9 Natural Sleep Aids That Are Backed by Science

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Getting a good amount of sleep iincredibly important for your health. Sleep helps your body and brain function properly. A good night’s sleep can improve your learning, memory, decision-making and even your creativity. What’s more, getting sufficient sleep has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity.

Despite all these benefits, sleep quality and quantity are at an all-time low, and people increasingly suffer from poor sleep. Keep in mind that good sleep often starts with good sleep practices and habits. However, for some, that’s not enough. If you require a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, consider trying the following nine sleep-promoting supplements.

  1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally, which signals your brain that it’s time to sleep. This hormone’s cycle of production and release is influenced by time of day — melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and fall in the morning. For this reason, melatonin supplements have become a popular sleeping aid, particularly in instances where the melatonin cycle is disrupted, such as jet lag.

What’s more, several studies report that melatonin improves daytime sleep quality and duration. This is particularly beneficial for individuals whose schedules require them to sleep during the daytime, such as shift workers. Moreover, melatonin may improve overall sleep quality in individuals suffering from sleep disorders. Specifically, melatonin appears to reduce the time people need to fall asleep and increase the total amount of sleep time.

Melatonin supplements appear to be safe when used for short periods of time, but as of yet, not much is known about long-term safety.

2. Valerian Root

Valerian is an herb native to Asia and Europe. Its root is commonly used as a natural treatment for symptoms of anxiety, depression and menopause. It is also one of the most commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplements in the US and Europe. 

However, study results remain inconsistent. For instance, two recent reviews reported that 300–900 mg of valerian taken right before bedtime may improve self-rated sleep quality.

Nevertheless, all the observed improvements in these studies were subjective. They relied on participants’ perception of sleep quality rather than on objective measurements taken during sleep, such as brain waves or heart rate. Regardless, short-term intake of valerian root appears to be safe for adults, with minor, infrequent side effects such as dizziness. So despite the lack of objective measurements behind valerian, adults may consider testing it out for themselves.

However, safety remains uncertain for use long-term, and in special populations such as pregnant or lactating women.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of processes in the human body, and is important for brain function and heart health. In addition, magnesium may help quiet the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.

Studies show that magnesium’s relaxing effect may be partly due to its ability to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that guides your body’s sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium also appears to increase brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects .

On the other hand, increasing your magnesium intake by taking supplements may help you optimize the quality and quantity of your sleep.

4. Lavender

Lavender is a plant that can be found on almost all continents. It produces purple flowers that, when dried, have a variety of household uses. Moreover, lavender’s soothing fragrance is believed to enhance sleep.

In fact, several studies show that simply smelling lavender oil for 30 minutes before sleep may be enough to improve the quality of sleep. This effect appears particularly strong in those suffering from mild insomnia, especially females and young individuals.

Though lavender aromatherapy is considered safe, the intake of lavender supplements has been linked to nausea and stomach pain in some cases.It’s also worth noting that only a limited amount of studies could be found on the effects of lavender supplements on sleep. Thus, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

5. Passion Flower

Passion flower, also known as Passiflora incarnata or maypop, is a popular herbal remedy for insomnia. The species of passion flower linked to sleep improvements are native to North America. They are also currently cultivated in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Passion flower’s sleep-promoting effects have been demonstrated in animal studies. However, its effects in humans appear to depend on the form consumed. One study in humans compared the effects of a passion flower tea to those of a placebo tea made from parsley leaves. Participants drank each tea about one hour before bed for a period of one week, taking a one-week break between the two teas. Each tea bag was allowed to steep for 10 minutes, and researchers took objective measurements of sleep quality. At the end of the three-week study, the objective measurements indicated the participants had not experienced improvements in sleep. However, when they were asked to rate their sleep quality subjectively, they rated it around 5% higher following the passion flower tea week compared to the parsley tea week.

6. Glycine

Glycine is an amino acid that plays an important role in the nervous system. Recent studies show it may also help improve sleep. Exactly how this works is unknown, but glycine is thought to act in part by lowering body temperature at bedtime, signaling that it’s time to sleep.

In one study, participants suffering from poor sleep consumed 3 grams of glycine or a placebo immediately before bedtime. Those in the glycine group reported feeling less fatigued the next morning. They also said their liveliness, peppiness and clear-headedness were higher the next morning.

Another study investigated the effects of glycine in participants suffering from poor sleep. Researchers took measurements of their brain waves, heart rate and breathing while they slept. Participants who took 3 grams of glycine before bedtime showed improved objective measures of sleep quality compared to the placebo. Glycine supplements also helped participants fall asleep faster.

You can buy glycine in pill form, or as a powder that can be diluted in water. According to research, taking fewer than 31 grams per day appears to be safe, but more studies are needed. You can also consume glycine by eating foods rich in the nutrient, including bone broth, meat, eggs, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, kale, cabbage and fruits like bananas and kiwis.

7–9. Other Supplements

There are many additional sleep-promoting supplements on the market. However, not all are supported by strong scientific research. The list below describes a few additional supplements that may be beneficial to sleep, but require more scientific investigation.

  1. Tryptophan:One study reports that doses as low as 1 gram per day of this essential amino acid may help improve sleep quality. This dosage may also help you fall asleep faster.
  2. Ginkgo biloba:Consuming 250 mg of this natural herb 30–60 minutes before bed may help reduce stress, enhance relaxation and promote sleep.
  3. L-Theanine:Consuming a daily supplement containing 200–400 mg of this amino acid may help improve sleep and relaxation.

Kava is another plant that has been linked to sleep-promoting effects in some studies. It originates from the South Pacific islands and its root is traditionally prepared as a tea, although it can also be consumed in supplement form.

However, kava use has also been linked to severe liver damage. For this reason, it’s best to avoid this supplement.

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