Getting a good night's sleep can improve your mood, help you function better at work and home, and keep you healthy. Unfortunately, insomnia is as common as it is frustrating.
There are a slew of natural products and supplements on the market, many of which make big promises about improving your sleep or helping you if you have trouble staying asleep. Many of them simply don't work. It can be frustrating to wade through a swamp of false promises.
This article takes a look at some of the most promising natural remedies for sleep, as well as some tips for finding high-quality supplements and maximizing their effects.
Read on to learn more!Why Is It So Hard to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep?
Most people experience trouble falling asleep at night or trouble staying asleep once in a while. It may be hard to sleep the night before a presentation at work or after a fight with your partner, for instance.
For many of us, though, difficulty sleeping follows us no matter our situation. Estimates on people with insomnia can be slippery, but most experts say between 10 and 30% of adults have chronic insomnia.
There are a few different ways insomnia can work.
Of course, some people may suffer from multiple kinds of insomnia. Others may move from one kind to another.
Insomnia can become a bit of a vicious cycle: the harder it is to fall asleep, the more fixated on "a good night's sleep" you can become. That stress actually makes it less likely that you'll be able to get a night of restorative sleep.
One effective treatment for insomnia is CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. This kind of therapy can help to change your unhelpful views on sleep and decouple your stressful thoughts from behavior that impacts your sleep.
Some insights from CBT treatment for insomnia can help you even if you don't want to go to a therapist's office. For instance, give yourself permission to have periods of insufficient sleep now and again. Remind yourself that an occasional sleepless night won't hurt you.
It's also common for insomniacs to associate their bedrooms with the stress and fear they feel around sleep. Try to make your bedroom a relaxing space you enjoy being in around bedtime. That may help if you have trouble falling asleep at night.
Some people also find mindfulness meditation helpful, especially before bedtime. Slowing your thoughts and focusing on your breathing can help calm and soothe an anxious brain and help you to transition into sleep.
The quest for an effective and safe sleep aid has occupied medicine since recorded history began. The original sleeping pills were things like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. These chemicals had a considerable risk of dependence and often left users groggy in the morning.
The next generation of sleeping pills, called Z-drugs, are modified forms of benzodiazepines. This class of drugs is less likely to produce dependence, but there's still a risk of addiction. In some users, Z-drugs can induce a fugue state where they can perform complex tasks but have no memory of doing so.
OTC sleep aids are also available, but these drugs often lead to morning grogginess and can cause dry mouth and eye irritation.
With many of the options on the table causing worrisome side effects, it's not surprising that so many people are trying to find a natural alternative. There are a number of promising compounds out there, most of which have far fewer side effects than either prescription or OTC medication.
GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is one of your brain's primary neurotransmitters. In adult brains, it works as an inhibitory transmitter, which means it slows or blocks other chemical signals coming through the brain.
Alcohol, for instance, is a drug that releases a lot of GABA into the nervous system. This can result in slurred speech and slow reaction time if you've had too much to drink.
As you might suspect, GABA also plays a significant role in sleep, too. That's why most pharmaceutical interventions have tried to target the GABA receptors in the brain. Some of these drugs have concerning side effect profiles that include next-day drowsiness, memory loss, and dependency.
Another way to try to boost your GABA at bedtime is to take a GABA supplement. GABA is already found in many foods like tomatoes, beans, and fermented foods. It's also readily fermented or synthesized in a laboratory setting.
While no large or long-term studies have been done to date, smaller studies show that GABA supplements have some promise. One study of 40 patients showed that taking 300 mg of GABA every day decreased the length of time needed to fall asleep and improved the patients' subjective quality of sleep.
GABA in the brain is also associated with a decrease in anxiety and pain, so taking a GABA supplement may help with these sleep challenges, as well.
As a neurotransmitter, GABA tends to dissipate quickly in the brain, and that may lead to early awakenings. So, while GABA can help those who have trouble falling asleep at night, it may be less of a help for those who have difficulty staying asleep.
GABA can act as an excitatory rather than an inhibitory transmitter in children, so while it may be an excellent remedy for sleepless nights, GABA should only be taken by adults or under a doctor's care.
Hops refers to the cone-shaped flowers of thehumulus lupulus plant. These flowers are fragrant and look a little bit like a green berry.
Hop cultivation dates to the early-to-mid 8th century on lands now part of Germany. The herb was great at stabilizing and preserving beer, which was a major part of the medieval diet.
Over time, hops became an important part of herbal medicine. They were prescribed for toothache and fevers and used as an early disinfectant. But the most important of hops' contributions to herbal medicine came from one specific observation.
After hops were cultivated, people noticed that workers tended to fall asleep while working in the hop fields. This revelation led to hops being used as a treatment for anxiety and sleeplessness. That history continues today.
One small study examined a group of nurses whose sleep activity was monitored during ordinary circumstances and when they drank a non-alcoholic beer with hops for two weeks. The study found a reduction in the time it took to fall asleep, a decrease in activity during sleep (suggesting deeper, more restorative sleep), and a reduction in anxiety.
Another animal study found a reduction of nighttime activity when taking a hop supplement. While large-scale studies have yet to be done, the balance of evidence suggests that hops can be an effective sleep aid.
The science of why hops aid sleep isn't totally firm, either. But it seems that hops increase the activity of our favorite neurotransmitter, GABA. That may be why it helps people with trouble falling asleep at night and is such an excellent remedy for sleepless nights.
As with all supplements, let your doctor know if you're using hops or a hop supplement to help you sleep.
Valerian is a grassy plant with sweet-smelling flowers. Native to Asia and Europe, the plant has been used in herbal medicine since at least the ancient Greeks. In fact, the great Roman physician Galen prescribed it for insomnia.
In addition to helping with sleep, valerian has also been used as a traditional remedy for fatigue, migraine, and stomach complaints. It was also thought to help protect against the plague because of the sweet smell of the flowers.
In more modern times, valerian preparations were popular in wartime Britain to help soothe the stress of air raids. And it's still used today as an herbal remedy for sleepless nights.
Contemporary studies showing valerian's effectiveness tend to be smaller, but a review of the available literature does suggest that valerian can improve sleep quality without too many side effects. Patients taking valerian in the review had an 80% greater chance of reporting improved sleep quality than the placebo group.
Scientists still don't know how valerian works, but one proposed mechanism is that it acts on specific GABA receptors to increase the activity of GABA in the brain. It may also work on the 5-HT receptors that help modulate the sleep/wake cycle. So while valerian can help those who have trouble falling asleep at night, it may also help those with trouble staying asleep.
Valerian also includes a lot of volatile compounds that may contribute to its sedative properties. These compounds can be challenging to study because they break down quickly in most environments.
Like all the other supplements on this list, valerian root shouldn't be given to children or used if you're pregnant. Valerian can also interfere with certain medications, so let your doctor know if you're interested in taking it.
Hemp derivatives are all the rage these days, but the hype is built on some solid science. While hemp and cannabis have been used as medicine in ancient Egypt and ancient China, it's only relatively recently that we've started to understand why.
The endocannabinoid system in your body can influence a number of different processes, including mood, sleep, pain sensation, and memory. Cannabinoids from hemp interact with endocannabinoid reactors to produce a multitude of effects.
THC is the compound in some cannabis strains that gets you high and causes disruption in how you process spatial information. By law, hemp can only contain 0.3% THC. So, when you see a hemp-derived product like a sleep aid, you know that it won't get you high and is unlikely to cause a positive result on a drug test.
Lots of excitement has focused on cannabidiol, also known as CBD. One derivative of CBD has been FDA-approved to treat seizures related to certain genetic conditions. Other research has suggested that CBD can help with anxiety, chronic pain, and, yes, sleep.
CBD research is still in its infancy owing to previous federal restrictions that were only lifted in 2018. Butone study says that CBD shows promise as being a treatment for sleep disorders and a remedy for sleepless nights. Its pain relief properties may help those with trouble staying asleep, too.
Though medical studies focus on studying pure CBD, some of hemp's effects come from other compounds in the plant, including terpenes and phytochemicals. The role of these additional chemicals is called the "entourage effect" and seems to help, at least anecdotally, with anxiety and sleep issues, including trouble falling asleep at night.
The FDA considers CBD and hemp to be dietary supplements and does not regulate them. That means you should only buy these products from a reputable vendor that conducts third-party testing on its supplements. You should also let your doctor know if you're taking a hemp supplement.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in some mushrooms, as well as green and black tea. It's only been isolated since 1950, but since then, a lot of research has been done into its effects on sleep, anxiety, and cognitive performance.
One animal study that looked at a mixture of GABA and l-theanine in improving sleep showed a decrease in the time it took subjects to fall asleep and an increase in sleep duration. That suggests it could be a powerful boost to fighting multiple sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep at night and trouble staying asleep.
L-theanine is a small enough molecule to clear the blood-brain barrier, which allows it to interact directly with neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. It has a structure similar to glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter.
This effect on glutamate receptors could be what's responsible for l-theanine's impact on cognition. Several studies have shown that it can improve attention and executive functions. It also seems to do this without raising blood pressure or causing stress, both of which could impair sleep.
More research is needed on l-theanine, but it seems to have a lot of promise as an anxiety-reducing dietary supplement and a remedy for sleepless nights. Of course, buy your supplements from a reputable provider and let your doctor know what you're taking.
No matter what sleep aid you use, it will work much better if you have a good sleep routine. Good sleep hygiene can help whether you have trouble falling asleep at night or trouble staying asleep.
Don't fret if you can't follow every sleep recommendation; just do your best to aim for these targets.
It's worth doing exercise for a whole host of other reasons, of course. But one more reason to lace up your running shoes is that exercise can be a remedy for sleepless nights.
Even short bouts of low-intensity physical activity can have a positive effect on sleep. They reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, lengthen the period of sleep, and improve the subjective quality of that sleep. Low-intensity exercise may also reduce symptoms of sleep apnea.
You should aim for 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, of exercise a week. That works out to just a little under twenty-two minutes a day!
Doctors disagree about the best time to exercise for help with sleep, but most agree that insomniacs shouldn't exercise in the four hours before bed. While exercise can make you feel tired, it also raises your body's core temperature, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
Those who have trouble falling asleep at night should try aerobic activity in the mornings or early afternoon. If you have trouble staying asleep, try a low-intensity aerobic or resistance routine right before the four-hour cutoff.
If you've seen one admonition about screen time before bed, you've seen a thousand. But settling rules around screen time really makes a difference and can be a remedy for sleepless nights.
The blue light coming from your phone, even if you have the blue light filter on, can disrupt your body's melatonin production. Since melatonin controls the sleep/wake cycle, that can make it take longer for you to fall asleep and cause you to have trouble staying asleep.
Most people are familiar with the feeling of scrolling on their phone before bed and seeing something that really sticks in their craw. It gets you angry and maybe anxious and impairs your ability to fall asleep.
The only solution is to put your phone away at least thirty minutes before bed. Read a book, talk with your partner, or work on a crafting project right before bed. You'll be impressed by what a difference it can make.
If you can, try putting your phone across your room or in another room, too. That way, you'll be less likely to reach for it if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Your phone may not be the only screen in the bedroom, either. If you have a TV in your room, move it elsewhere. Watching TV definitely won't help if you have trouble falling asleep at night.
Sleep hygiene also includes keeping a calm, dark, and cool environment for sleep. You don't have to make any huge changes here; even small ones help as a remedy for sleepless nights.
To make your bedroom more calming, try using a diffuser with lavender oil or your favorite essential oil before bed. If you don't like your bedsheets and blankets, try new ones. Try to keep any to-do lists or chore reminders out of the bedroom or at least off your bedside table.
If you can, ensure your blinds or curtains fully block out light from any windows. Try using night lights in your home so you don't have to turn on a lamp to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night, too. And if all else fails, get an eyemask to block out excess light.
The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60 and 67 degrees for most people, so make sure you're turning down your thermostat before bedtime. If it's still too hot, try fewer blankets or different pajamas. A warm shower before bed can help lower your body's core temperature.
Improving your sleep environment can make a big difference if you have trouble staying asleep. If you do wake up, you'll fall asleep again much quicker in a dark, cool environment.
As tempting as it may be to lounge around on your bed, try to keep the space only for sleep and other explicitly bed-centric activities. That means keeping your binge-watching sessions on your couch and keeping your snacks in the kitchen.
Sleeping habits affect circadian rhythms and people with insomnia or sleep apnea have to learn new sleeping habits to reset circadian rhythms. If you are constantly feeling tired or an overall sense of sleep deprivation, you need to address your sleep cycle. There are many common sleep disorders, some of which are standard circadian rhythm sleep disorders, while others require the help of sleep clinics.
Many mental health conditions mimic insomnia symptoms. People who have chronic insomnia should see a sleep specialist. Some common sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, jet lag, restless leg, sleep apnea, and chronic insomnia. In cognitive behavioral therapy, they study circadian rhythms.
A sleep specialist will look at the cause of insomnia and the internal clock. Obstructive sleep apnea and drinking alcohol have been shown to have a correlation. There is a thorough diagnosis and tests to determine symptoms and causes. Almost always it boils down to changing your sleep habits. You shouldn't be eating or drinking alcohol at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Dr. Babak Larian, Clinical Chief at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is a renowned expert in minimally invasive head and neck surgery. Board-certified and active in global medical missions, he also oversees surgical operations at the La Peer Surgery Center and PathMD pathology laboratories.
Dr. Kia Michel, a globally acclaimed Urological Oncological Surgeon, founded the Comprehensive Urology Medical Group in Los Angeles, known for his expertise in robotic and minimally invasive therapies. Alongside his medical achievements, he contributes to businesses like La Peer Surgery Center, finding joy in nature and bringing smiles to loved ones.
Dr. Jamshidinia, a certified Foot and Ankle Surgeon and Fellow of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, founded Tower Foot & Ankle Surgery and co-founded successful enterprises, including La Peer Health Systems. His involvement in medical research and the cannabinoid medicine market, highlights his multifaceted contributions to the field.
Dr. Siamak Tabib, a Board-Certified Gastroenterologist in Beverly Hills, holds a medical degree from UCLA Geffen School of Medicine and serves as Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA.
He actively contributes to research in digestive diseases, co- founding healthcare entities and advocating for adaptive sports opportunities through his advisory role at Angel City Sports.