10 Natural Sleep Remedies That Actually Work

Updated: May 25, 2021

Looking for a good night’s sleep? Try these natural sleep remedies and find insomnia relief without drugs.

Milk and honey
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Sip warm milk and honey

Forget the glass of wine—winding down the day with a warm mug of milk and honey is one of the better natural sleep remedies. The secret is in the combination of tryptophan, an amino acid known to induce sleep, and carbohydrates, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Tryptophan increases the amount of serotonin, a hormone that works as a natural sedative, in the brain. Carbs, like honey, help transmit that hormone to your brain faster. If you’re hungry for a snack, a turkey sandwich will deliver that power-combo of tryptophan and carbohydrates; or try a banana with milk to get some vitamin B6, which helps convert tryptophan to serotonin. Looking for more delicious insomnia cures? Snack on these foods that can help you sleep better.

Woman pondering, gazing out window

Practice cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) usually focuses on discovering and changing the thoughts or feelings that trigger depression and stress but it can be a natural insomnia cure, too. This type of CBT is usually called CBT for Insomnia (CBT-i). Research has found that CBT can retrain your body and mind for faster, deeper sleep, according to a study published in the journal SLEEP. In an Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis, CBT-i proved effective in adults with chronic insomnia. You can practice CBT-i at home, too: Here’s everything you need to know about CBT and how it works.

Young sleepy woman lying in bed using smartphone

Turn off artificial lights—including screens

For those with insomnia, a calm, relaxing sleep environment is imperative for uninterrupted slumber. Perhaps one of the most effective natural sleep remedies is removing electronics that having glowing screens, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops, according to a study published in Molecular Vision. The blue light disrupts your circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep, they found. Even if you can fall asleep the pings from your cell phone or email can disrupt your sleep cycle. Go even further by making sure your shades are tightly drawn against any outdoor lights. For maximum comfort, the National Sleep Foundation recommends a room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees. Make sure your room is the best environment for deep sleep by stealing these things the bedrooms of all good sleepers have in common.

Relaxed young woman doing yoga and meditating in studio
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Manage stress with exercise

If anxiety is keeping you up at night, try these natural sleep remedies: yoga, meditating, or writing in a journal before bed. Tai chi is a proven sleep-inducing (and stress-reducing!) exercise. A tai chi routine right before bed helped people fall asleep 18 minutes faster and get 48 minutes more nightly sleep, according to a study published in the journal of the American Geriatrics Society. In addition to adopting sleep-inducing habits, avoid these 11 “harmless” habits that are causing your insomnia.

bedside lamp alit next to bed

Adopt a bedtime ritual

If you always seem to get a poor night’s sleep, it may be because you’re not following a bedtime ritual, according to a British study that found children sleep better when they have a consistent bedtime routine. And this is true for adults as well, the National Sleep Foundation says. So make it a priority to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Introducing nightly habits like reading in bed or listening to music will also help to quiet your brain for the day and prepare it for sleep. Try setting your phone or iPod on a timer and nod off to your favorite soothing melodies. (If you find yourself delaying sleep for more leisure time, you may be a revenge bedtime procrastinator—here’s how to break the cycle.)

Woman lying in bathtub with her eyes closed
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Take a hot bath

Turns out, you’re never too old for a bubble bath, especially when it comes to natural sleep aids. Women who took a hot bath before bed fell asleep faster and reported a higher quality of sleep than women who simply went to bed, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology. Don’t have time for a full soak? The researchers found that simply doing a warm foot bath before bed had similar sleep-inducing powers. For more ideas try one of these proven relaxation techniques to help you wind down for sleep.

Woman hand holding pills, ready to take one
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Try melatonin

Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain, may also help you fall asleep faster when taken as a supplement, according to a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews. The production of melatonin is triggered by the absence of light, allowing this natural sleep aid to regulate the body’s internal clock, ensuring we are tired at night and mentally and physically alert during the day. Researchers found that melatonin reduced nighttime disturbances and improved sleep quality. These sleep supplements can be found in health food stores and pharmacies, but read up on the things you need to know before taking melatonin for sleep and talk to your doctor about whether melatonin is a suitable natural insomnia cure for you.

Cup of tea on a wooden background
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Drink herbal tea

Participants reported that one cup of passionflower tea nightly improved sleep quality in a small study from Australia’s Monash University. Herbalists also recommend a cup of chamomile before bed; chamomile contains the flavonoid apigenin, which has a calming effect on the brain. Valerian tea, when brewed into tea or taken as a capsule, can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and produce a deep, satisfying rest, according to a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Medicine. Valerian also appeared to lengthen the amount of sleep, reduce nighttime awakenings, and lessen the effect of menopausal symptoms on sleep.  Check out the best teas for sleep to find your herbal night cap.

Woman with eyes closed receiving light therapy
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Book a light therapy session

Natural light is critical for our health and well-being. Bright light therapy, using a light box provided by your dermatologist or reputable light box manufacturers online, can reset your body clock by gradually shifting sleep patterns earlier or later, leading to better sleep, according to a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews.  Researchers found that daily use of light-therapy lamps helped insomniacs fall asleep faster and sleep longer. You can also try going outdoors around noon; it will retune your circadian rhythm even if you’re stuck inside for most of the day. Bonus: Better sleep is just one of the benefits of light therapy.

Bottles of pills in cabinet

Check your medications

Many medications can interfere with sleep, including beta-blockers, thyroid medication, decongestants, medications containing caffeine, and certain antidepressants, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about changing dosages or medications, or trying a more natural remedy like CBD for sleep. Even things you’re doing specifically to improve your sleep may be sabotaging you, like these 10 sleep aids that actually cause insomnia.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest