When did getting a good night’s sleep become so hard?
I don’t know about you, but I slept like a rock through most of my childhood and teen years. It wasn’t until I hit my late 20s that sleep became an issue for me.
I’m not alone though, because sleep issues are incredibly common. In fact, 68% of Americans say they struggle with sleep at least once a week, according to a survey conducted by Consumer Reports.
And this is bad for the obvious reasons (being tired isn’t fun), but also because getting enough good, high-quality sleep is absolutely critical for important bodily functions, including repair and maintenance activities like protein synthesis, tissue repair, hormone and neurotransmitter production.
It’s also imperative for good brain health. While we’re asleep, we organize and consolidate short-term memories, maintain long-term memory and detoxification of brain tissue occurs.
Sleep deprivation has a strong connection with many mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety.
Lack of sleep takes a toll on our mental abilities, our cognitive performance is reduced, our decision-making skills suffer, and our memory may be negatively impacted.
Poor sleep quality has also been shown to increase the risk for heart attack, elevated blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke.
Clearly, getting good sleep (and enough of it) is a must for optimal health.
Not sure how to go about it? The first thing you look at should be lifestyle, behaviors, and habits.
Check out this post I wrote about how to get good sleep, I definitely recommend starting there.
Supplements or sleeping aids should not be the first line of defense in terms of getting good sleep.
Why? Because if you have the TV blaring all night, you sleep with the lights on, your cat keeps walking across your face, and your house is right next to a noisy freeway, no amount of magnesium is going to fix that.
If you’ve read the post, tried out the tips, and still need some help sleeping, here are my recommendations for my favorite natural supplements to help with sleep.
Note: the reason I recommend natural supplements vs prescription sleep aids is that while prescription meds may be useful for a short duration of time, they typically come with unwanted side effects (GI issues, dizziness, headache, nausea, daytime drowsiness, etc.) and it’s way too easy to become dependent on them.
Even with natural supplements, I would recommend using them only as long as you feel you need it. In most cases, herbs or supplements work well and a higher quality of sleep is reached over consecutive nights within a couple of weeks (give or take). Then, it’s probably a good idea to put the supplement aside until it’s needed again.
Everyone reacts differently to different supplements (and supplements can interact with other supplements or medications), so make sure to do some research and/or talk to your doctor to make sure there won’t be any issues with your current meds or health conditions.
Chamomile is one of the most widely used herbs in the United States today. It’s an incredibly versatile and useful plant, offering a wide variety of medicinal actions, including several that pertain to improving sleep.
It helps mellow anxiety and it’s a mild yet effective sedative. This is most likely due to the flavonoid apigenin, which binds to receptors in the brain that can decrease anxiety and initiate sleep. This causes sedative effects (with none of the negative side effects of pharmaceutical medications).
A study of nursing home residents found that those given chamomile extract each day had significantly better quality sleep than those who did not receive it.
*Note: avoid chamomile if you have a sensitivity or allergy to any plants in the daisy family.
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a compound naturally produced in our brains that helps calm the excitability of neurons. It’s known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain because it has suppressive effects on the excitatory neurotransmitters, such as glutamate and norepinephrine.
What does that mean in English? Put simply, GABA enables the mind and body to unwind, relax, and fall asleep. If you have low GABA, it can be linked to disrupted sleep and insomnia. Not having enough GABA is also related to sleep that’s more restless and wakeful.
Low levels of GABA are also correlated with anxiety, which can be another barrier to getting good quality sleep.
In one study, GABA levels in people with insomnia were almost 30% lower than in people without the sleep disorder.
Another recent study showed that taking a combination of GABA and 5-HTP together may improve sleep quality and increase time spent asleep.
Scientists think that GABA supplements may have a hard time making their way into the brain, but many people still report feeling an effect from GABA, so it could be worth trying, especially if it’s combined with other sleep-promoting nutrients.
5-HTP is a compound naturally made by our bodies and it’s the precursor to serotonin.
Serotonin is important for many reasons (mood, appetite, behavior, memory), but specifically here because it helps our bodies manufacture melatonin, which is the main hormone that controls the sleep/wake cycle and is critical for sleep.
A healthy biological clock and consistent sleep-wake routines are imperative for deep, restful sleep.
Research suggests that 5-HTP may help shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep amounts. It’s also possible that it can help reduce the incidents of nightmares.
Try this one.
Valerian is an herb (actually the root of the valerian plant) that has been used medicinally for over 1,000 years. Historically, it’s been used to help with sleep, anxiety, nervousness, and restlessness.
Valerian mainly functions as an anxiolytic. This means it relieves anxiety and can have a calming, sedative effect.
Valerian extract can cause sedation by increasing GABA levels in the brain. As mentioned before, GABA is a chemical that our brains make naturally and is important for sleep because it helps to quiet the activity of neurons in the central nervous system and brain, which can help increase feelings of calmness and relaxation and lower anxiety.
In addition, the valerenic acid contained in valerian inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA, which is another way that valerian can increase GABA levels and help to promote a restful night’s sleep.
Valerian also contains a chemical called linarin, which exerts a sedative-like effect when ingested.
Valerian is often used in combination with other herbs that have calming effects. To help with sleep issues, valerian is frequently combined with hops. While it is best known for its use in beer, hops has also been used for hundreds of years as an herbal medicine to treat sleep problems as well as anxiety, irritability, excitability, and restlessness.
Try this one.
Note: A small percentage of people actually find valerian to be stimulating. That effect is usually counteracted by the addition of other herbs such as hops or skullcap, but if this happens to you, try a different supplement to help with sleep.
I couldn’t talk about nutrients to help with sleep without touching on magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral that’s involved in hundreds of bodily processes, so low magnesium levels can throw off many important functions, including sleep.
Deficiency in magnesium is also associated with higher levels of stress and anxiety, two things that definitely make it difficult to get great sleep.
Magnesium is another nutrient that helps to increase GABA, which is important for sleep and relaxation.
It’s also helpful for achieving deeper states of sleep. In a recent study, a group of older adults was either given magnesium or a placebo. The group who received magnesium had better sleep quality along with higher levels of melatonin and renin (hormones that help regulate sleep). 
Additional studies have been done showing similar results. Though most of the research has been done on older adults, I can’t think of any reason this wouldn’t work for a younger population as well.
Passion flower is another powerful anxiolytic herb that has been used as a natural sedative all over the world for many years, including in places like Brazil, Iraq, Turkey, and North America.
Passionflower functions by boosting GABA in the brain. Similarly to valerian, it helps quiet activity in the brain, assisting with relaxation and better sleep.
In a study of 40 people suffering from insomnia, passion flower helped enhance sleep significantly more than the placebo.
Passion flower has also shown to be effective for relieving depression, anxiety, and insomnia in women going through menopause.
Try this one.
Note: Pregnant women should not take passion flower, because the active compounds can stimulate uterine contractions. There is insufficient information available regarding the effects of passionflower in women who are breastfeeding, so it’s safest that they avoid passion flower as well
Glycine is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. Our bodies produce it naturally and it helps the body make serotonin, which has significant impacts on sleep and mood.
Studies have shown that not only does glycine have a calming effect in the brain to help you wind down and get ready for sleep, but in addition, it helps lower the core body temperature at night (which is one of the things that makes sleep quality higher).
Study subjects who ingested glycine before bed reported improved “fatigue”, “liveliness and peppiness”, and “clear‐headedness” after waking the next day.
The starting dose that’s typically recommended is around 3g taken before bed.
Try this one.
Originally identified by Japanese scientists, l-theanine is an amino acid abundantly found in tea leaves.
As with many of the other nutrients on this list, l-theanine boosts GABA levels as well as other calming brain chemicals.
It helps to lower levels of excitatory chemicals in the brain and enhances alpha brain waves (which are associated with deep relaxation and sleep).
Unlike many sleep aids, l-theanine doesn’t cause any grogginess and isn’t addictive in any way.
In a pretty neat study of children suffering from ADHD, L-theanine improved sleep quality and length of time spent sleeping, which is a big deal for people with ADHD. The boys also felt more refreshed after sleep, had less anxiety and felt more relaxed at bedtime, and had fewer nightmares.
Try this one.
Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family with an amazing number of health benefits. Though it’s related to mint, the leaves have a mild lemon aroma and flavor, making it a delicious option for tea.
It’s been cultivated for more than 2,000 years and has been used medicinally for many things like helping combat stress, anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.
In a clinical study, participants taking 300mg of lemon balm extract twice a day noticed a 15-18% reduction in anxiety. This study also showed that lemon balm extract could help reduce insomnia in participants by up to 42%. 
In another study of women going through menopause, lemon balm and valerian were shown to significantly reduce sleep disorders/insomnia. 
Cannabidiol (aka CBD) is one of the chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.
However, unlike medical cannabis, CBD is legal in all parts of the United States.
Cannabis has been used therapeutically for centuries - for help with sleep, stress, pain, and anxiety, to name just a few.
There is no “high” associated with CBD, and instead, it has calming, anti-anxiety effects.
In terms of assistance with sleep, CBD is able to reduce anxiety, which can be helpful in reducing sleep difficulties and improving sleep quality.
In research, it’s been shown that CBD may increase overall sleep amounts and improve insomnia.
CBD has also been shown to reduce insomnia in people who suffer from chronic pain.
CBD also has a good safety profile. Even chronic CBD use was shown to have no negative neurological, psychiatric, or clinical effects. Respiratory depression or cardiovascular complications haven’t been observed either. It’s possible that it may interact with some other medications (Xanax, codeine, etc), so do your research and check with your doctor before trying it out.
Try this one.
Note: Quality is very important when it comes to CBD, and many of the products out there do not have much therapeutic potential and won’t give you the desired result. Authentic CBD is not sold on Amazon and hemp oil is not the same as CBD. Make sure you are buying a high-quality product so you aren’t throwing money down the drain.
Many of the herbs and supplements above work best when combined into synergistic combinations that work together to become even more effective at enhancing sleep. Here are a few of my favorite sleep supplement combos:
Hopefully, these help get you on a path to getting deep, restorative sleep, every night.
It’s important to note that everyone is different, so some of these may not work (or even be appropriate) for you, and you may need to play around to find a product that helps you sleep like a baby.
Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.