Quality rest is critical to our well-being and mental health. When we fail to get our basic needs met—with sleep being high on the list— we risk compromising other aspects of our health that allow us to function at a high level. Further, not getting enough rest puts us at a higher risk for serious side effects like heart disease, obesity, depression, and other life-altering conditions.
Inadequate rest can also lead to a weakened immune system, brain fog, low concentration, and a shorter life expectancy. Sleeping pills like Ambien may be helpful but come with side effects and could be costly; a natural sleep remedy might be all you need.
What Is a Natural Sleep Aid?
Natural sleep aids are supplements or remedies for sleep that don’t require a prescription from a healthcare provider. Often, these natural sleep aids are derived from plants or substances found in nature.
While prescription sleeping pills can be an effective treatment for managing sleep conditions like chronic insomnia, they come with potential risks and complications1, including rebound insomnia and dependency. They can also cause unwanted side effects like heartburn, dizziness, headaches, and a difficult time driving or completing daily tasks.1
That’s why some people prefer to turn to natural sleep aids as a first line of defense against poor sleep. In addition, these natural remedies offer more accessibility and can be found in many pharmacies, grocery stores, and online retailers.
Still, even natural supplements can come with potential side effects, and may interfere with other prescription medication, so it’s a good idea to speak to a healthcare provider before starting any natural sleep aid.
What Are the Best Natural Sleep Remedies?
Natural sleep remedies come in numerous forms, including capsules, tinctures, teas, and juices. These supplements are commonly used for sleep.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the pineal gland2 in our brains, a process that helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. The hormone enables us to wind down and feel sleepy when it’s time for bed, producing more when night comes and less when day breaks.
Melatonin supplements are a popular sleep aid as they can help you fall asleep quickly3 and are particularly useful for treating jet lag or for individuals performing shift work. The hormone is helpful for these circumstances, given that it leaves minimal drowsy side effects, with many people experiencing none at all. Those who have trouble drifting off at night could find relief in melatonin, as studies show that the hormone helps reduce sleep latency, the time a person needs to fall asleep.3 Further, the substance seems to be safe for adults to use for temporary and prolonged periods, though keep in mind studies on long-term use are limited.
Learn More: Can You Overdose on Melatonin?
Magnesium is a common nutrient found in many foods we eat. This mineral is essential for optimal health as our cells and organs use it to perform4 an array of important biological processes. That being said, some of us don’t get as much as we need through our diets alone and may want to consider supplementation.
In regard to its potential nighttime benefits, health experts explain that the mineral acts on benzodiazepine receptors5 to help calm brain activity, which can help you unwind and prepare for sleep. They add that magnesium can help relax your muscles, and for those with restless legs syndrome, this mineral could alleviate their symptoms.5
If you plan on using a magnesium supplement for sleep, it is worth noting that high doses of magnesium may produce a laxative effect6. This is why it’s encouraged to start with a low dose and assess your tolerance with a new magnesium supplement.
Need help? Check out our comparison of magnesium and melatonin.
Glycine is an amino acid7 found in humans and animals, and glycine supplementation is considered helpful in the prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and diabetes.
There are several ways this amino acid could aid sleep. First, it’s been found to lower core body temperature8, which is an important step in thermoregulation for sleep-wake cycles. Second, it’s been found to increase serotonin levels9, which researchers say could help with insomnia.
However, it’s important to note that this research was done on rats, so the impact on human sleep is unclear, though it shows promising results.
Native to Asia and Europe, valerian root10 is commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, and symptoms of menopause. Studies on the substance remain inconsistent. However, its wide usage and personal testimonies surrounding the herb may be worth considering.
According to a few studies, menopausal and postmenopausal women noticed their quality of rest improving with regular doses of valerian11 root. Other studies observed improvement in sleep as well. However, measurements on these results are subjective as the results relied only on participant perception12 and are therefore unable to be quantified.
Lavender can be found in various places and has many household uses, but its calming scent is often great for inducing sleep. In some studies, smelling lavender shortly before laying down to bed was shown to improve the quality of rest. Notably, those with mild insomnia or less serious sleep troubles showed promise in improving rest quality through the use of lavender13 as a sleep remedy.
Some people may use cannabidiol (CBD) as a sleep aid. CBD comes from the Hemp plant, and although it’s an active ingredient in marijuana, CBD alone does not cause the ‘high’ effect14 people can experience when using marijuana. When it comes to using CBD for sleep, research suggests that CBD may help improve sleep by reducing anxiety15.
Get More Info: Top-Rated CBD Oils
Kava is a root found on islands in the South Pacific16, and some people use this as a remedy for anxiety and sleeplessness.
Experts report that research into Kava use17 shows it could decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and boost sleep quality. However, they warn that research has been limited as Kava is linked to liver toxicity. As such, it’s not considered the ideal natural sleep remedy.
If you have more questions about Kava use, we recommend consulting with your primary care doctor.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in proteins that plays a significant role in the body’s production of several important substances, including melatonin18 and serotonin — both of which are neurotransmitters involved in regulating sleep, mood, and various other physiological processes. Research has shown that tryptophan supplementation at concentrations of greater than or equal to one gram can help improve overall sleep quality19.
Chamomile tea is a popular herbal tea prepared from dried chamomile flowers that you may already have at home. It’s widely hailed as an effective natural sleep aid with minimal side effects20, although its benefits for insomnia, in particular, are inconclusive.
Still, research shows that chamomile tea can significantly improve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, which is a common contributor to trouble falling or staying asleep21. That’s because chamomile tea is rich in apigenin22, a bioactive compound found in plants that can create anti-anxiety effects.
If you don’t like drinking tea or liquids before bed, chamomile is also available in extract or capsule form.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice, a juice extracted from sour Montmorency cherries, is a natural sleep aid available in many grocery stores. Drinking tart cherry juice before bed comes with several potential benefits, including improved sleep and reduced inflammation23, the latter of which can play a role in sleep — especially if inflammation or pain is keeping you awake at night.
Tart cherry juice has the power to increase how much time you spend asleep (sleep quantity), as well as how easy it is for you to fall asleep (sleep latency). In addition, tart cherry juice can boost your body’s absorption of tryptophan, the natural sleep aid we mentioned above, which can further improve sleep quality.23GABA
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter available in supplement form. This chemical messenger in your brain24 slows down brain activity and produces a calming effect, making it essential in moderating anxiety, stress, and fear — all of which can impact sleep.
Since GABA levels are associated with various medical conditions such as anxiety and mood disorders, or hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness or time spent sleeping), some people turn to GABA supplements to balance the levels of GABA in their body. As an alternative to a GABA supplement, you can also opt for GABA-rich foods to naturally increase your levels, such as brown rice, soybeans, mushrooms, sprouted grains, and sweet potatoes.24
Certain vitamins may also be helpful for sleep. A 2021 study25 of 47 adults aimed to see whether γ-PGA and vitamin B6 supplements improved sleep quality and duration. Based on their results, the researchers concluded that dual supplementation of y-PGA and vitamin B6 could improve nighttime sleep.
There’s also research about vitamin D’s role in sleep regulation26, with researchers adding that a vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk of sleep issues, including sleep disorders, shorter sleep duration, and more nighttime awakenings. With this data in mind, ensuring you’re getting enough vitamin D could prove beneficial for your sleep.
Are Natural Sleep Aids Safe to Use?
Natural sleep aids may be more accessible than sleeping pills, or come with fewer side effects, but they’re still not safe for everyone. Unlike prescription medication, which is strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), supplements don’t go through the same review and testing process.
Since supplements are unregulated, there’s no way to guarantee dosage, ingredients, or purity. That’s why it’s important to purchase natural sleep aids from trusted, reputable brands, and to do your research on any product you consider. You may also want to prioritize supplements tested by third-party testing agencies, to ensure the product you are interested in is both safe and effective.
A healthcare professional can also give you insight into the pros and cons of natural sleep aids, which can still have side effects or interfere with certain medical conditions or prescription medications.
Natural Sleep Aids for Kids
Melatonin is often used as a natural sleep aid for kids27. Like adults, children and teens can have trouble sleeping and may benefit from taking a supplement. Melatonin for kids can come in several forms, including liquids, gummies, chewables, capsules, and tablets.
Many children may see improvement in sleep from a low dose of 0.5 to one milligram of melatonin taken 30 to 90 minutes before bed. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to work with pediatricians to determine the benefits and risks of using melatonin.27
Before turning to melatonin, parents should first look at their kids’ bedtime habits to determine if something in the environment may be triggering poor sleep. The blue light emitted from smartphones, tablets, and TVs28 is notorious for negatively impacting sleep, so urging children to avoid phone or TV use before bed can go a long way in creating a healthy sleep environment.
Maintaining good sleep hygiene in general, or a set of sleep habits, behaviors, and environment, can also help improve sleep in children without the need for sleep aids. Be sure to maintain a cool, dark, and comfortable bedroom, and encourage kids to engage in relaxing nighttime activities like reading.
Keeping a consistent sleep schedule can also help your kids learn when it’s time to sleep. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Do I Need to Ask My Doctor Before Using a Natural Sleep Aid?
There’s no hard or fast rule about using natural sleep aids, but checking in with your doctor or a healthcare professional before starting any supplement routine is a wise choice. That’s because supplements can come with potential side effects (even tea and juices), so you may want to go over the pros and cons of using a natural sleep aid with the help of a trusted professional.
Depending on the supplement, some natural sleep aids also don’t mix well with prescription medications, especially medications that cause drowsiness. They can also be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I give my child instead of melatonin?
If your child doesn’t tolerate melatonin supplements, or you’re simply looking for a different natural sleep aid to try, tart cherry juice or warm milk, which contains tryptophan, can also be used for kids. Older children and teens may also be able to drink chamomile tea.
What can I do naturally to help me sleep?
If you’re wondering how to get better sleep, there are several steps you can take to naturally improve your sleep. This includes limiting your exposure to blue light, keeping a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine use late in the day, and steering clear of naps when possible. Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a cool, dark, and comfortable sleep environment, can also help you naturally fall and stay asleep.
A helpful sleep tip is matching the light inside your house to the natural light outside. This can be accomplished by dimming the lights in your house as the sun sets or switching from overhead lights to lamps in the evening. This can help to regulate your circadian rhythm and increase the body’s natural melatonin production.
What is the best natural sleeping agent?
There’s no one natural sleeping agent that’s better than the rest. Instead, a natural sleep aid that’s right for you will depend on your needs, which supplement you tolerate best, and the overall benefits you experience.
If a specific natural sleeping agent doesn’t work for you, that’s OK. No one supplement works the same for everyone (if at all), and there are several options to try if a specific supplement doesn’t improve your sleep.
Ashley Zlatopolsky is a Detroit-based writer and editor who specializes in sleep content. She writes about sleep health, hygiene and products for Sleep Advisor, Mattress Clarity, Real Simple, Sleep.com and more.
“Sleeping Pills”. Cleveland Clinic. Last modified April 27, 2021.
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Taavoni, S., Nazem Ekbatani, N., Haghani, H. “Valerian/lemon balm use for sleep disorders during menopause”. National Library of Medicine. 2013.
Sateia MD, Michael J., et al. “Clinical Practice Guideline for the Pharmacologic Treatment of Chronic Insomnia in Adults: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline”. National Library of Medicine. 2017.
Smith Lillehei PhD, Angela., et al. “Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial”. National Library of Medicine. 2015.
Grinspoon MD, Peter. “Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don’t”. Harvard Health. 2021.
Shannon MD, Scott., et al. “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series”. National Library of Medicine. 2019.
“Kava”. University of Michigan Health. Last modified May 14, 2024.
“Kava kava”. Mount Sinai. Webpage accessed October 22, 2024.
Naseem, Mehard., Parvez, Suhel. “Role of Melatonin in Traumatic Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury”. National Library of Medicine. 2014.
Sutanto, Clarinda N., Wei Loh, Wen., Eun Kim, Jung. “The impact of tryptophan supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression”. Nutrition Reviews. Nutrition Reviews. 2022.
Hong Hieu, Truong., et al. “Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials”. National Library of Medicine. 2019.
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