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Occasionally, on Shabbat, I've had trouble sleeping.

The Doctors Book of Home Remedies (20th anniversary edition) (Rodale, 2010) includes a section about insomnia, which includes a long list of home remedies. Please note that — even though R' Bodner permits drinking wine to treat insomnia on Shabbat — page 368 of the Doctors book explains why alcohol is a poor solution. ("Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it later disrupts your sleep by causing you to awaken.")

When home remedies don't work, I'd like to try something stronger: e.g. a nonprescription remedy. I'll talk to my rabbi about what to do in my particular situation, but in general:

  • On Shabbat, can one drink valerian tea to help get to sleep? (I'm hoping it's halachically considered just like any other herbal tea, such as strawberry-rosehip tea.)

  • Can one swallow a spoonful of valerian root powder?

  • Can one eat a muffin with a tiny, carefully-measured amount of valerian root powder baked in?

  • Can one apply a melatonin skin patch?

  • Can one swallow valerian tablets?

CYLOR.

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    May you wield a sword of Valyrian steel? ;) – user5540 Dec 19 '14 at 11:02
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    I strongly recommend that you talk to your rabbi about what is appropriate for your specific situation, and, depending on the severity of your insomnia and the power of the remedies you're considering, to your doctor as well. – Isaac Moses Dec 19 '14 at 13:46
  • I removed your last question; that's not really on-topic here. – Shokhet Jan 4 '15 at 20:49
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    @eliyahu-g: Don't accidentally wield the wrong sword. Valerian steel would simply put your opponents to sleep. :P – unforgettableid Jan 4 '15 at 23:46
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    Related: movies.stackexchange.com/q/31431 (cc @eliyahu-g). Purim Torah!! – Shokhet Feb 25 '15 at 6:01
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Rabbi Bodner (Halachos of Refuah on Shabbos) writes (page 242) that insomnia is classified as a מיחוש בעלמא, an "ailment" that isn't serious. (though if someone suspects that they suffer from chronic insomnia, they should see a sleep specialist after Shabbos)

The rules for מיחוש בעלמא are found in chapter 1 of that work; the most basic rule being that one may not do anything medical about it, though there are exceptions to this rule.
Here are some relevant excerpts:

Chapter 1, section C/a:

Some Poskim permit the use of medicines on Shabbos for persons suffering from painful ailments if the person crushes the medicine into a food or drink before Shabbos. The medicine in the food or drink must be dissolved in the food before Shabbos, and must be undetectable.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, was skeptical of this היתר, only allowing it in certain instances. (אגרות משה או"ח ח"ב, סי' פ"ו)

Chapter 1, section e/6 (Sleeping Pills):

Some Poskim permit insomnia sufferers to take a sleeping pill on Shabbos, because a sleeping pill does not heal.
Other Poskim liken a sleeping pill to medicine, and prohibit it, unless the lack of sleep would debilitate the sufferer to the extent that he would be Incapacitated (חולה שאין בו סכנה), in which case taking medicine is permitted.

One more thing: if something is a regular food item, it doesn't count as a "medicine," even if it has medicinal properties, as per Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 328:37.


Now, as for your specific questions:

  • Valerian tea -- allowed

I'm not quite sure if this is a tea that's drunk by healthy people....there are many types of tea I have never heard of, so let's assume that it's normal to drink.

  • powder and tablets -- allowed (some opinions)

This is something medicinal, so it would be allowed according to the "some Poskim" cited by Rabbi Bodner above, though all agree that if the patient were to become a חולה שאין בו סכנה due to sleep deprivation, that he would be allowed to take this medicine.

  • muffin -- allowed

Even according to those opinions that insomnia cannot be treated medically on Shabbos, if it's baked into food before Shabbos, then all agree that it's fine, provided that the medicine is not detectable. See the discussion of crushing medicine into food or drink, above.

  • melatonin patch -- allowed (conditions apply)

A patch that slowly releases medicine is allowed to be used on Shabbos, because the גזירה against medicines on Shabbos was only ever against administering medicine on Shabbos, and not against medicine working on Shabbos (Bodner, page 12). So if the patch was put on before Shabbos, there are no issues with it. Assuming no other Shabbos rules are violated, putting on a new patch should be the same as powder and tablets, discussed above.
But besides for the medical aspect of putting it on), putting on and taking off patches are complicated issues. Not knowing much about the makeup of melatonin patches, I would suggest that they should be dealt with in the same manner as band-aids -- opening a paper package is okay for a מיחוש, but the paper protecting the sticky part may be problematic, so that should be taken off before Shabbos, if possible (re-sticking it on is fine, because un-sticking it a second time is not a problem); however, if it wasn't prepared before, it may be taken off. It is preferable not to stick a band-aid to itself. It's also preferable not to remove it, if it might cause hairs to rip out; however, if it will cause pain, then it's okay to take it off. (Bodner, 328-330)


Page number references are in Halachos of Refuah on Shabbos by Rabbi YP Bodner, Jerusalem 2008

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    Regarding tea: Do normal people drink valerian tea? Shalom's answer seems like it might be right. Davids Tea sells a kosher tea called Mother's Little Helper which includes valerian, chamomile, and lemongrass. However, that tea is marketed for relaxation; I think that only people who are unhappy due to stress would bother to buy it. Dear readers: CYLOR. – unforgettableid Jan 4 '15 at 23:39
  • To make valerian tea, don't include any regular tea leaves. Regular tea leaves contain caffeine, which will prevent you from falling asleep. – unforgettableid Jan 5 '15 at 0:19
  • When making valerian tea, don't use boiling water: this'll evaporate the plant's psychoactive essential oils. Instead: 1. Grind up some fresh valerian root in a blender. 2. Cover it with lukewarm water. 3. Let sit for a day. 4. Filter through muslin cloth. 5. If desired, add ice cubes & sugar. 6. Drink. Based on: a) Howie Brounstein (27 Sept. 1996). <52fm52$ae4@nadine.teleport.com>. Newsgroup: alt.folklore.herbs. b) "E" (11 June 1993). "Re: Valerian Root". – unforgettableid Jan 5 '15 at 0:36
  • (Note: I have no clue whether or not fresh valerian root can contain insects. If it can — well, don't eat the bugs.) – unforgettableid Jan 5 '15 at 0:37
  • Interesting. I doubt I'll ever need that information, but "who knows?" :P ....regarding patches: if erev Shabbos is too early, then you can avoid most problems (except refuah, if you don't think regular insomnia is treatable on Shabbos; though as noted it's not a problem לכו"ע if there's a concern that a person will become חולה שאין בו סכנה) by preparing it before Shabbos. – Shokhet Jan 5 '15 at 0:37
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Shmirat Shabbat K'hilchatah 33:16 writes:

מי שמצטער הרבה מחוסר שינה, מותר לו לקחת כדורי-שינה.

Someone who suffers greatly from lack of sleep (insomnia) is allowed to take sleeping pills. (my translation)

If even sleeping pills are allowed for someone who suffers greatly from insomnia, then some tea should certainly be OK.

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As for home remedies, you'd have to ask someone else. (Milk?)

The critical point in halacha here is as follows: medication is allowed for someone "very sick" or "in a lot of pain" or "sick all over." Someone who "eh feels a little something funny" can't use anything medicinal, only things that healthy people normally consume.

Scimonster pointed out that if the insomnia is serious and causing big problems, we'd allow medication.

If it's not that bad, we would only allow things that healthy people normally consume. The fact that it's herbal and nonprescription doesn't change its halachic status. So therefore if the insomnia is just an occasional nuisance:

  • Pills and patches -- are definitely "medicinal", not allowed.
  • Swallow a spoonful of powdered medicinal root. That's not something healthy people do.
  • Eat a medicinal-laced baked good -- I still don't think so.
  • Tea. It's the ingredient, not the form, that matters here. Would a person with normal sleep cycles drink valerian tea? I don't think so. (Chamomile, sure.) Contrast with something like raspberry-leaf tea, which is advocated by some midwives as good for childbirth, but plenty of men and women drink it because it just tastes good.
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    This answer would be more valuable if it cited a source ofr its central claim - "Someone who "eh feels a little something funny" can't use anything medicinal, only things that healthy people normally consume." – Isaac Moses Dec 19 '14 at 13:45

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