Sleep Aids and Supplements

By: Shannon Ullman

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In a society riddled with things that keep us up at night — like stress, caffeine, alcohol, and electronic screens — getting a quality eight hours of rest can be a difficult feat. It’s no wonder why so many people turn to sleep supplements for help.

Efficient sleep is essential for physical and mental health. When we don’t get enough quality shut-eye, our bodies cannot properly restore and heal. Over time, this affects everything from our mood and energy levels to our immunity and weight.

Read on to learn more about some natural sleep supplements and how they can help you get the rest you need, especially if you’re on a polyphasic sleep schedule. 

What are Natural Sleep Aids?

Natural sleep aids (also referred to as sleep supplements) are substances that can help you fall and stay asleep. Sleep supplements often contain herbs, hormones, minerals, or amino acids that have calming properties, which some people need to get necessary high-quality rest.

NOTE: As impactful as sleep supplements can be to your overall health and well-being, it’s important to note that they’re not well-regulated by the FDA. Don’t take any supplements without your doctor’s approval first, as they can interfere with other medications.

Natural Sleep Supplements

Before you run off to your local health food store to buy herbal remedies, it’s important to know which natural sleep supplements actually work.

Here are some of the most popular and effective sleep aids on the market.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that signals to your body when it’s time to go to bed. It’s produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is responsible for circadian rhythms (the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle).

Benefits

Side Effects

Where to Buy Melatonin

Melatonin is widely available and can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies. It comes in capsules, tablets, liquids, and gummies.

Valerian Root

Valerian root is an herbal supplement that increases levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect that makes it a popular natural aid for sleep.

Benefits

Side Effects

  • vivid dreams
  • heart palpitations
  • dry mouth
  • upset stomach
  • headaches
  • mental fog

Where to Buy Valerian Root

Valerian root is widely available at health food stores, pharmacies, and online retailers. It comes in capsules, tablets, liquids, and teas.

Passionflower

Like the Valerian root, Passionflower is another herb that enhances the GABA levels in the brain to help promote relaxation and sleep. Those calming effects are also used to reduce anxiety.

Benefits

Side Effects

Where to Buy Passion Flower

Passionflower is available at many health food stores, pharmacies, and online retailers. It comes in capsules, tablets, teas, and even tinctures.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps regulate blood pressure, supports immune health, and promotes relaxation.

Benefits

Side Effects

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramping

It’s important to note that these side effects come from taking too much magnesium. Regular dosage should not result in any side effects. Speak with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the right amount.

Where to Buy Magnesium

Magnesium is available in many forms, including magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride, and magnesium citrate. It can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies and online retailers.

Lavender

Lavender is a fragrant plant used for centuries to promote relaxation and sleep. Modern science has helped to back up these traditional uses, showing that lavender oil also increases GABA levels, which calms your body and mind — creating the perfect internal environment for sleep.

Benefits

Side Effects

Where to Buy Lavender

Lavender is widely available in health food stores, pharmacies, and online retailers. It comes in teas, tinctures, and essential oils.

Glycine

Glycine is an amino acid that’s instrumental to your nervous system. It’s thought to lower your internal temperature, which signals to your body that it’s time to sleep.

Benefits

Side Effects

Where to Buy Glycine

Glycine is available in many forms, including capsules, tablets, and powder. It can be bought over the counter at most pharmacies and online retailers. You can also get it in your diet by eating bone broth, kale, and spinach.

Chamomile

Chamomile is a flowering plant in the daisy family that has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for sleep issues, thanks to its sedative effects.

Benefits

Side Effects

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • allergic reactions

Where to Buy Chamomile 

Chamomile is mostly made as tea. You can find it in many health food stores, pharmacies, and online retailers.

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid that’s found in many protein-rich foods. It’s thought to promote sleep by helping your body produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating sleep. Not all evidence supports this, however.

Benefits

Side Effects

  • drowsiness
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • blurry vision

Where to Buy Tryptophan

You can increase your tryptophan simply by eating more protein. You can also find it in supplements, which are available over the counter at most pharmacies and online retailers.

Ginseng

Ginseng is a plant that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries to treat everything from fatigue to immune system issues. Modern science has shown that it can also help improve sleep quality by enhancing your GABA receptors and producing a calming effect on the body.

Benefits

NOTE: It’s important to note that the type of ginseng you’ll want to look for is red ginseng, as other types can cause more alertness.

Side Effects

  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • stomach upset
  • dizziness
  • menstrual changes in women

Where to Buy Ginseng 

Ginseng is available over the counter at most pharmacies and online retailers. It comes in capsules, tablets, teas, powders, and tinctures.

Over-the-Counter Sleep Aid Options

Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids are medications that you can buy without a prescription. They’re typically used for short-term relief from occasional sleeplessness.

Popular options include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), doxylamine succinate (Unisom), and melatonin.

WARNING: OTC sleep aids, like Benadryl, Unisom, and Zzzquil are not recommended as a first-line treatment for insomnia in older adults. There is a chance of severe side effects including cognitive impairment. It’s important to speak with your doctor before starting any OTC medications for insomnia.

Takeaway

If you’re having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep or adjusting to a new sleep schedule, help may be available. If you’re having trouble nodding off, there are plenty of natural sleep supplements that can help.

From chamomile to ginseng, these supplements can promote deep rest, reduce anxiety, and make getting your eight hours a breeze. Just speak with your doctor before starting any supplements to make sure it’s right for you.

Resources

Andersen LPH, et al. (2016). The safety of melatonin in humans. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26692007/

Auld F, et al. (2016). Evidence for the efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of primary adult sleep disorders. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28648359/

Duffy JS, et al. (2022). High dose melatonin increases sleep duration during nighttime and daytime sleep episodes in older adults. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35436355/

Guadagna S, et al. (2020). Plant extracts for sleep disturbances: A systematic review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7191368/

Guerrero FA, et al. (2017). Effect of a medicinal plant (Passiflora incarnata L) on sleep. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699852/

Khadivzadeh T, et al. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effect of herbal medicine to manage sleep dysfunction in peri- and postmenopause. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127017/

Noyek S, et al. (2016). Does melatonin have a meaningful role as a sleep aid for jet lag recovery? https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lary.25689

Shinjyo N, et al. (2020). ​​Valerian root in treating sleep problems and associated disorders—A systematic review and eta-analysis.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7585905/

Yuan CS, et al. (2004). The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14742369/