With so many of us having trouble sleeping, it makes sense that we’re always looking for the next best sleep remedy. The problem is that so many prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are habit-forming or lead to next-day drowsiness that can make it difficult to get through the day.
What we really need is a good night of sleep—why is it so hard to make that happen?
Reasons we can’t sleep
Sleep problems can be triggered by many things, and often, there is more than one trigger. Common reasons why we have trouble falling or staying asleep include:
- Health conditions like sleep apnea, diabetes, arthritis, or other chronic disorders
- Stress and anxiety or a brain that just won’t “shut off”
- Too much caffeine or alcohol late in the day
- Heartburn, acid reflux, or digestive problems
- Poor sleep environments such as too much light, too much noise, or temps that are too warm
- Nutrient deficiencies that can lead to problems relaxing, restless legs, or other insomnia-related complications
- Thyroid or other hormone problems
- Side effects of medication
While the list really can seem endless, if it feels like you’ve tried everything to remedy sleep challenges, the answer could be simpler than you think.
Most over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids will knock you out, but they won’t help correct underlying sleep problems. When it comes to more natural remedies, many of them will help provide balance or ease sleep-contributing problems without leading to dependence or pervasive side effects.
Six ways to address sleep problems naturally
Whether you occasionally have trouble falling asleep or you seem to wake up all through the night, these natural sleep remedies are backed by research and might be the perfect thing to try the next time you need some high-quality shut-eye.
Reminder: don’t start supplements without your healthcare provider’s approval, especially if you take prescriptions, medications, or supplements of any kind. Even natural ingredients can have drug interactions. Lastly, pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take natural sleep aids unless approved by their doctor.
01. Valerian root
One of the more popular herbal remedies, Valerian root, is often taken in capsule form, but it can also be brewed as a tea. Research shows that it has benefits for helping to relieve insomnia, especially in women. It also helps to reduce period pain, which can be a significant disruptor of sleep in some women.
Valerian root is thought to help boost levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that helps produce calm and relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety. It is best taken one hour before bed or at bedtime, and depending on the dose recommended on your product, may create some post-sleep drowsiness.
02. Vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D have been implicated in many things ranging from compromised immune systems to mental health problems. Now, it’s also suspected that low levels of vitamin D could interfere with a person’s ability to get consistently good sleep.
Inadequate vitamin D levels have been associated with poor sleep quality and sleep apnea. A randomized controlled trial was conducted with results showing that sleep quality improved after supplementation with vitamin D. Blood levels were measured and improved during the study. Those who received vitamin D also had longer sleep duration and fell asleep faster.
Evidence continues to increase that vitamin D plays a crucial role not only for our immune systems but in the brain for healthy neurotransmitters and sleep quality. Vitamin D supplementation can be tricky because it’s a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning that it can accumulate in fat cells in the body and eventually become toxic if you take too much. Have your doctor test your blood levels before starting a supplement, and if you do supplement, be sure to take a D3 form for optimal absorption. Most doses for daily support range between 2,000 IU and 5,000 IU. Levels below thirty-five are considered insufficient.
Aromatherapy has been used for thousands of years for many ailments and disorders, including solving sleep problems. Lavender essential oil, in particular, has been shown to improve mood and promote better sleep. It can also reduce anxiety, improve mood, and enhance one’s ability to feel relaxed.
Lavender works by increasing slow-wave sleep patterns in the brain, resulting in faster time to fall asleep and more time spent staying asleep through the night. While some studies and people recommend ingesting lavender oil internally, not enough research has been done to prove safety for the entire digestive tract, liver, or other organs from ingesting a potent essential oil.
Research finds lavender to be highly effective from the scent alone, so experiment with a pillow spray, diffusing in the room before falling asleep (or even throughout the night), or by pairing with a carrier oil and using topically.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that functions as an electrolyte in the body and also plays a key role in helping to promote relaxed muscles. It also helps alleviate stress and anxiety and can promote a better night’s sleep.
While magnesium is abundant in food sources like spinach, almonds, cashews, and dark chocolate, many adults still don’t get enough. Supplementation is usually safe up to 300 milligrams daily but always check with your doctor first. It may be taken in divided doses or one dose right before bed.
There are different forms of magnesium and some can lead to intestinal disturbances or other digestive symptoms. For optimum benefits without the side effects, choose magnesium glycinate.
If you truly don’t want to take anything internally to improve sleep, meditation is a research-backed way to help your body get better sleep. It works by decreasing stress hormones and promoting healthy neurotransmitters when used consistently over time.
There are many ways to approach meditation, but for it to be effective, it needs to pair breathing exercises with a purposeful focusing of the mind. This helps to boost awareness while relaxing the body and giving it a break from a constant influx of stress and anxiety.
Even just fifteen minutes a day of meditation can be a helpful nudge in the right direction, with some experts suggesting that fifteen minutes twice a day (in the morning and evening) can improve the overall quality of life and sleep benefits. If you’re new to the concept, many smartphone apps can give guidance and get you started in the practice. These include Headspace and Calm, along with many others.
What about Melatonin?
Some might be surprised not to see melatonin mentioned here, but this supplement is actually not ideal for sleep support for most individuals. It can interfere with neurotransmitters in some and lead to dependence or worsening sleep problems. While it may be beneficial for some, melatonin is best tried when other natural methods have not worked or if your doctor specifically recommends it.
If you’ve suffered from sleep disruptions, don’t give up. Try these natural sleep solutions as a gift to yourself, and see what method works best for you.