One of the best things we can do for our bodies is give it enough sleep every night. Getting quality sleep not only makes us feel better in the short-term, it’s also better for our long-term health and longevity. Sleep gives the brain and body a time to reset, helping to improve overall learning, creativity, decision-making, and memory.
Studies have shown that lack of sleep can cause risky health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and even diabetes . For these reasons and more, sleep should be a top priority for every person, however many still struggle with achieving proper sleep. If you’re one of those people who finds themselves tossing and turning every night, this article will help you explore the power of natural sleep aids and how they can help you achieve deep and restorative sleep.
Melatonin is actually a chemical the human body naturally produces. Its primary function is to alert the brain when it’s time to sleep. It’s regulated by hormones and will therefore vary depending on the natural cycle of a person’s body. While it should be released in the evening and see its levels taper off in the morning, some people do not have that particular cycle or their melatonin levels are skewed enough that they don’t experience a natural state of sleepiness.
There are also other cases, such as jet lag or stress, that can disrupt an otherwise normal melatonin cycle. Another area where melatonin levels may suffer is for individuals who work night shifts. Since the body naturally limits the release of melatonin during the day, they may find themselves struggling to sleep at the times required for the varied schedule.
All of the above are reasons why melatonin supplements can be so beneficial to a number of people suffering from sleep concerns. When individuals experience sleep disruption, it could be caused by altered melatonin levels. Taking a supplement to help the body get back on track or to learn new habits can make all the difference in a healthy bedtime.
Researchers have proved that melatonin helps those suffering from sleep conditions have the ability to fall asleep faster and to increase the total amount of sleep they are able to get every night . Research is still being done to see if increasing melatonin actually increases the quality of sleep overall, but some preliminary results have shown that it may do so when doses of 3-10 milligrams of melatonin are consumed before bedtime .
Native to Asia and part of Europe, valerian root has been used for centuries as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and even menopause. It has also made its way to becoming the leading natural remedy for sleep health in both the United States and Europe.
Many women going through menopause report sleep disruptions as a common occurrence. These women often seek out herbal remedies to help assist in improving their sleep, and often they reach for valerian root. Studies have shown that adding the supplement to their daily routine did see their sleep quality improve and their overall sleep disorder symptoms decrease .
Magnesium is already an important compound in the human body, in charge of hundreds of different processes for brain function and heath health. Recent research has also shown that magnesium can be beneficial in helping to ease the mind and body, which in turn can help individuals fall asleep faster . Magnesium’s relaxing effects are in part because of its ability to regulate melatonin levels in the body and to relax muscles, helping induce sleep.
One study in particular found that combining magnesium, melatonin, and vitamin B was extremely successful in treating insomnia, no matter the cause. This is important because all are natural remedies that have been found helpful in treating something like insomnia that can and does come from a very wide variety of triggers .
Unsurprisingly, studies have shown that a decreased level of magnesium in the body can lead to sleep disorders and insomnia, making magnesium an especially important chemical to monitor for overall health and well-being .
On almost every continent in the world lavender plants can be found thriving. Its flowers are distinct and for centuries have had medicinal and household uses. One such benefit comes from the aroma of the lavender’s flower. It has been used for many many years to help enhance sleep.
Even just smelling lavender right before bedtime has shown beneficial results in individuals who suffer from mild insomnia. It can result in better overall sleep quality, especially in young people and women .
Lavender is considered safe, however lavender oil should never be consumed. Doing so can lead to nausea and stomach pain. As an essential oil it is intended for topical or aromatherapy use only.
Extracted from the cannabis plant, CBD has been gaining more popularity around the world for its many medicinal uses, including as a sleep aid. A recent survey found 10% of respondents used CBD oil as a sleep aid, with most of them claiming it worked well for their purposes . CBD contains a terpene called myrcene. This specific terpene is known to act as a sedative  and as a powerful addition to cannabidiol (CBD).
Some research has shown that the success of CBD as a sleep aid comes directly from its success as an anti-anxiety therapy. One case studied patients who were having a difficult time dealing with anxiety and were experiencing sleep issues. When adding CBD to their normal treatment, anxiety in the patients decreased by 80% in the first 30 days, with almost 70% of the participants improving their sleep overall . These numbers go a long way to show the power of CBD in sleeplessness, especially as it relates to stress and anxiety.
As a powerful remedy for stress and anxiety, CBD users often find themselves falling asleep more quickly than they are able to without it. It has also been shown to be helpful for those struggling to fall asleep because of pain, PTSD, or nervous system conditions as the cannabinoids help relieve the troublesome symptoms .
The Endocannabinoid System
In order to understand how CBD can help with sleep disorders we first need to understand the basics of how CBD interacts with the body. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) functions in the human body as a way to maintain homeostasis and stabilize the body when new processes are introduced. If some sort of disruption happens in the body, the ECS will activate and control the situation to make sure all systems remain at an optimal level. This is a fundamental function of human physiology because all the internal systems need to be in a state of equilibrium to work effectively.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system, including endocannabinoids, the compounds that are produced by the body, but are very similar to the chemical compounds in cannabis, like CBD. Also part of the ECS are cannabinoid receptors, which are found on the surface of cells throughout the body and which endocannabinoids will bind to. The action of binding allows them to communicate with different systems in the body, helping the ECS maintain an equilibrium in each of the specific systems. Lastly, the ECS contains enzymes. After endocannabinoids attach themselves to the cannabinoid receptors and the ECS has again stabilized, enzymes break down the endocannabinoids to prevent overcorrection.
The ECS is responsible for homeostasis in sleep processes like the sleep cycle. Because cannabinoids can so easily interact with the ECS they are able to have an effect on most sleep disorders, including insomnia.
While not as common as some of the other herbal remedies, passionflower (also called maypop) has been a popular herbal remedy for years, used primarily for treating insomnia. There are many species of this flower, however the plant most associated with treating sleep disorders is native to North America, however now it is also being grown on most other continents.
A recent study testing the effectiveness of passionflower found that after two weeks, study participants reported that their sleep quality, sleep time, and wake time improved significantly when compared to the placebo group .
Passionflower tends to have the best results when it’s consumed like a tea or extract.
While not as recognizable as a natural treatment as some of the others mentioned here, glycine is actually a naturally-occuring amino acid found in the nervous system. Researchers are still working out how exactly it helps with sleep disorders, but since glycine is thought to help lower the body temperature at bedtime, it’s believed that making sure it’s properly regulated will also help those with insomnia or other sleep concerns .
Some studies have shown that participants who were given a dose of glycine before bed reported sleeping better and feeling less fatigued, more lively, peppy, and clear-headed the next morning. Participants also reported being able to fall asleep faster .
Besides supplements, it’s possible to increase glycine intake by consuming more animal products, beans, spinach, kale, cabbage, bananas, and even kiwis.
Risks of Natural Sleep Aids
Just like any new addition to a medical treatment, you should always consult your doctor before adding any of the above to your daily routine. While most of these have little to no side effects, there is always the risk of drug interactions with other medications already in a treatment plan. It is also important to let your doctor know if the sleep conditions you’re experiencing become chronic, as they may be a sign of a bigger issue that should be addressed.
Any woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding should be especially mindful of adding new supplements and should always consult with a doctor before trying these or any other medications or treatments. Many natural supplements have limited research behind them currently, especially when it comes to how they interact with pregnant or lactating women, so those interested should take the time to fully research the effects.
There are many natural sleep aids available on the market, be they over-the-counter or natural remedies. The most important thing for anyone suffering from a sleep disorder is to first speak with their doctor about their concerns and then be prepared to try a number of different combinations to find what works best for their needs. Many people will find that a natural or herbal remedy can alleviate their problems, however some may require a more targeted approach.