were observed. Sixty percent (21/35) of the active treatment group and 14% (5/36) of the placebo-treated group experienced a 30% reduction of CMAI score, with an overall improvement in agitation of 35% in patients receiving Melissa balm essential oil...
This isn't that much of a surprise since some essential oils can improve sleep quality.
The Effect of an Oral Lemon Balm Supplement on Mild-to-Moderate Sleep Issues
This particular study was funded by a particular supplement’s (Cyracos) manufacturer, so take the results with a grain of salt.
It also didn’t have a placebo group, and I would suspect that volunteers who are optimistic about improving their sleep are optimistic in nature.
Regardless, it’s one of the few studies that exists so far that specifically looks at the effect of lemon balm leaf on insomnia, so I wanted to include it.
Researchers had 20 subjects take the supplement that mainly consists of lemon balm leaf extracts for 15 days, and found (6):
Cyracos reduced anxiety manifestations by 18% and lowered insomnia by 42%. As much as 95% of subjects (19/20) responded to treatment, of which 70% (14/20) achieved full remission for anxiety, 85% (17/20) for insomnia, and 70% (14/20) for both.
So while I don’t put any significant stock in these results, they’re promising enough that hopefully future research teams will put together more robust studies to look at this topic.
SummaryOverall, there are multiple studies that show that lemon balm leaf, taken in multiple forms, can improve anxiety and therefore sleep quality in many people.
Combining Lemon Balm Leaf With Other Herbs May Be More Effective
Many sleep supplements sold over the counter contain multiple natural sleeping aids.
There are a few studies that look at some of these combinations. And while we can’t isolate the effects of lemon balm in them, they’re still worth taking a quick look at:
- A combination of melatonin, vitamin B6, and lemon balm improved subjective sleep quality in almost all study participants (7).
- A combination of lemon balm leaf and Nepeta menthoides improved PSQI score and sleep onset latency significantly vs a placebo group (8). The experimental group (group A in image below) had 3 subjects who initially fell asleep in less than 30 minutes, which rose to 19 by the end (out of 34).
- A mixture of valerian and lemon balm was shown to effectively reduce restlessness in children (9).
- A placebo controlled trial of patients with insomnia found that a combination of lemon balm and Nepeta menthoides improved PSQI scores significantly by the end of the 4 week trial (PSQI scores went from 16.69 to 11.30) (10).
Side Effects of Taking Lemon Balm for Sleep
While most herbal supplements are relatively safe to use, there’s little research on the effects of taking lemon balm for extended periods of time or in high doses.
One case study was published showing a patient with significant symptoms that were suspected to be related to lemon balm (11)
In this case study, withdrawal symptoms may be related to the dependence effect caused by long-term use of Melissa officinalis...patients should be made aware that it may have a risk of dependency and can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
There were no adverse effects reported in the previous studies we looked at, but they ranged from 2-4 weeks in most cases. Ingesting lemon balm for longer could be a problem.
Summary: Lemon Balm Leaf for Sleep Trouble
Compared to many herbal supplements sold with the claims of improving sleep, lemon balm has more evidence than most.
However, the effects are not concrete enough or significant enough to warrant the majority of doctors to prescribe it in the case of insomnia.
Instead, it might be worth trying for some people with intermittent stress issues and mild sleep trouble occasionally, as long as it’s not taken to the point that it could cause withdrawal symptoms.
- A review of chemical components and pharmacological effects of Melissa officinalis L
- Herbal medicine for insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis
- Medicinal plants for insomnia
- Effects of Melissa officinalis L. on Reducing Stress, Alleviating Anxiety Disorders, Depression, and Insomnia, and Increasing Total Antioxidants in Burn Patients
- Aromatherapy as a Safe and Effective Treatment for the Management of Agitation in Severe Dementia
- Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances
- A combination of melatonin, vitamin B6 and medicinal plants in the treatment of mild-to-moderate insomnia
- Efficacy of a Combination of Melissa officinalis L. and Nepeta menthoides Boiss. & Buhse on Insomnia
- A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children
- Effects of Herbal combination on insomnia severity, anxiety and depression in insomniacs: Randomized placebo controlled trial
- Does Melissa Officinalis Cause Withdrawal or Dependence?
Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.