Do you wake up unrefreshed, wishing you had another hour (or two) to snooze? Are you tired of tossing and turning all night long unable to fall back asleep? If so natural supplements might be the answer to your sleep woes. However they are not a cure-all and it is best to talk to your physician first to make sure you aren’t masking an underlying medical or sleep condition with a natural sleep supplement.
Even though supplements are natural it doesn’t mean that they are 100% safe. There can be potential negative side effects and interactions with medications you may be taking.
A Word of Caution on Natural Sleep Supplements
Sleep supplements are not under the same strict regulations by the FDA as prescription medications. If you are going to use one seek out quality and reputable brands. Consumer labs is an independent resource that evaluates and provides safety reviews and ratings on various supplement brands. As always talk to your physician before starting a sleep supplement to make sure it is the right choice for you.
Let’s dive right in and learn about the top 7 natural supplements for sleep!
Although not technically a supplement, melatonin is hormone released by the pineal gland in the brain when it is dark. Think of melatonin as the time-keeper of your sleep and wake cycles. It is commonly used by those insomnia to fall asleep faster, however it actually works to keep our internal clock running on a regular rhythm. Sleep experts don’t prescribe melatonin as a treatment for chronic insomnia given the minimal benefits for this condition. The best treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy.
Melatonin is used by sleep medicine physicians for circadian rhythms conditions such as jet lag, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and shift work disorder. However there are studies to support the use of melatonin for women who struggle with sleep and to improve other health outcomes during menopause.
In a review article on melatonin and women’s health, researchers suggest that women with sleep disturbances in menopause benefitted from 3mg of melatonin supplementation for three months. These same researchers discovered that melatonin can improve our bone health and cholesterol levels.
Another study reported that women in menopause who took melatonin had an improvement in the physical symptoms associated with menopause as they reported less aches, pains, and palpitations. They even said they were less tired overall.
Even though melatonin is widely available at your local drug store or online retailer there are major safety concerns with melatonin due to contamination with other substances such as serotonin or CBD. Also the content of melatonin doesn’t always match what the label advertises. If you decide melatonin is right for you after having a conversation with your physician make sure you are purchasing a bottle of high quality melatonin. Melatonin can also be found in a liquid form or as a patch.
Magnesium is a naturally occurring element found in food and supports many bodily functions. It is necessary for our muscles and nervous system to function properly, aids in the development and maintenance of healthy bones, and is required for our cells to make energy. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to poor sleep.
A randomized control study on adults ages 60-75 years with insomnia taking 500mg of magnesium for eight weeks in Iran, found that magnesium can improve the time it takes to fall asleep, stay asleep, and minimizes those pesky early morning awakenings. Participants also reported that the severity of their insomnia was better after taking magnesium.
Many forms of magnesium have a laxative effect. If you want to avoid running to the closest restroom try magnesium glycinate.
If you prefer to increase your magnesium from food instead of a pill, it is widely available in nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. Eating ten almonds a night for two weeks was shown to improve sleep quality for university students in Iran. Adding sliced almonds as a salad topper during dinner may be helpful to get your zzz’s.
L-Theanine is a non-protein amino acid found in black and green tea that has anxiety melting effects that can lead to restful sleep. It works on the brain by increasing the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin, and dopamine resulting in an increase in alpha brain waves which leads to relaxation.
Improvements in sleep quality were observed from a research study in Japan where adults took 200mg of L-Theanine daily for 4 weeks. It has also been found to relieve the symptoms of poor sleep for those with with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. L-Theanine can help you feel calm without feeling overly sedated.
It can be ingested through teas or supplements.
Valerian root is an herbal medicine used for sleep, sedation, and anxiety. It has been studied extensively and while results are mixed, some studies have shown improvements in sleep quality.
In one study, comparing the benefits of valerian root 600mg vs a benzodiazepine (commonly used prescription medication for sleep) for six weeks in participants with insomnia, improvements in sleep quality were seen without any significant side effects from either pill. Both groups felt refreshed in the morning and slept a similar amount of time.
In another study participants with insomnia who took valerian root and underwent several nights of sleep studies in a laboratory were found to have MORE deep sleep and REM sleep and LESS light sleep.
Valerian root has an off-putting smell that can counteract it’s sleep promoting effects. It can be found as a tea, tincture, and in pill form. It is often found as a blend with other sleep promoting herbs.
Chamomile is another herbal remedy with a long history of use to promote sleep and lower levels of anxiety. Apigenin, a compound found it chamomile, is suggested be responsible for its calming effects. Studies for chamomile are mixed however the available research shows that it can reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered that chamomile extract reduced cortisol levels in the body, a hormone that can interfere with sleep when levels are too high, with people who have generalized anxiety disorder.
In addition to its calming properties, chamomile is also rich in antioxidants that can help promote overall health and well-being.
Chamomile is often found in teas and in herbal supplements. It also be used as aromatherapy to improve sleep quality.
Flowers from lavender have been used extensively throughout time for medical and cosmetic purposes. This herb has been found to have numerous health benefits, including improved sleep quality through its impact on the GABA system in our brain. Interestingly lavender can increase melatonin levels in older adults who typically have age related lower levels of melatonin.
Researchers in China found that women with insomnia who inhaled lavender for 12 weeks before bed had improved sleep quality and better heart rate variability scores suggesting that lavender can activate the parasympathetic nervous system aka the resting center of our brain and body.
Oral supplementation with lavender oil has been associated with self-reports of enhanced sleep quality, reduced awakenings at night, and less anxiety.
Lavender can be used in many forms, including as an essential oil, lotions, bath products, oral capsules, and teas.
Lemon balm is a plant in the mint family that has been used for centuries to improve sleep and reduce stress. There are limited studies on this herb however available research reports that it can increase levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety.
One study performed in women experiencing symptoms of menopause were given a combination of lemon balm 80mg and valerian root 160mg. 36% of women on the herbal mixture found improvement in their sleep after one month as comparted to those who didn’t take it.
Table of suggested doses and side effects of natural sleep supplements
|Supplement||Suggested Capsule Dose||Side effects|
|Melatonin||0.3-6mg||Drowsiness, headache, dizziness, nausea, vivid dreams|
|Magnesium||400-500mg||Diarrhea, nausea, lower blood pressure|
|Valerian root||160-600mg||Nausea, headaches, diarrhea, dizziness|
|Chamomile||220-1600mg||Nausea, vomiting, dizziness|
|Lavender||80-160mg||Constipation, drowsiness, headaches, hives|
|Lemon balm||No standardized dose for capsule, for tea 1T fresh leaves or 1t for dried leaves in a cup of hot water||Rare but may include indigestion, bloating, and nausea. Not recommended for those taking medications for glaucoma or thyroid conditions|
Sleep supplements shouldn’t been the first option when it comes to troubles with sleep. After speaking with your doctor to rule out an underlying medical or sleep condition consider one of the above natural sleep supplements. With with a little research and guidance, you can learn how to optimize your sleep and wake up refreshed, energized for the day ahead.
For more info about sleep aids watch Pills and Potions for Sleep on Sleephoria’s YouTube channel.