In theory, we all know the importance of a good night’s sleep. But mounting evidence suggests that — as it relates to our overall health — the amount of sleep and quality of sleep we get each night might be even more important than we understand. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of some of the best natural sleep aids.
Also known as “Indian Ginseng” or “Indian Winter Cherry,” Ashwagandha is one of the most important herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine and has been used for thousands of years for its wide-ranging health benefits — including helping ease everyday stress and sleep challenges.* In an effort to understand the underlying mechanisms of action in the body, scientists conducted a study in February 2017 and found the active component present in the plant’s leaves that provides sleep support — a natural compound known as triethylene glycol.
Chamomile is one of the most widely used and most researched plants in the world and is recommended for a wide variety of issues — including relaxation and sleep.* While a warm cup of chamomile tea may seem more like an old-fashioned remedy than a scientifically proven sleep aid, science says otherwise.* It has been frequently used to calm nerves and reduce everyday stress, as well as to treat a host of sleep-related issues.* Studies have found that its relaxation effects may be due to one of the flavonoids present in the plant — apigenin — that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.*
One of the most buzzworthy supplements in the natural therapy landscape, cannabidiol (CBD) can play a vital role in supporting your endocannabinoid system (ECS) — the “master regulator” of the body maintaining homeostasis (balance) across all of our physiological processes (including sleep!).* For this reason, there exists a great deal of ongoing research in understanding how, why and when CBD can be beneficial to sleep — with initial results looking incredibly promising.
4) Vitamin D
Surprise, surprise! The “sunshine vitamin” is also important to healthy biological functioning at night. Among other things, studies show vitamin D can help you fall asleep faster and help you feel more well-rested the next day.*
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, yet nearly half of the population in the U.S. isn’t getting enough of it.
It turns out sleep and hydration are intimately interconnected. On one side of the coin, lack of sleep can lead to dehydration. One study found adults who only got around six hours of sleep per night were more likely to be dehydrated, potentially because of a hydration-regulating hormone that is only released late in a person's sleep cycle. Wake up too soon and that hormone doesn’t kick into gear. On the flip-side of the coin, the National Sleep Foundation says dehydration can cause your mouth and nasal passages to become dry, setting you up for sleep-disruptive snoring, as well as potentially leading to nocturnal leg cramps that can further foil your snooze time.
7) Valerian Root
Valerian root is a flowering, perennial herb that’s been used since ancient times for its calming and relaxing properties* — earning it its modern moniker: "nature's Valium." Biologically, it increases levels of GABA — an “inhibitory neurotransmitter” chemical our brains naturally create to quiet the activity of the neurons in your nervous system promoting calmness and feelings of relaxation.*
8) Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm (aka Sweet Mary or Melissa officinalis) is a perennial plant with a distinctive lemony scent. It has been used therapeutically for thousands of years to support a number of systems in the human body from the digestive system to mood to skin to sleep.* Today, it’s mostly used as a mild, temporary sleep aid for occasional sleeplessness.* One study found that when combined with valerian root, it improved sleep quality by 33%.*
It shouldn’t be any surprise to see melatonin make the top 10. This hormone, produced naturally by the body, is absolutely essential for sleep.* And, as a sleep supplement, it’s one of the most used and most researched. Melatonin production is triggered by exposure to darkness (thus its nickname “the hormone of darkness”), and it helps improve sleep in a variety of ways. Studies show melatonin may help increase total sleep time; relieve the day time fatigue associated with jet lag; reset the body’s sleep-wake cycle; and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.* Studies also show melatonin may increase REM sleep, which is vital for supporting primary brain functions, metabolic processes, and immune system function.* One important thing to note: though effective, the use of melatonin supplements can lead to a diminished ability of the body to produce it for itself.*
This jaw-droppingly beautiful flower does more than just spruce up a bouquet. It’s another relaxing herb that’s been used for centuries to calm restless minds.* And preliminary research backs up its snoozy capabilities. One study found that a cup of Passionflower tea before bed may help improve sleep and another study conducted a year later reinforced those findings.* It’s also often used for reducing stress because of relaxing effects that result from the presence of a flavonoid called “chrysin” present in the flower.
Other techniques to get better sleep
Natural herbs, vitamins, and minerals are just one way to help get a longer, deeper sleep. Modifying your behaviors before you go to sleep can also help your mind unwind and prepare you to settle in for a good night’s rest.
- Take a long, hot bath: The science behind why a hot bath may help promote sleep is called “passive body heating.” Your body temperature and sleep schedules are closely related, and a change in one may influence the other. Soaking in a warm bath before bed has been shown in studies to increase sleepiness and to help you fall asleep faster. Turn a pre-bed bath soak into an immersive experience by incorporating a CBD-infused Soak It In Bath Gem.
- Turn off your devices: According to a 2010 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the glowing blue light from your phone, tablet, or TV tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime, making it more difficult to fall asleep. To break this cycle, commit to an hour free of electronics before going to bed.
- Stick to a sleep schedule: While quantity and quality of sleep are important, consistency is just as key. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — yes, even on the weekends — can help set and optimize your body’s natural rhythms.
Does exercise help with sleep?
It only seems natural that exercising can help with sleep. After all, expending energy working out can only help you “tire out” before retiring for the evening. However, science shows that exercise helps with sleep beyond simply being more tired.
Both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise can help improve sleep quality. A 2015 study found that subjects who participated in resistance exercise woke up fewer times during the night and spent significantly less time awake after initially falling asleep.
Exercise can also improve how long you sleep. In a 1997 study of older adults who participated in aerobic exercise four days per week, researchers found a direct correlation between the time spent exercising and how the participants slept each night.
Finally, exercise can have a significant impact on your stress levels, which in turn leads to improved sleep. Going for a brisk walk or taking an exercise class releases neurochemicals such as endorphins and serotonin that can improve focus and lift your mood. No matter what motivates you to get off the couch (and into bed earlier), be sure to exercise several hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Does a healthy diet help with sleep?
What you put in your body has a profound impact on every area of your life, sleep included. While it’s unlikely that you can eat yourself to the point of sleepiness, some of the foods you choose can have both positive and negative effects on your sleep patterns.
A poor diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats is associated with poor quality sleep and called for further research into the topic, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Those with heartburn induced by certain foods may also experience issues falling asleep, kept awake by the uncomfortable condition.
However, certain vitamins and foods may impact how you sleep. Almonds, walnuts, and tart cherry juice all contain melatonin. The mineral magnesium is also believed to bring on sleep, as it may lower the stress-causing hormone, cortisol.
How can I solve my sleeping problem naturally?
Sleep is elusive for millions. While there’s no magic food to eat or secret tea to drink that unlocks a natural way to solve sleep problems, a lifestyle centered on health and wellness may help create circumstances that help us fall asleep faster and for longer periods of time. Whether that’s reducing time spent in front of a screen, trying a hot bath before bed, or incorporating one of the natural sleep aids mentioned here, finding a natural solution that works with your lifestyle can elevate your overall health, day and night.