Affiliation: State Key Laboratory of Bioactive Substance and Function of Natural Medicines, Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, No. 1 Xian Nong Tan Street, Beijing 100050, P.R. China.
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder which is prevalent in women and the elderly. Current insomnia drugs mainly target the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor, melatonin receptor, histamine receptor, orexin, and serotonin receptor. GABAA receptor modulators are ordinarily used to manage insomnia, but they are known to affect sleep maintenance, including residual effects, tolerance, and dependence. In an effort to discover new drugs that relieve insomnia symptoms while avoiding side effects, numerous studies focusing on the neurotransmitter GABA and herbal medicines have been conducted. Traditional herbal medicines, such as Piper methysticum and the seed of Zizyphus jujuba Mill var. spinosa, have been widely reported to improve sleep and other mental disorders. These herbal medicines have been applied for many years in folk medicine, and extracts of these medicines have been used to study their pharmacological actions and mechanisms. Although effective and relatively safe, natural plant products have some side effects, such as hepatotoxicity and skin reactions effects of Piper methysticum. In addition, there are insufficient evidences to certify the safety of most traditional herbal medicine. In this review, we provide an overview of the current state of knowledge regarding a variety of natural plant products that are commonly used to treat insomnia to facilitate future studies.