Learn About Natural Sleep Aids
Difficulty falling asleep is a common occurrence. For many people, this means trouble sleeping every now and again or for a short duration of time.
In many cases, getting enough sleep may be as simple as changing routines, diet, or habits so you should try these first:
- limiting daytime napping to 30 minutes or less
- exercising for at least 10 minutes per day
- avoiding caffeine and other stimulants before bedtime
- passing on heavy foods, like fatty or fried meals, before bedtime
Some people wish to avoid using medication in favor of a more natural alternative as they encourage relaxation, ease anxiety, and promote sleep. Many natural sleep aids are also linked to other health-promoting behaviors like improved digestion and pain relief.
Are natural sleep aids more beneficial than traditional sleep aids?
Natural sleep aids are generally considered safer than OTC and prescription medications. This is because they tend to have fewer side effects than their prescription counterparts.
Some people worry that using prescription medication can cause them to become dependent on the medication. If this happens, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop using it. They may also have even more difficulty falling asleep after stopping use.
Natural sleep aids have a low risk of side effects, dependency, or complications when used for a short time. Consult your doctor about any potential interactions between an herb you’d like to use and any medical conditions you have or medications you’re taking.
Chamomile is a gentle herb that has a calming effect. It promotes relaxation and sleep. A
Although there isn’t a typical dose for chamomile, you can use it a few ways:
- use dried chamomile flowers to make tea
- apply as a topical plant tincture
You may also find that chamomile:
- aids in digestion
- soothes and heals skin
- relaxes muscles
- relieves headaches
You shouldn’t use chamomile if you’re allergic to rag or anything else in the daisy family, as you might also be allergic to chamomile.
Valerian is an herbal medicine made from the root of the plant. It’s been noted to act as a sedative. Valerian can interact with some medications, so you should consult your doctor before use
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Valerian may be combined with hops, lemon balm, and other herbs. It’s best to gradually increase your dose over a period of time. Once your sleep improves, you should continue using valerian for two to six weeks.
If you drink it as a tea, you may take 1/4 to 1 teaspoon up to three times per day. If you prefer to take the extract form, you should follow the dosage recommended on the label.
When you wish to discontinue use, you should slowly reduce your dose. Abruptly ending use may cause symptoms of withdrawal or anxiety. You shouldn’t use valerian if you experience any unusual symptoms.
Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant. They are used to flavor beverages, like beer, and as an herbal medicine.
Hops have been shown to improve sleep. A
Hops are sometimes combined with other herbs like valerian. You can take a liquid extract of 0.5 to 2 milliliters daily. You can also drink nonalcoholic beer that contains hops.
Hops may worsen certain types of depression. You shouldn’t take hops if you have a hormone-sensitive condition.
Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland. It controls your circadian rhythms. Supplemental melatonin may help you to fall asleep faster and boost the quality of your sleep.
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The recommended dose is 1 to 5 milligrams before bedtime. You should discontinue use after two weeks. If your sleep troubles persist after two weeks of use, you should consult your doctor.
Melatonin may also:
- help relieve symptoms of jet lag
- boost immunity
- fight inflammation
Melatonin may cause:
- wakefulness in the night
- stomach cramps
You should discontinue use if you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms.
Passionflower is a plant containing chemicals that produce a calming effect. It brings about feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, and is sometimes combined with other plants in an herbal blend.
You can use the herb to make a tea to drink before bedtime, or take it in extract form. The recommended liquid dose is 10 to 30 drops of passionflower extract before bedtime. You shouldn’t take passionflower for longer than two months at a time.
Do not take passionflower if you are breastfeeding or pregnant. This herb is also known to interact with medications and can make sedatives and blood thinners too strong. People on some types of antidepressants cannot take passionflower. Discontinue use if you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms.
Lavender is a fragrant plant used to make medicine, perfume, and oil. It’s thought to boost health and well-being. Its calming effect can help induce sleep.
You may use lavender in the following ways:
- add a few drops of essential oil to a diffuser near your bed
- put a few drops of essential oil on your pillow
- use dried lavender to make tea or scented bags
Always dilute lavender essential oil with water or a carrier oil, such as olive oil. You should also do a patch test before applying diluted essential oils to your skin. If you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms, discontinue use. Essential oils should never be taken internally.
Sleep aid #7: Skullcap
American skullcap is native to North America, but it is now widely cultivated in Europe and other areas of the world. It has been used for more than 200 years as a mild relaxant and as a therapy for anxiety, nervous tension, and convulsions.
Skullcap is sold in capsules, powders, and liquid extracts. Dried parts of the plant, such as its leaves, are likewise used to brew tea.
American skullcap has been shown to boost mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety.
A study in 43 people found that those who received 1,050 mg of American skullcap daily for 2 weeks reported significant enhancements in mood compared to a placebo group.
It’s thought that American skullcap positively impacts mood and reduces anxiety by stimulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm nerves. Notably, this plant was used in traditional medicine practices as a sedative and treatment for conditions like insomnia and anxiety. In fact, many anti-anxiety medications work similarly by enhancing GABA activity
High doses of the tincture may cause giddiness, stupor, mental confusion, twitching, irregular heartbeat, and seizures and could interact with common medications. It is not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women due to insufficient safety information. In the past, American skullcap has been contaminated with germander (Teucrium), a group of plants known to cause liver problems. It is important that American skullcap be obtained from a reliable source.
Sleep aid #7: Lemon Balm
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), a member of the mint family, is considered a calming herb. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic). Today, lemon balm is often combined with other calming, soothing herbs, such as valerian, chamomile, and hops, to promote relaxation, help anxiety and promote sleep. It is also used in creams to treat cold sores and common herpes.
In one study of people with minor sleep problems, 81% of those who took an herbal combination of valerian and lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who took a placebo. It is not clear from this and other studies whether lemon balm or valerian (or the combination) is responsible for the result.
Some ways to take lemon balm are as tea and in extract form or tincture.
- Tea: 1.5 to 4.5 grams (1/4 to 1 tsp.) of dried lemon balm herb in hot water. Steep and drink up to 4 times daily.
- Lemon Balm Tincture: 60 drops of lemon balm daily
You shouldn’t use natural sleep aids if:
- you’re pregnant or breast-feeding
- you’re taking sedatives, antidepressants, or other prescription drugs
- you have an upcoming surgery
If you have an existing health condition, consult your doctor before using a natural sleep aid. Your doctor can also confirm the recommended dose for you and advise you on any potential risks.
As you begin to treat your sleep problems, try to find the underlying cause. Be aware of what’s triggering poor sleep, such as stress, noise, or discomfort. Keeping a sleep journal can help you assess your sleeping habits and look at areas for improvement.
Natural sleep aids should only be used as a short-term solution. If your sleep problems continue, they may be a sign of an underlying medical concern.
Remember that side effects and risks are possible, even with natural products. Always use a reputable brand.
If you aren’t already, allow yourself to get into a habit of winding down and relaxing each night. Taking your chosen sleep aid at a certain time can be a reminder to slow down the pace, unwind, and prepare for a full night’s rest.
Sources https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sleep-aids https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/skullcap https://www.mountsinai.org/search?query=skullcap&referrerPageUrl=https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/lemon-balm