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Evidence Based

9 Natural Sleep Aids That Are Backed by Science

Getting a good amount of sleep is incredibly important for your health.

Sleep helps your body and brain function properly. A good night’s sleep can improve your learning, memory, decision-making and even your creativity (1).

What’s more, getting sufficient sleep has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and obesity (2).

Despite all these benefits, sleep quality and quantity are at an all-time low, and people increasingly suffer from poor sleep (34).

Keep in mind that good sleep often starts with good sleep practices and habits. However, for some, that’s not enough.

If you require a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, consider trying the following nine sleep-promoting supplements.

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1. Melatonin

Peaceful Sleep

Melatonin is a hormone your body produces naturally, which signals your brain that it’s time to sleep (5).

This hormone’s cycle of production and release is influenced by time of day — melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and fall in the morning.

For this reason, melatonin supplements have become a popular sleeping aid, particularly in instances where the melatonin cycle is disrupted, such as jet lag (6).

What’s more, several studies report that melatonin improves daytime sleep quality and duration. This is particularly beneficial for individuals whose schedules require them to sleep during the daytime, such as shift workers (7).

Moreover, melatonin may improve overall sleep quality in individuals suffering from sleep disorders. Specifically, melatonin appears to reduce the time people need to fall asleep and increase the total amount of sleep time (8, 9).

While there are also studies that did not observe melatonin had a positive effect on sleep, they were generally few. Those that did observe beneficial effects generally provided participants 3–10 mg of melatonin before bedtime.

Melatonin supplements appear to be safe when used for short periods of time, but as of yet, not much is known about long-term safety.

Summary: Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality. They seem to be especially helpful if you have jet lag or are doing shift work.

2. Valerian Root

Valerian is an herb native to Asia and Europe. Its root is commonly used as a natural treatment for symptoms of anxiety, depression and menopause.

Valerian root is also one of the most commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplements in the US and Europe (10).

However, study results remain inconsistent.

For instance, two recent reviews reported that 300–900 mg of valerian taken right before bedtime may improve self-rated sleep quality (10, 11).

Nevertheless, all the observed improvements in these studies were subjective. They relied on participants’ perception of sleep quality rather than on objective measurements taken during sleep, such as brain waves or heart rate (11).

Regardless, short-term intake of valerian root appears to be safe for adults, with minor, infrequent side effects such as dizziness (10).

So despite the lack of objective measurements behind valerian, adults may consider testing it out for themselves.

However, safety remains uncertain for use long-term, and in special populations such as pregnant or lactating women.

Summary: Valerian root is a popular supplement that may improve sleep quality, at least in some people. More studies are needed on the safety of long-term use.
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3. Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of processes in the human body, and is important for brain function and heart health.

In addition, magnesium may help quiet the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep (12).

Studies show that magnesium’s relaxing effect may be partly due to its ability to regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that guides your body’s sleep-wake cycle (13).

Magnesium also appears to increase brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain messenger with calming effects (14).

Studies report that insufficient levels of magnesium in your body may be linked to troubled sleep and insomnia (15, 16).

On the other hand, increasing your magnesium intake by taking supplements may help you optimize the quality and quantity of your sleep.

One study gave 46 participants 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo daily for eight weeks. Those in the magnesium group benefited from overall better sleep quality.

What’s more, this group also had higher blood levels of melatonin and renin, two hormones that regulate sleep (17).

In another small study, participants given a supplement containing 225 mg of magnesium slept better than those given a placebo.

However, the supplement also contained 5 mg of melatonin and 11.25 mg of zinc, making it difficult to attribute the effect to magnesium alone (18).

It’s worth noting that both studies were performed on elderly adults, who may have had lower blood magnesium levels to start with. It’s uncertain whether these effects would be as strong in individuals with a good dietary magnesium intake.

Summary: Magnesium has a relaxing effect on the body and brain, which may help improve sleep quality.

4. Lavender

Lavender is a plant that can be found on almost all continents. It produces purple flowers that, when dried, have a variety of household uses.

Moreover, lavender’s soothing fragrance is believed to enhance sleep.

In fact, several studies show that simply smelling lavender oil for 30 minutes before sleep may be enough to improve the quality of sleep.

This effect appears particularly strong in those suffering from mild insomnia, especially females and young individuals (1920, 21).

Moreover, a small study in elderly people reports that lavender aromatherapy may be as effective as conventional sleep medications, with potentially fewer side effects (22).

Another study gave 221 patients suffering from mixed anxiety disorder 80 mg of a lavender oil supplement or a placebo per day.

By the end of the 10-week study, both groups had experienced improvements in the quality and duration of sleep. However, the lavender group experienced 14–24% greater effects, without any reported unpleasant side effects (23).

Though lavender aromatherapy is considered safe, the intake of lavender supplements has been linked to nausea and stomach pain in some cases (24).

It’s also worth noting that only a limited amount of studies could be found on the effects of lavender supplements on sleep. Thus, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary: Lavender aromatherapy may help improve sleep. More studies on lavender supplements are needed to evaluate their efficacy and safety.
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5. Passion Flower

Passion flower, also known as Passiflora incarnata or maypop, is a popular herbal remedy for insomnia.

The species of passion flower linked to sleep improvements are native to North America. They are also currently cultivated in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

Passion flower’s sleep-promoting effects have been demonstrated in animal studies. However, its effects in humans appear to depend on the form consumed (25).

One study in humans compared the effects of a passion flower tea to those of a placebo tea made from parsley leaves.

Participants drank each tea about one hour before bed for a period of one week, taking a one-week break between the two teas. Each tea bag was allowed to steep for 10 minutes, and researchers took objective measurements of sleep quality.

At the end of the three-week study, the objective measurements indicated the participants had not experienced improvements in sleep.

However, when they were asked to rate their sleep quality subjectively, they rated it around 5% higher following the passion flower tea week compared to the parsley tea week (26).

On the other hand, another study compared the effects of a 1.2-gram passion flower supplement, conventional sleeping pills and a placebo. The researchers found no difference between the passion flower supplements and the placebo (27).

More studies are needed, but it’s worth noting that passion flower intake is generally safe in adults. For now, it seems that passion flower may provide more benefits when consumed as a tea than as a supplement.

Summary: Passion flower tea may help slightly improve sleep quality in some individuals. However, the evidence is weak and some studies have found no effects. Thus, more studies are needed.
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6. Glycine

Glycine is an amino acid that plays an important role in the nervous system. Recent studies show it may also help improve sleep.

Exactly how this works is unknown, but glycine is thought to act in part by lowering body temperature at bedtime, signaling that it’s time to sleep (28, 29).

In one study, participants suffering from poor sleep consumed 3 grams of glycine or a placebo immediately before bedtime.

Those in the glycine group reported feeling less fatigued the next morning. They also said their liveliness, peppiness and clear-headedness were higher the next morning (30).

Another study investigated the effects of glycine in participants suffering from poor sleep. Researchers took measurements of their brain waves, heart rate and breathing while they slept.

Participants who took 3 grams of glycine before bedtime showed improved objective measures of sleep quality compared to the placebo. Glycine supplements also helped participants fall asleep faster (31).

You can buy glycine in pill form, or as a powder that can be diluted in water. According to research, taking fewer than 31 grams per day appears to be safe, but more studies are needed (32).

You can also consume glycine by eating foods rich in the nutrient, including bone broth, meat, eggs, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, kale, cabbage and fruits like bananas and kiwis.

Summary: Consuming glycine immediately before bedtime may help you fall asleep faster and improve the overall quality of your sleep.
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7–9. Other Supplements

There are many additional sleep-promoting supplements on the market. However, not all are supported by strong scientific research.

The list below describes a few additional supplements that may be beneficial to sleep, but require more scientific investigation.

  1. Tryptophan: One study reports that doses as low as 1 gram per day of this essential amino acid may help improve sleep quality. This dosage may also help you fall asleep faster (33).
  2. Ginkgo biloba: Consuming 250 mg of this natural herb 30–60 minutes before bed may help reduce stress, enhance relaxation and promote sleep (34, 35).
  3. L-Theanine: Consuming a daily supplement containing 200–400 mg of this amino acid may help improve sleep and relaxation (36, 37).

Kava is another plant that has been linked to sleep-promoting effects in some studies. It originates from the South Pacific islands and its root is traditionally prepared as a tea, although it can also be consumed in supplement form.

However, kava use has also been linked to severe liver damage. For this reason, it’s best to avoid this supplement (38, 39, 40).

Summary: The supplements above may also help promote sleep. However, they tend to have fewer studies backing them up, so more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

The Bottom Line

High-quality sleep is just as important for overall health as eating well and exercising regularly.

Nevertheless, many people have trouble falling asleep, wake up frequently or fail to wake up feeling rested. This makes it challenging to maintain optimal health and well-being.

The supplements above are one way to increase the likelihood of achieving restful sleep. That said, they’re probably most effective when used in combination with good sleep practices and habits.

An evidence-based article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.
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