Best Natural Sleep Aids

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Written by James Dixon

Our nootropics and nutritionalist James Dixon examines the best natural sleep aids to help you get a great night’s sleep. Find out what he uncovered below…

It’s important to prioritize good sleeping habits. Maintain a healthy lifestyle, dim your lights for a little while before bed, make sure your bed is comfortable, keep your stress and anxiety levels down, and so one.

Also consider using natural remedies, such as melatonin, magnesium, and valerian root. They may do a lot to improve your overall sleep quality. This is incredibly important – adequate sleep quality and quantity is crucial for proper body and brain function, including improved learning, memory, decision-making, and creativity. 

Meanwhile, insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality have been linked to increased risk of plenty of health concerns, including but far from limited to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Nevertheless, many of us don’t get enough sleep. Some of us experience occasional or even chronic insomnia. Natural sleep-promoting supplements may provide additional support for those who need it. Luckily, we’ve got a whole list of them ready and waiting for you.

Supplements for improved sleep

Over-the-counter sleep aids are supplements that can help you to fall asleep more quickly and then remain asleep until morning. These aids are often plant-based, contain vitamins or minerals found in our diets, or provide supplementary volumes of substances produced by the body. 

Plenty of people would rather turn to natural sleep aids due to their lower incidence of side effects compared to prescribed drugs and medications. Users may also worry about harder medical sleep aids’ potentially addictive nature.

However, it is important to note that supplements’ efficacy and indeed safety are not closely supervised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so consumers should be extra careful in ensuring that they are going for trustworthy products. 

Additionally, the term ‘natural’ is not strictly regulated for supplements, as some natural supplements, like melatonin, may be derived synthetically. This isn’t too much of an issue in reality – it is still natural for us to take these compounds. Just be aware that the name may be slightly misleading.

In general, though, these are products that can improve your ability to sleep and the quality of sleep you receive, with all-in-all quite robust clinical data backing them up.

Performance Lab Sleep box

Quick Verdict: Performance Lab Sleep

Performance Lab Sleep uses all-natural ingredients and is one of the most effective all-in-one sleep aids we have tested.

With magnesium, L-tryptophan, and melatonin sourced from tart cherry it is one of the most effective, natural supplements for ensuring you get a positive night’s sleep. Combine it with the tips we’ve mentioned and you will be well set up for a great night’s sleep.

The best natural products for better sleep

There is a potentially dizzying array of supplements out there that can help your sleep quality one way or another. However, some are better than others. To me, the following are amongst the most useful natural compounds going, most with clinically proven benefits.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone created in the pineal gland in the brain. It helps to regulate sleep, working in part by organizing our circadian rhythms, which control our sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin production can be suppressed by various factors, including night time light exposure, aging, and certain diseases and medical concerns.

To address sleep disturbances caused by low levels of melatonin, some people take melatonin supplements in pill format. It is very popular, in fact – melatonin is the United States’ fourth favorite adult-centred natural supplement.

Melatonin is primarily recommended for individuals with disorders of the circadian rhythm such as delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. It may also be used for certain sleep disorders for minors. While some people find it helpful for insomnia or sleep disturbances related to shift work, research on its efficacy for these issues is mixed.

Melatonin is generally considered safe at standard dosages, but there are possible safety concerns for use by children and insufficient research on its use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Mild side effects can include nausea, dizziness, and headaches, and some users, particularly older adults, may experience daytime drowsiness.

Lavender

Lavender plant

Lavender, a popular herb, has been traditionally believed to help with improving sleep and overall relaxation. Indeed, lavender oil use has been proven to bolster postpartum women’s sleep quality, for example, whilst also enhancing good sleep hygiene’s efficacy. Additionally, lavender oil has a calming effect, working to mitigate the effects of restlessness, stress, and anxiety.

Recent research supports many claims surrounding lavender.

Lavender is a popular choice for those who have difficulty sleeping due to stress and anxiety or overactive thoughts. It’s also a good option for those who fancy an external sleep aid, or something they can smell, rather than an internal one, or something they can take.

Dried lavender and essential lavender oil use for a short period is considered safe, but it is important to note that topical lavender oil may cause skin irritation, especially where allergies are a factor.

Valerian

The valerian plant has been used to treat sleep problems since the second century. Despite its pungent smell, which is often compared to old, sweaty socks, valerian is well worth taking seriously. It appears to offer some great sleep-boosting benefits. It can help people to fall asleep more quickly and enjoy a better quality of sleep, stirring far more seldom through the night. 

While further research is needed, some studies have shown that users taking valerian can be eighty percent likelier to benefit from sleep improvements than members of a control group taking a placebo. Experts speculate that valerian’s benefits may come as a result of several different compounds working concurrently, most notably the amino acids GABA and glycine.

Valerian plant’s stems and roots can be prepared as teas, capsules, tablets, extracts, and tinctures. Both capsules and liquid extracts are commonly used in research due to the tea’s unpleasant odour. 

Valerian is a pretty safe bet for those suffering with insomnia or general sleep problems, and it is reported to be more effective after several weeks of use. However, we need more data before we can fully determine its effectiveness.

Valerian is largely safe for adults, with rare and mild side effects such as dizziness, headache, skin irritation, and upset stomach.

Chamomile

Chamomile’s use in treating sleep problems can be traced back to ancient Egypt. However, despite this pedigree, little modern data exists looking into its many purported benefits.

Some small studies and meta-analyses suggest that chamomile may alleviate symptoms of anxiety and improve sleep quality, though researchers are currently unsure as to why these benefits might occur. It seemingly doesn’t benefit those suffering with insomnia.

Chamomile is commonly prepared as capsules, tincture, or tea. While there are a few varieties, including Roman chamomile, most studies have been conducted on German chamomile. Chamomile is considered safe when consumed orally, generally brewed into tea, but it may interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners. Limited information is available with regards potential safety for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Passionflower

passion flower in the wild

Passionflower, a vine native to the Americas, has been historically used as a sedative in various local forms of traditional medicine. Tentative clinical data looking into its effects are promising.

One study that focused on generalized anxiety disorder found that passionflower’s soothing effects were similar to a frequently prescribed sedative. Additionally, passionflower may bolster quality of sleep whilst also making it far easier to fall and remain asleep. However, more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits.

Passionflower is often prepared as tea, though extracts are also commonly used.

Research suggests that passionflower may have possible benefits for both insomnia and anxiety. However, there isn’t currently much proof of its effectiveness. Similarly, there is limited research into the safety of passionflower.

This being said, studies have shown that doses of up to eight hundred milligrams daily are safe for up to two months, with mild side effects such as confusion, drowsiness, and poor coordination. Pregnant women should avoid using passionflower as it may possibly induce uterine contractions.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of over a hundred different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and mostly comes from hemp.

Most of the research surrounding CBD has been stymied in part by strict cannabis regulations. However, it has shown great potential in reducing symptoms of various mental health concerns and aiding some sleep disorders. While there is some evidence to support these claims, research is currently far from conclusive.

Despite being legal for five years, CBD is not authorized to be marketed as a dietary supplement. Nevertheless, it is easily accessible in various forms, including high-quality oils, gummies, and tinctures.

Due to the absence of regulatory supervision, one study discovered that over a quarter of CBD products contained less CBD than advertised, whilst nearly half had significantly more. This means that only around a quarter of available products contain the amount they say.

CBD is generally considered safe, though some minor side effects may occur. These can include the likes of stomach and digestive upset, tiredness, and fluctuations in appetite and/or weight. There is limited data on its safe consumption for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is derived from Withania somnifera, a small shrub native to India and Southeast Asia. It is a common herbal medicine used in traditional Ayurveda health practices, where it is used in to treat a wide variety of conditions.

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which is a term used to describe a group of herbs that are believed to protect the body from the effects of prolonged stress and anxiety. Although there is limited data available about its effects and mechanisms, preliminary research backs up the notion that ashwagandha might be effective at fighting stress.

According to preliminary research, ashwagandha may help to improve sleep quality by helping people to fall asleep faster, spend more time asleep, and experience better sleep quality. After taking ashwagandha for six weeks, participants in one study reported their sleep being on average 72% improved.

Ashwagandha’s main active ingredients are withanolides, which are believed to carry a host of benefits including the ability to ease stress. Stress has been linked to poorer sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness, so if taking ashwagandha before bed helps a person to relax, this may be another way by which it promotes better sleep.

Ashwagandha contains additional several compounds that may be responsible for its sleep-promoting effects, including triethylene glycol. Its ability to act on GABA receptors, which are a key part of the sleep-wake circuit, likely plays a role in its sleep improving properties.

According to some sources, ashwagandha is also believed to enhance nervous system, endocrine, and cardiopulmonary system healthy functioning. It is thought to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and to be effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and mitigate the effects of cognitive impairment.

However, these claims require further scientific evidence to support them, and researchers are still investigating the herb’s mechanisms of action and potential side effects.

Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice, also often called sour cherry juice, may boost levels of melatonin in the body whilst also increasing tryptophan availability. Tryptophan is an amino acid thought to play a role in maintaining sleep quality.

While tart cherry juice shows promise in improving sleep quality and aiding in falling asleep, some studies suggest that its benefits for those suffering with insomnia are not as effective as established treatments such as CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy).

Studies have shown that consuming as many as 270 cherries daily can provide health benefits. However, there is no explicit data on the safety of tart cherries. It is often diluted to make it more palatable, as its sour flavour isn’t to many people’s tastes.

Magnesium

Magnesium is thought to aid sleep. It is a mineral that is present in many foods, and with which processed foods are frequently fortified. It plays many roles within the body, and is present throughout the body, found in bones, blood, and soft tissue.

Sleep regulation is one of the mineral’s many functions, and older adults can be more susceptible to magnesium deficiency. Studies indicate that taking magnesium supplements may help to alleviate insomnia symptoms in older adults when taken either alone or in combination with zinc and melatonin. It might also decrease daytime sleepiness and fatigue.

Eating magnesium-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds is an easy way to supplement magnesium. You can also buy supplements – multivitamin pills often include plenty of magnesium. 

Though magnesium is generally safe at normal dietary levels and excess magnesium is filtered out by the kidneys, high intake can lead to side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Magnesium can also interact with certain medications and supplements, whilst excessive dosages can lead to heart abnormalities, including hypotension, or low blood pressure, arrhythmia, and sometimes even cardiac arrest.

Tips for improved sleep

Lifestyle practices can go a long way towards improving your sleep quality. Consider embracing a few simple techniques for better sleep alongside possible supplementation.

Although plenty of things can interfere with sleep, such as work stress, family responsibilities, or health concerns, you can still develop habits that promote better sleep. While it may be hard to control all the things that affect your sleep, these tips can help you improve your sleep quality.

Keep your diet and substance intake on track

You should never go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Avoid consuming heavy or large meals within a few hours of bedtime as it may cause discomfort and interfere with sleep.

Nicotine, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol should also be consumed with caution as their stimulating effects can disrupt sleep. While alcohol may make you feel sleepy initially, it can lead to sleep disruption later in the night.

Sleep in a conducive environment

bedroom set up for good sleep

To promote better sleep, try to maintain a dark, cool, and quiet bedroom space.

Avoid light exposure in the run up to bedtime as it may make it more difficult to drift off. Additionally, try to avoid using light-emitting screens for a while before bedtime.

It might be a good idea to use shades on your windows, earplugs, a fan, or anything that can help you to build that restful environment. 

Try engaging in relaxing activities before going to bed instead. Enjoy a nice long bath or relaxation techniques like meditation.

Maintain a good sleep schedule

You should try to sleep a minimum of seven hours per night, and most of us don’t need more than nine hours nightly to feel well rested.

To promote a consistent sleep-wake cycle, try to get to bed and wake up at a consistent time each day, even on weekends. If you can’t get to sleep within about twenty minutes of going to bed, get up and go and try to do something soothing, like reading or listening to relaxing music. Get back into bed again when you get sleepy, and repeat this process as needed whilst maintaining your healthy sleep schedule.

Keep active

Research suggests that exercise can improve sleep quality and alleviate sleep-related problems. Regular exercise can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and decrease the amount of time spent awake in bed during the night. Exercise can also indirectly improve sleep by reducing the risk of excessive weight gain, which is a contributing factor to obstructive sleep apnea.

Additionally, exercise has many other benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases like cancer and diabetes, improving physical function, and promoting a higher quality of life. It can greatly diminish the impact of stress and anxiety, two factors that can profoundly impair your sleep quality (see below.)

Try to limit stress levels

Try to stay on top of your stress and anxiety levels.

To improve your sleep, try getting ahead of your stresses and or concerns before bedtime by writing them down and setting them aside for the next day. Stress management techniques such as getting organized, setting priorities, and delegating tasks can also be helpful.

Meditation is another way to ease anxiety and promote relaxation.

If you frequently have trouble sleeping, it may be a good idea to contact your healthcare provider to identify and address any underlying causes that may be contributing to your sleep difficulties.

All in one supplements for improved sleep

In addition to individual natural sleep aids, there are plenty of supplements in today’s market that offer a host of benefits, including bolstering sleep quality. They contain several different active ingredients to enhance your overall wellbeing whilst allowing for improved rest.

Performance Lab Sleep

Performance Lab Sleep by Opti-Nutra contains magnesium, L-tryptophan, and melatonin sourced from tart cherry, and is perhaps unsurprisingly therefore great at bolstering sleep quality.

Magnesium has been suggested to help people fall asleep more quickly and spend more time asleep, while L-tryptophan creates serotonin, a precursor to melatonin, the body’s sleepy hormone. Performance Lab takes its melatonin from Montmorency Tart Cherry, which is a rich and high-quality natural melatonin source. 

All ingredients are vegan and soy-free, and GMP certified. They are also completely non-GMO, non-irradiated, are free from gluten, caffeine, artificial colours and preservatives, synthetic additives, and any allergens. They are made using Opti-Nutra’s trademarked BioGenesis method, which replicates nutrient genesis in nature, thus dispensing with the need for mineral mining or factory farming.

NooCube Sleep Upgrade

Sleep Upgrade is a natural supplement offered by NooCube that aims to improve sleep quality. It contains calcium, magnesium, and lavender oil, which work together to promote relaxation and reduce stress.

In addition to improving sleep, Sleep Upgrade also functions as a nootropic to enhance mental focus and reduce brain fog. The benefits of Sleep Upgrade include promoting calmness before sleep, eliminating oxidative stress, encouraging the production of melatonin, and relaxing the muscles. Clinical studies have shown that the ingredients in Sleep Upgrade are effective in improving sleep quality.

There are no reported side effects associated with taking Sleep Upgrade. It is only available for purchase online.

Nature Made Magnesium

Nature Made Magnesium 250 mg Soft-gels are designed to support nerve health, muscle relaxation, and heart and bone health, whilst also helping you to sleep.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is necessary for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. Plenty of us under consume magnesium in our diets, so anything that contributes to your body’s magnesium needs should be very welcome.

Nature Made Magnesium contains magnesium oxide in a smaller soft-gel, making it more convenient to take. 

Each soft-gel of Nature Made Magnesium provides 250 mg of magnesium, which helps to promote relaxation in the body. Nature Made supplements are made from high-quality ingredients, are gluten-free, and do not contain synthetic dyes, artificial flavors, or preservatives. They are amongst the best natural supplement manufacturers going.

A final thought

Sleep is primal and fundamental to your wellbeing. It is also complex and, for too many, fleeting. This can lead to some really profound concerns with your physical and mental wellbeing, both in the short- and long- term.

There is often no single fix, as there is often no single cause for poor sleep quality.

Rather, try to set yourself up for success. Do everything you can to ensure that you are getting the amount and quality of sleep your body needs to fully replenish and stay healthy, aiming at around 7-9 hours of good quality slumber per night.

This should begin with your sleeping environment and evening routines, what many might refer to as your ‘sleep hygiene’. Follow the advice above. Stay on top of your stress and anxiety levels as much as is possible. If you’re struggling to do so, consider seeking help from your healthcare provider. Wind down properly in the evenings, darkening the room, staying away from electronic devices and screens, possibly meditating, practicing gentle yoga, taking a hot bath, or anything else that will help to soothe you into a good sleep state.

An active lifestyle will also help. It will naturally help to keep your stress and anxiety levels low, whilst also allowing your body to get as tired as it needs to be to get to sleep. This lifestyle should also be relatively free from stimulants and drugs that can affect your sleep patterns – keep alcohol consumption low, don’t smoke, don’t take drugs, and steer clear of caffeine from early afternoon onwards.

And then consider supplementation. The supplements above, taken either individually or in combination, should help you to find a better quality of rest. They will supplement your lifestyle and diet to give you the best chance possible of getting the sleep you need.

If in doubt, consider one of the all-in-one options from above – each one should give you plenty to help you sleep, which in turn can help you to truly turn your life around.