Woman resting head on pillow falling asleep

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Getting a good amount of sleep is incredibly important for your health.

Sleep helps your body and brain function properly. A good night’s sleep can help improve your learning, memory, decision making, and even creativity (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

What’s more, getting insufficient sleep has been linked to a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (6).

Despite this, sleep quality and quantity are at an all-time low, with more and more people experiencing poor sleep (7, 8).

Getting good quality sleep often starts with good sleep practices and habits. However, for some people, that’s not enough.

If you need a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, consider trying the following 9 natural sleep-promoting supplements.

Melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally that signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep (9).

Time of day influences this hormone’s cycle of production and release — melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and fall in the morning.

For this reason, melatonin supplements have become a popular sleep aid, particularly in instances where the melatonin cycle is disrupted, such as jet lag (10).

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 (11, 12).

Moreover, melatonin may improve overall sleep quality in individuals with sleep disorders. Specifically, melatonin appears to reduce the time people need to fall asleep (known as sleep latency) and increase the total amount of sleep time (13, 14).

While some other studies have not found that melatonin has a positive effect on sleep, they are generally few. Those that have observed beneficial effects generally provide participants with 3–10 mg of melatonin before bedtime.

Melatonin supplements appear to be safe for adults when used for short periods, although more research is needed on their long-term effects (15, 16).

Furthermore, melatonin is not recommended for people who are pregnant or nursing, because there is limited research on its safety and effectiveness (15).

Summary

Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality when taken in doses of 3–10 mg. They seem to be especially helpful if you have jet lag or are doing shift work.

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.

Valerian root is also one of the most commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplements in the United States and Europe (17).

However, study results remain inconsistent.

Menopausal and postmenopausal women have seen their sleep quality and sleep disorder symptoms improve after taking valerian, according to one review (18).

Another small study found that taking 530 mg of valerian per night for 30 days led to significant improvements in sleep quality, latency, and duration compared to a placebo in people who had undergone heart surgery (19).

Nevertheless, most observed improvements in these trials and 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.

Other studies have concluded that valerian’s positive effects are negligible at best. For instance, it may lead to a small improvement in sleep latency (20, 21, 22).

Regardless, short-term intake of valerian root appears to be safe for adults, with minor, infrequent side effects (17).

Despite the lack of objective measurements behind valerian, adults may consider testing it out for themselves.

However, the safety of valerian remains uncertain for long-term use and use in certain populations, including people who are pregnant or nursing.

Summary

Valerian root is a popular supplement that may improve sleep quality and sleep disorder symptoms when taken in doses of 300–600 mg, at least in some people. More studies are needed on the safety of long-term use.

Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of processes in the human body, and it’s important for brain function and heart health.

In addition, magnesium may help quiet the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep (23).

Studies show that magnesium’s relaxing effect may be partly due to its ability to regulate melatonin production. Magnesium is known to relax muscles and induce sleep (24, 25).

Many forms of magnesium supplements are available, including some that combine magnesium with other sleep-promoting ingredients such as glycine or melatonin.

One study found that a combination of magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B was effective in treating insomnia regardless of the cause (26).

Magnesium also appears to increase levels of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects (27).

Studies suggest that insufficient levels of magnesium in the body may be linked to troubled sleep and insomnia (25, 28).

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

One review of three studies in older adults found that magnesium supplementation could help reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep compared to a placebo (29).

In another 2011 study, participants who took a supplement containing 225 mg of magnesium slept better than those who took a placebo. However, the supplement also contained 5 mg of melatonin and 11.25 mg of zinc, so it’s difficult to attribute the effect to magnesium alone (30).

It’s worth noting that both studies were performed on older adults, who may have had lower blood magnesium levels to start with. It’s uncertain whether these effects would be as strong in individuals with a higher dietary magnesium intake.

Summary

Magnesium has a relaxing effect on the body and brain, which may help improve sleep quality. Though most studies use doses of 225–729 mg daily, you should not take more than 350 mg per day unless advised by a healthcare professional.

The lavender plant 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 suggest that simply smelling lavender oil shortly before sleep may be enough to improve sleep quality in those with mild insomnia (31, 32).

A small study in older adults with dementia also suggests that lavender aromatherapy is effective at improving sleep disturbance symptoms. Participants’ total sleep time increased, and fewer people woke up very early and found themselves unable to get back to sleep (33).

Another study found that lavender aromatherapy improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety after 15 days in 60 people with coronary artery disease (34).

Though lavender aromatherapy is considered safe, the oral intake of lavender has been linked to nausea, belching, and diarrhea in some cases. Essential oils are intended for aromatherapy, not oral ingestion (35).

It’s also worth noting that only a limited number of studies are available on the effects of lavender supplements on sleep. Thus, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary

Lavender aromatherapy may help improve sleep. More studies on lavender supplements are needed to evaluate their effectiveness and safety.

Passionflower, also known as Passiflora incarnata or maypop, is a popular herbal remedy for insomnia.

The species of passionflower linked to sleep improvements are native to North America. They’re also currently cultivated in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.

Passionflower’s sleep-promoting effects have been demonstrated in animal studies. However, its effects in humans appear to depend on the form consumed (36, 37).

One older study in humans compared the effects of a passionflower tea with those of a placebo tea made from parsley leaves (38).

Participants drank each tea about 1 hour before bed for a period of 1 week, taking a 1-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 3-week study, the objective measurements indicated that 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 passionflower tea week compared with the parsley tea week (38).

In a recent study of people with insomnia, those who took passionflower extract over a 2-week period saw significant improvements in certain sleep parameters compared with a placebo (39).

Those parameters were:

  • total sleep time
  • sleep efficiency, or the percentage of time spent sleeping as opposed to lying awake in bed
  • wake time after sleep onset

Though more studies are needed, it’s worth noting that passionflower intake is generally safe in adults. For now, it seems that passionflower may provide more benefits when consumed as a tea or extract as opposed to a supplement.

Summary

Passionflower tea or extract may help slightly improve sleep quality in some individuals. However, the evidence is mixed, and some studies have found no effects. Thus, more studies are needed.

Glycine is an amino acid that plays an important role in the nervous system. Studies show that 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 (40).

In one 2006 study, participants experiencing 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 clearheadedness were higher the next morning (41).

A 2007 study also investigated the effects of glycine in participants experiencing poor sleep. Researchers took measurements of participants’ 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 with the placebo group. Glycine supplements also helped participants fall asleep faster (42).

Glycine also improves daytime performance in individuals who are temporarily sleep-deprived, according to one small study from 2012.

Participants had their sleep restricted for three consecutive nights. Each night before bedtime, they took either 3 grams of glycine or 3 grams of a placebo. The glycine group reported greater reductions in fatigue and daytime sleepiness (43).

You can buy glycine in pill form or as a powder that can be diluted in water. Taking up to 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day appears to be safe, but more studies are needed. Many sleep study participants took only 3 grams per day (44).

You can shop for these supplements on Amazon.

You can also increase your glycine intake by eating foods rich in the nutrient, including (45):

  • animal products such as bone broth, meat, eggs, poultry, and fish
  • beans and legumes
  • spinach
  • kale
  • cabbage
  • fruits such as bananas and kiwis
Summary

Consuming glycine immediately before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster and improve the overall quality of your sleep. Most studies use a dose of around 3 grams, which is taken before bed.

There are many additional sleep-promoting supplements on the market. However, not all are supported by strong scientific research.

The following supplements may be beneficial for sleep but require more scientific investigation:

  • Tryptophan. One review of four studies found that taking at least 1 gram of tryptophan per day could help improve sleep quality and reduce the amount of time participants spent awake in the middle of the night (46).
  • Ginkgo biloba. According to older studies, consuming around 240 mg of this natural herb 30–60 minutes before bed may help reduce stress, enhance relaxation, and promote sleep. Animal studies are also promising (47, 48, 49).
  • L-theanine. Consuming a daily supplement containing up to 200 mg of this amino acid may help improve sleep and relaxation. Animal studies suggest it may be more effective when combined with GABA or magnesium (50, 51, 52).

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. It can also be consumed in supplement form (53).

However, kava use has also been linked to severe liver damage, potentially due to low quality production or adulteration. Some countries, such as Germany and the United States, have temporarily banned kava in the past or issued an advisory about its use (53).

Proceed with extra caution before using kava. Only buy supplements that have been certified by a reputable third-party organization.

Summary

Tryptophan, ginkgo biloba, and L-theanine may also help promote sleep. However, they are not backed by many studies, so more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made. Use caution before trying kava for sleep.

Diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate are other OTC sleep aids. They’re both antihistamines.

  • Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in allergy remedies such as Benadryl. Its primary use is not as a sleep drug, but it causes drowsiness and has been used to promote sleep. It is also found in ZzzQuil, Unisom SleepGels, and Unisom SleepMelts (54).
  • Doxylamine succinate is the active ingredient in the sleep aid Unisom SleepTabs. It’s also found in Nyquil. Like diphenhydramine, it causes drowsiness (55).

The evidence in favor of either ingredient as a sleep aid is weak. Many experts recommend against diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate, with some saying that they reduce sleep quality (20, 56, 57).

Other side effects may include dizziness, confusion, and dry mouth (20).

Long-term use of OTC sleep aids can lead to drug tolerance. Over time, the use of anticholinergics, such as antihistamines, can increase your risk of dementia as well (58, 59).

If you’re interested in trying these sleep aids, occasional use is recommended, as more research is needed on their long-term safety and effectiveness (60).

However, people with respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, or heart disease should avoid both of these drugs altogether. They may induce a nervous system reaction that leads to tachycardia, or an elevated heart rate (61).

Older adults, especially those with liver or kidney issues, should not use diphenhydramine because they are at an increased risk of experiencing negative side effects (58).

Summary

The antihistamines diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate may help you sleep, although that is not their primary purpose. Much stronger evidence is needed. Also, be aware of the possible side effects before taking these drugs.

You should consult a healthcare professional before using any herbs or OTC medications for sleep, especially since there is potential for drug interactions with medications such as blood thinners.

Also, let your doctor know if your sleep troubles last longer than 2 weeks.

Many OTC sleep aids cause only minor side effects. However, it’s important to be cautious since relatively little is known about the long-term effects of some of them.

Side effects that have been associated with specific sleep aids are listed below. Some of these side effects were reported only anecdotally or in a few studies or were observed only in people who received high doses:

  • Melatonin: minor side effects, such as headache, nausea, and dizziness (15)
  • Valerian root: diarrhea, headache, nausea, and heart palpitations (17)
  • Magnesium: diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting when taken in high doses (62)
  • Lavender: nausea, belching, and diarrhea (35)
  • Passionflower: dizziness and confusion on rare occasions (63)
  • Glycine: soft stools and abdominal pain on rare occasions (64)
  • Tryptophan: mild nausea and vomiting (65)
  • Ginkgo biloba: mild and rare side effects such as diarrhea, headache, nausea, and rash (66)
  • L-theanine: no confirmed or direct side effects when taken alone; diarrhea and abdominal pain when combined with L-cystine (67)

In general, people who are pregnant or nursing should speak with their doctors before trying these or any other supplements. These populations should avoid most supplements since there’s little research to confirm that they are safe during these life stages.

Magnesium, glycine, and tryptophan are all important to fetal development, and you do not have to avoid them if you’re pregnant or nursing. However, a healthcare professional will still need to advise you of the proper dosage to avoid potential side effects (68, 69, 70).

Summary

Many OTC sleep aids have only minor side effects when used short-term. However, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before using any herbs or OTC medications for sleep and to avoid most of these products when pregnant or nursing.

Are natural sleep aids effective?

Some research shows that certain natural sleep aids, such as melatonin, are effective. Other herbal supplements, such as valerian root and passionflower, have shown mixed results.

While some studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that natural sleep aids may be helpful, more research is needed to say for sure.

Are natural sleep aids safer than prescription sleep aids?

Natural sleep aids like the nine discussed in this article are generally considered safer than prescription sleep aids because they have fewer side effects.

Still, it’s important to choose a quality product from a reputable brand because the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbal supplements in the same way as medications.

Look for products that are tested by an independent lab for heavy metals, toxins, and contaminants to ensure safety. You may also want to consider purchasing supplements produced in third-party certified facilities.

Additionally, note that even natural sleep aids are intended to be a short-term solution. If you’re regularly experiencing trouble sleeping, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying conditions.

Are OTC sleep aids safe?

Diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate are antihistamines that are sold over the counter. While they’re sometimes used as sleep aids, that’s not their primary use. There is not strong evidence that they work well as sleep aids, and they may cause side effects.

Older adults, especially those with kidney or liver issues, should not use diphenhydramine.

It’s best not to take OTC sleep aids regularly, since doing so can lead to dependence. If you do use them, do so only occasionally and for no more than 2 weeks at a time. Be sure to talk with a healthcare professional if you’re regularly experiencing trouble sleeping.

If you’re interested in trying out these supplements, you can find most of them online in various forms.

Keep in mind that high quality sleep is just as important for overall health as eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly.

Nevertheless, many people have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently, or do not feel rested when they wake up. This makes it challenging to maintain optimal health and well-being.

Before taking any medications, try incorporating good sleep practices into your routine, such as keeping electronics out of your bedroom and limiting caffeine intake before bedtime.

The supplements above are one way to increase the likelihood of getting restful sleep, but they’re probably most effective when used in combination with good sleep practices and habits.

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Products to try

These natural sleep aids come in a variety of forms, such as pills, powders, and teas. Shop for them online: