The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Can You Overcome Midnight Motor Mind?

A reader offers a simple recipe for lemon balm syrup to calm midnight motor mind and get back to sleep easily. Will you try it?
Lemon balm or melissa officinalis herb leaves in spring close-up, balm mint plant in spring sun

Some people with insomnia just can’t get to sleep because their minds are racing. They may retrace the day and think of what they should have said or done differently. Perhaps they worry about events in the future. Either way, their motor minds keep them wide awake. Is there a way to overcome this tendency and get the sleep they need? One reader has a simple home-made remedy.

Lemon Balm to Overcome Midnight Motor Mind:

Q. Sometimes I get what I call midnight motor mind. I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because my mind insists on churning over thoughts from the day.

I grow lemon balm, aka Melissa, a member of the mint family, in my garden. In the summer, I take equal parts lemon balm leaves and boiling water. After steeping it for 15 minutes and straining it, I add the same volume of sugar and boil the concoction to make a syrup. Then if I wake up at night, I take a spoonful. It usually does the trick.

Science to Support Lemon Balm for Insomnia:

A. Thank you for this suggestion. We suspect that many people can relate to your description of midnight motor mind keeping them awake.

Lemon balm has traditionally been used as a gentle herbal sleep aid. A pilot study found that people having trouble sleeping due to anxiety did better when they took Melissa officinalis (Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Dec. 2011). 

In a more recent pilot trial, people with mild insomnia slept better when they took lemon balm in combination with melatonin, vitamin B6, California poppy and passionflower (Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Aug. 2019). This European study utilized a product called Novanuit® Triple Action and lasted two weeks. No one in the study took placebo pills, however, so we must consider the results preliminary.

Other Approaches to Overcoming Insomnia:

You can learn about other herbs that help overcome insomnia, such as ashwagandha, lavender and valerian, in our eGuide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep.  This online resource also covers sleeping medicines and nondrug approaches such as magnesium, tart cherries, 5-HTP and acupuncture. We hope lemon balm or another simple remedy will help others conquer midnight motor mind.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
  • 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." Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Dec. 2011. DOI: 10.1007/s12349-010-0045-4
  • Lemoine P et al, "A combination of melatonin, vitamin B6 and medicinal plants in the treatment of mild-to-moderate insomnia: A prospective pilot study." Complementary Therapies in Medicine, Aug. 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.024 Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Google+
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I have motor mind when I eat foods with a lot of preservatives in them.

Please explain how to measure lemon balm leaves to equal a liquid. I am baffled.

She didn’t say whether to do it by volume or by weight. I suspect that she does it by volume, crumpling leaves to pack them into a cup measure, for example, and then using a cup of boiling water. But I can’t tell you that is actually what she did.

I’m always reluctant to take herbal remedies, as dosage and purity may be questionable. Herbs may not be more benign than pharmaceuticals because they’re rarely rigorously tested.

However, as one who often has difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep because of an overactive mind, I’ve done a fair amount of experimenting. Many people find my protocol helpful, and it isn’t dangerous in any way:

I have established a nightly sleep routine, about 30 minutes before going to bed. I start unwinding. I turn off TVs and electronic devices [most tablets and computers] that emit blue light.

I do my bathroom routines with lights dimmed and avoid stimulation.. . I want calm and quiet.

I have a comfy chair next to my bed and a focused task light there that shines its light on something to read as a I sit in the chair, room lights out. A little soothing music is nice, especially if I can set a timer to turn it off after a half hour. I read something pleasant or educational, not exciting, maddening or suspenseful, as that’ll get my mind and emotions racing.
After 10 or 15 minutes, I notice doziness and immediately stop reading, turn out my light and climb into bed. I am usually asleep in minutes.

If I wake in the wee hours, I find that staying in bed, tossing and turning because of my overactive mind is counterproductive. I’ll get out of bed, use the bathroom, with only a night light and go back to sit in my chair. I take up my reading with only that focused light and find that I’m soon feeling sleepy again. Lights out, crawl back in bed and am usually asleep until morning light, instead of tossing and turning for hours.

I find that a habitual routine, low lighting, and quiet are as effective as any drug or herb. By the way, small task or reading lights are inexpensive, but priceless sleep aids.

I also find that online books with tablets, with their paper-like [no blue light emissions] reading experience, are also great and don’t require an external light.

Leaving tv on to alate night talk show with timer for 30 minutes keeps the mind from thinking about everything else. Or just paying attention to your breathing works for me.

Getting a restful night’s sleep is difficult for me. Thanks for this post which gives me good ideas to research and implement.

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