We asked doctors for advice on the best natural sleep aids—here’s what they said
Stressing about work, your late-night wine with friends, your love of coffee, your schedule—basically most things in your life could be disrupting your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. If you have occasional insomnia or find yourself tossing and turning all night, we reached out for some advice. We talked to doctors about natural sleep aids to help you get those important zzzs.
Of course, insomnia could be an indicator of an underlying health condition, so you should always talk to your doctor about your sleep concerns. Still, there are behavioral changes and some over-the-counter natural supplements that work as sleep aids and can get you off to dreamland.
Your first truly natural sleep aid should be making behavioral changes to your day—particularly your bedtime routine.
Before you consider medical intervention or supplements, you can look to what you’re doing for your nighttime routine. There are many habits that could be interfering with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Let’s look at a couple of ideas that doctors think could help.
1Keep a regular bedtime
We know, we know; many of us haven’t kept a strict bedtime since we were kids and our parents made us go to bed right after TGIF. But going to bed at or near the same time every night is crucial for getting your body to sleep, Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a sleep expert, tells HelloGiggles.
"Good sleep is all about routine," says Dr. Robbins. "Find a sleep schedule you can meet as close to seven days each week as you can—i.e. falling asleep and waking up as close to your target bedtime and rising times as possible. Endeavor to change your schedule no more than one hour from your target bedtimes and rising time."
2Unplug from electronics
Scrolling through your Instagram feed right before bed? First of all, you’re not alone, because studies have shown that about 95% of people use some type of electronics a few nights a week, in the hour before bed. But research shows that the blue light from your phone could be disrupting your sleeping patterns. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the light sends signals to your brain that delays the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone. If you’re struggling to fall asleep, quit your phone within a couple of hours before bed.
3Rethink that glass of wine
If you’re unwinding with a glass of wine at bedtime, it could be keeping you awake.
"Drinking wine right before bedtime can cause you to be restless due to the sugar content," Dr. Nicole Avena, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells HelloGiggles. "Avoid sugars and caffeine, as even small amounts of these can cause some people who are sensitive to them to have sleep problems."
Sorry, but maybe limit your shiraz intake to happy hour, long before bed.
4Take a look at your pajamas
Sometimes, curing sleeplessness can be as easy as changing up your bedtime attire. Cool body temperature, according to Dr. Robbins, is an often overlooked aspect of healthy sleep. Keep an eye on your thermostat and invest in non-restrictive PJs made from breathable fabric. Dr. Robbins suggests sleepwear from Dagsmejan, which helps regulate body temperature.
5Add relaxing smells to your routine
“There is evidence to suggest that relaxing smells, such as lavender, are helpful for calming the mind and preparing for sleep,” says Dr. Robbins.
According to The Wall Street Journal, studies have shown that lavender has a relaxing effect that can not only help induce sleep but increase the amount of deep sleep. You can find lavender for your bedtime routine in the form of candles, diffusers, oils, or even sprays for your pillows.
6Practice mindfulness to get to sleep
Dr. Robbins recommends making your bedtime routine as calming as possible since stress and anxiety can definitely keep you from getting to sleep.
“View the moments before bed as time to unplug from electronics, practice mindfulness, light candles. Consciously view this time as part of the sleep process,” she says. “Be more mindful of your breathing. If you find your mind racing, journal or write down anything that is bothering you.”
If you’re still struggling to get your Zzzs, consider supplements that contain natural sleep aids.
As Dr. Avena notes, be careful not to take more than the recommended doses of any sleep aids, and it is always best to talk to your own physician before using any supplement. With the go-ahead from your doctor, try one of these supplements recommended by the medical professionals we spoke with.
Melatonin is a hormone that we naturally produce in our pineal gland, and it signals the beginning of the sleep cycle, according to Dr. Avena. She recommends taking a melatonin supplement about 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed.
Dr. Lina Velikova, a sleep expert, also tells HelloGiggles that additional melatonin can help, though she does note a potential side effect.
"Our bodies produce melatonin on a daily basis since it is a hormone that regulates circadian rhythm. If you have trouble sleeping, you may benefit from taking an additional dose of melatonin," Dr. Velikova says. "There still hasn’t been much concrete evidence on the long-term effect of taking melatonin. For this reason, it is best to take it for short periods of time—up to a couple of months—since there are people who report feeling groggy due to melatonin."
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an “inhibitory neurotransmitter” that occurs naturally in your brain, according to Dr. Avena. It blocks impulses between nerve cells. So what does this mean for you and your good night’s sleep? Well, GABA is tied to regulating fear and anxiety, working as a calming effect. As Dr. Robbins explains: “When taken as a supplement, [GABA] can relax the mind and help you to fall asleep.”
“Frunutta makes a sublingual GABA supplement that is easy to take and doesn’t have any fillers,” Dr. Robbins says, adding that it’s best to take the supplement about an hour before you plan to go to bed.
Taking into account how both melatonin and GABA help your sleep cycle, sleep expert and naturopath Dr. Carolyn Dean recommends another natural sleep aid to HelloGiggles: magnesium.
"Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium facilitates sleep-regulating melatonin production, relieves muscle tension that can disrupt sleep and prevent restful sleep, and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, and its activation favors sleep," Dr. Dean says.
To avoid its laxative effect, Dr. Dean says to manage both its form and dosage. She recommends a liquid picometer form of magnesium so it can be fully absorbed by cells without reaching the large intestine.
Valerian root is an herb, which you can take in pill form as a supplement or drink in tea. Dr. Velikova tells HelloGiggles that it can help with insomnia and even anxiety.
"People who have been using valerian for several weeks report feeling more relaxed when going to bed," the doctor says. "Valerenic acid has the ability to stimulate the breakdown of GABA, chemical messengers which are in charge of regulating nerve impulses in the brain. As a result, you can feel less tense and more relaxed after taking valerian."
Again, talk to your own doctor if you’re worried about insomnia or are considering an over-the-counter natural sleep aid. But hopefully, you can find some relaxation help with these bedtime ideas.