Melatonin and More: All-Natural Sleep Aids That May Help Improve Sleep
Many individuals have trouble getting a good night's rest — these all-natural sleep aids may be helpful.
Have trouble sleeping? You’re not alone. Seventy million Americans suffer from some form of sleep disorder. At least 10% of American adults have been diagnosed with insomnia, while a further 11% have sleep apnea. And, these statistics don’t include the many additional millions who wrestle with intermittent sleep problems.
A doctor should be your first stop if you’re experiencing sleep problems, regardless of their severity. However, if you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, these natural sleep aids may help.
Probably the most well-known natural sleep aid, melatonin is a hormone that exists naturally in our bodies. Its primary function is to regulate your circadian rhythms, which include the sleep-wake cycle.
Despite the commonly held belief that melatonin is a sedative, it isn’t. It merely works to strengthen our sleep-wake cycle. Our melatonin levels tend to be higher just before bedtime. Taking melatonin may help improve many aspects of sleep. In addition to helping with general sleep problems, many people also use it to mitigate the effects of jet lag.
A variety of studies have found that taking melatonin makes people feel sleepier and can decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. Higher melatonin levels can increase the length of time we sleep. Finally, some studies suggest melatonin increases our REM sleep, which is crucial to brain and memory function.
You need very little melatonin to make a difference — generally, 0.1 to 3 milligrams is sufficient. It is available in over-the-counter pill form and also as a candy. The fast-acting versions are usually better than slow-release options.
There are some drawbacks to melatonin use. Some individuals have reported grogginess and depression. Others have said that although they fall asleep quickly after taking it, they wake up again in the middle of the night.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is found in both cannabis and hemp. It is one of the cannabinoids found in cannabis, but unlike THC, it doesn’t produce a “high” or psychoactive effect. Several studies have suggested that CBD can help decrease the symptoms of insomnia and help people both fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
CBD works through the endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate several bodily functions including appetite, mood, sleep and our circadian rhythms. Researchers believe that when CBD attaches to one of the two primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system, either CB1 and CB2, it affects sleep and specifically the sleep-wake cycle.
CBD may also reduce anxiety and pain, both of which can interfere with a good night’s rest.
CBD oil is available as edibles, vape liquid and as a tincture to add to drinks. Pure CBD oil can also be placed under the tongue and ingested. Laws vary from state to state, and they change rapidly, so check whether CBD oil is legal in your state — you may need a prescription.
Valerian is a herb that is native to Europe and Asia but is now grown in North America. There are numerous species of valerian, but only the roots of Valeriana officinalis have been shown to be effective as a sleep aid.
Numerous studies have suggested that valerian can help both reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep and help keep you asleep. It’s used to treat several sleep disorders, including insomnia.
Valerian functions as a sedative on both the brain and nervous system, allowing you to relax and fall asleep. It is safe for most adults when taken orally and in durations of one month or so. There are no conclusive studies regarding the long-term use of valerian.
While it is considered to be safe, there can be side effects. Valerian is associated with sluggishness, dry mouth, vivid dreams and even headaches and stomach aches. It can also interact negatively with certain other drugs, notably alcohol, Xanax and other sedatives.
Valerian can be ingested in capsule form or as a tea and is most effective when taken regularly for at least two weeks. According to most studies, an effective dosage Is usually 400-900 mg, taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.
Low magnesium levels are often associated with restless sleep and also linked to insomnia and other sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome. Finally, as magnesium plays a role in stress reduction and mood stabilization, ensuring you have sufficient levels of it can help reduce the factors that may be preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Magnesium helps the body maintain healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter which promotes sleep but also relaxation. Our stress-response system is also regulated in large part by magnesium.
Insufficient levels of magnesium, which is very common in adults and especially in women and older adults, can lead to problems sleeping as well as other health issues, including heightened blood pressure, headaches and anxiety.
Magnesium is found in several foods including greens, nuts and seeds but also available as an over the counter supplement in pill form. The usual dosage for adults to address sleep or stress is 100-350 mg daily.
Most adults will not experience any side effects with the recommended dosage, but possible side effects do include diarrhea, upset stomach, nausea and vomiting. Taking too much magnesium can cause serious side effects including irregular heartbeat, mental confusion, coma and death.
Glycine is a vital amino acid that is found naturally in our bodies. It works as a protein builder and influences many of the body’s systems and structures. Higher levels of glycine are linked to improving both our ability to fall asleep and to stay asleep. It can also reduce the effects of insomnia and help ensure a much deeper sleep.
There are several ways that glycine helps with sleep. It reduces the core body temperature, which affects the sleep-wake cycle. It also increases the production of serotonin, which in turn helps restore healthy sleep patterns.
Glycine is usually administered in oral form with 3 to 5 grams daily taken just before bed. There are very few side effects in healthy adults. However, it has been reported to cause nausea and soft stools. It also interacts negatively with the drug Clozapine, used to treat schizophrenia.
Find What Works For You
These sleep aids are natural, but that doesn’t mean they come without risks. Always talk to your doctor before trying any remedy, natural or not.
Every body responds differently to various aids, so you may have to try a few different products or types of natural sleep aid before finding the right fit.
Written by Jennifer Crump
Jennifer Crump is a former freelance journalist and author and now full-time content writer and strategist. She contributes to magazines and blogs throughout North America on issues related to business, training, financing and workplace safety.