14 Natural Sleep Aids to Help You Fall Asleep Faster
If you're constantly exhausted, you'll be excited to learn about—and try—these science-approved natural sleep aids to get your sleep mojo going.
Natural ways to fall asleep faster
More than 50 million Americans already suffer from more than 80 different sleep disorders and another 20 to 30 million sleep problems each year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. If you’re one of them, you probably want to try natural remedies to get more zzzs before you move on to medication. While sleep supplements can be useful, notes Pradeep Bollu, MD, Associate Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia, they don’t take the place of proper sleep habits. “Exercising, avoiding bright light and stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, and reducing screen time in the evenings can also promote sleep,” he says. Here are some natural sleep aids that might work for you.
Melatonin is a hormone in your body that regulates sleep. Taken as a supplement, it may be helpful for sleep problems, especially those caused by shift work or jet lag, according to the National Sleep Foundation. How much it helps, however, is unclear, though it seems to be fairly safe. Talk with your doctor before you decide to take melatonin for better sleep; experts suggest also trying behavior changes, such as avoiding caffeine and exercising.
The dried flowers of the chamomile plant are taken in tea, and are widely considered a safe, mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer. A 2019 study in Phytotherapy Research suggests its benefits may be due to the chemical compound called apigenin, which reduces muscle spasms and helps with relaxation. Chamomile tea isn’t the only beverage that helps you relax. Try these 16 bedtime snacks that will help you get a better night’s sleep.
Magnesium supplements may help improve your sleep patterns. “Magnesium plays a large role in muscle contractions and relaxation,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian. “It has also been found to help reduce the stress hormone cortisol that can lower the body’s ability to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.” According to a 2020 fact sheet by the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, certain groups, including older adults and people with type 2 diabetes, may benefit from magnesium supplements. The report says signs magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness.
Dairy products may be helpful in your fight for a good night’s sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. The reason: Calcium in dairy helps the brain use the amino acid tryptophan to produce melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates sleep, says Palinski-Wade: “A low intake of calcium may reduce melatonin production, which would interrupt a healthy sleep cycle.” Natural sources of calcium, besides dairy products, include fish, nuts, and leafy greens.
Valerian supplements are among many natural supplements that might improve sleep quality without producing side effects, according to a 2017 study in Nature and Science of Sleep, though researchers aren’t yet certain how this herb helps promote healthy sleep. One theory: Valerian root may increase the amount of a chemical in the brain known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is responsible for preventing the transmission of nerve impulses. The National Institutes of Health notes that the evidence for complementary approaches to sleep aids like valerian is limited, and there’s no way to know if it will be helpful for everyone who has sleep issues.
Having a vitamin D deficiency has been shown to reduce both quality and quantity of sleep, as well as increase daytime fatigue and drowsiness, according to a 2018 study in the journal Nutrients. In addition, a deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of mood disorders and depression, which can further impact sleep and increase the risk for insomnia, notes Dr. Bollu. Here’s what you need to know before you start supplementing with vitamin D.
You may already know that vitamin C could help fight a cold, but did you know it may also help improve sleep quality, too? Research on athletes published in 2019 in the journal Nutrients has found that nutrition interventions, including vitamin C, can enhance sleep quality and quantity or promote general health in both general and athletic populations. Since high levels of cortisol have been shown to affect sleep, adding vitamin C rich foods to the diet may be beneficial, says Palinski-Wade. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant,” she adds. Your body is not able to make or store vitamin C on its own, so it’s important to include plenty of vitamin C-containing foods, such as citrus fruits and berries, in your diet.
The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke suggests that low levels of iron in the body can increase the risk of restless legs syndrome, especially in pregnant women, which can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Increasing dietary iron, from foods such as red meat, fortified grains, and leafy greens, has been shown to reduce symptoms of RLS, which may improve sleep.
OK, not every kind of fish will help you sleep. We’re talking about those that pack omega-3 fatty acids, essential dietary nutrients that have been shown to reduce sleep disturbances and improve sleep quality. One 2019 study in the journal Life Sciences found omega-3 supplements can protect against sleep-induced memory problems and help you think more clearly when you’re awake. Research suggests a positive correlation between fish consumption, sleep quality, and higher IQ levels. Good sources of omega-3s include tuna, salmon, and sardines. Sorry, frozen fish sticks don’t count.
Tart cherry juice
Move over cherry pie—it turns out consuming the juice of tart cherries may be a clinically-backed way to fight insomnia. In one 2018 study from the American Journal of Therapeutics, tart cherry juice reduced insomnia severity, but, alas, didn’t boost sleep quality, compared to placebo. If tart cherry juice doesn’t work for you, these other home remedies might help you get a better night’s sleep.
B vitamins are the reason your urine turns bright yellow after popping a multivitamin. But riboflavin, on of the most important of the Bs, may also play a key role in sleep function and is associated with sleep quality and daytime alertness, according to 2018 research published in the journal Sleep. Further research should investigate these apparent gender differences. Migraines and other types of headaches are known as sleep disrupters, so loading up on a supplement or rich sources riboflavin—beef liver, lamb, and dairy—may help you get more zzz’s. Try these other bedtime snacks that will help you sleep, too.
Ashwagandha has been used for a whole range of conditions and symptoms, according to studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, including joint pain, memory, and sleep issues, but right now—besides thousands of years of traditional use—there’s not quite enough data to show how well it works. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try! Natural doesn’t always mean harmless, so check in with your doctor about any supplements you’re considering taking for sleep—including the herbal ones—says Dr. Bollu.
And yes, it has to be fresh—processed sugar doesn’t contain as much of a compound called octacosanol, the ingredient in fresh sugarcane that may help you get to sleep. While this data is far from conclusive, researchers published in Scientific Reports noted that the whitish layer in between the green outer portion and the sweet, tan innards of sugarcane is an excellent source of octacosanol, a potential sleep-enhancer. It works by balancing your body’s response to stress. If you don’t have access to fresh sugarcane, there are many other natural ways to relax and reduce anxiety, such as yoga and deep-breathing.
Using fennel to treat and prevent illnesses is fairly common in many cultures, including our own: it’s considered useful for nursing mothers and as a remedy for menopausal symptoms. One 2018 study in the Journal of Menopausal Medicine found that eating more fennel helped ease sleeplessness and insomnia—but only slightly. Whether fennel helps you get to sleep or not, it’s still an underrated vegetable and an amazing source of vitamin K, so eat up!
- Pradeep Bollu, MD, Associate Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia
- Phytotherapy Research: "Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials."
- Erin Palinski-Wade, RD
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Magnesium"
- Nutrients: "Sleep and Nutrition Interactions: Implications for Athletes"
- Nutrients: "The Association between Vitamin D Deficiency and Sleep Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."
- National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet"
- Life Sciences: "Omega-3 fatty acids protects against chronic sleep-deprivation induced memory impairment."
- American Journal of Therapeutics: "Pilot Study of the Tart Cherry Juice for the Treatment of Insomnia and Investigation of Mechanisms."
- Nature and Science of Sleep: "Evaluation of effectiveness and safety of a herbal compound in primary insomnia symptoms and sleep disturbances not related to medical or psychiatric causes"
- Sleep: "0427 The Association Between Dietary Vitamin B2 Intake, Sleep Quality, And Daytime Alertness"
- Journal of Dietary Supplements: "Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal) Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions."
- Sleep: “The Use of Exogenous Melatonin in Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: A Meta-analysis”
- Molecular Medical Report: “Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future”
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: “Melatonin Natural Health Products and Supplements: Presence of Serotonin and Significant Variability of Melatonin Content”
- Scientific Reports: "Octacosanol restores stress-affected sleep in mice by alleviating stress"
- Journal of Menopausal Medicine: "Effect of Foeniculum Vulgare (Fennel) on Sleep Quality of Menopausal Women: A Double-blinded, Randomized Placebo-controlled Trial"
- National Sleep Foundation: Sleep Awareness