7 Natural Sleep Aids that Work to Improve Sleep & Health - Dr. Axe

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7 Natural Sleep Aids that Really Work


Natural sleep aids - Dr. Axe

Our sleep is precious time that allows our bodies to heal and rejuvenate, and without enough sleep, our health suffers. That means we must find ways to get proper rest. Unfortunately, many people either can’t sleep (which can also happen during jet lag) or don’t get enough sleep, which is where natural sleep aids come in.

The amount of sleep needed each night varies, but for adults, getting at least seven hours every night is crucial to having a healthy mind and body. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies aren’t the only things that suffer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a whopping tens of millions of people have trouble with focus due to lack of sleep, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration relays that that millions nod off while driving.

Luckily, this problem doesn’t have to continue. It’s all about making some lifestyle changes, like using the following safe, natural sleep aid options and focusing on getting the sleep you need in order to stay refreshed, alert and at your absolute best.

Natural Sleep Aids

We have a natural sleep-wake cycle called circadian rhythm. By being in sync with that rhythm, we can easily improve our sleep. A regular sleep/wake pattern helps you feel refreshed and ready for your day.


Having good sleep hygiene is crucial, such as avoiding stimulants like too much coffee to prevent caffeine overdose, and we’ve all been told to get those electronics far from the bedroom — both for better sleep and to avoid nomophobia.

Thankfully, good sleep hygiene combined with natural sleep aids can make all the difference in getting some body-craving restful sleep. Calcium, magnesium, valerian root and a few more I’ll talk about below all help naturally put you to sleep.

1. Sleep-Promoting Foods

It’s a well-known fact that having a heavy meal just before bed can cause you to have a poor night of rest, but did you know that there are some foods that could help you sleep better? That doesn’t mean you need to add calories necessarily or eat a huge meal right before bed, but it could mean that you can incorporate some of these foods into your dinner or as a small after-dinner snack.

Probably the most commonly known characteristic that can help through food is tryptophan — yes, that sleepiness from the Thanksgiving turkey is no joke. Tryptophan is an amino acid that can help the brain get into a relaxed state, similar to serotonin and melatonin. You can obtain tryptophan and serotonin from carbohydrates, particularly 100 percent whole grain oats, brown rice, corn or quinoa.

A study published in Sports Medicine out of France was conducted to help better understand ways to improve the sleep of elite soccer players given their chaotic schedules, late-night games and need for recovery through a good night of sleep. The study found that by consuming carbohydrates — such as honey and whole grain bread — and some forms of protein, especially those that contain serotonin-producing tryptophan like turkey, nuts and seeds, it helped promote restorative sleep.

Even tryptophan-filled tart cherry juice, which also contains healing properties like antioxidants, could be a great option.

2. Calcium for Relaxation

Did you know that calcium has an effect on our sleep cycle? It’s true.

According to the European Neurology Journal, calcium levels are at their highest during our deep rapid eye movement (REM) sleep periods. What this means is that if you never get to the REM sleep phase or if it’s limited, it could be related to a calcium deficiency.

Researchers indicate that the calcium is important because it helps the cells in the brain use the tryptophan to create melatonin — a natural body-producing sleep aid.

3. Magnesium May Help You Get the Slumber You Need

If you have trouble sleeping, it could be due to a magnesium deficiency and you may benefit from more magnesium-rich foods or even a magnesium supplement.

Studies have shown that higher magnesium levels can help induce a deeper sleep, and this is especially true when taken together with calcium for better absorption.

Research conducted on mice from the Biochemistry and Neurophysiology Unit at the University of Geneva’s Department of Psychiatry found that higher levels of magnesium actually helped provide better, more consistent sleep since magnesium is a calming nutrient.

Foods like goat’s milk kefir, spinach, pumpkin seeds and even dark chocolate can help since they’re loaded with magnesium.

Here are a few snacks to consume for getting a good night of sleep:

  • Half a banana with a few almonds
  • Crackers with almond butter
  • Gluten-free oatmeal with honey and dark cherries
  • Small Ezekiel wrap with turkey and cranberries
  • Small glass of warm goat’s milk kefir with turmeric and a dash of cinnamon
  • Chamomile, passion flower and valerian tea
  • Small glass of tart cherry juice

4. Essential Oils for Sleep

It’s no secret that using essential oils is a natural method for just about anything you can think of, and sleep is no different. Prescription medications can cause numerous side effects and make you feel jet-lagged upon waking, among other negative side effects.


Essential oils for sleep, on the other hand, don’t cause these adverse reactions.

A study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice was conducted with cancer patients, a common group that has serious issues with sleeping well, to better understand whether aromatherapy using essential oils could help provide some much-needed healing shut-eye. Aromasticks were given to patients over a 13-week period.

Of the participants, 94 percent reported using the aromasticks with 92 percent reporting that they would continue use them. Bergamot oil and lavender oil, in addition to sandalwood, frankincense and mandarin, were combined to create the useful sleep-inducing blend.

Natural sleep aids - Dr. Axe

Related: What Is Revenge Bedtime Procrastination? (Plus How to Beat It)

5. Passion Flower for Calming and Restful Sleep

When we have anxiety, it can greatly affect how we sleep because you just cannot seem to turn the brain off — especially while you’re trying to rest. Passion flower can provide the calming effect needed to help stop that vicious circle of thought.

Clinical trials have shown that passion flower can reduce anxiety as effectively as the prescribed drug known as benzodiazepine oxazepam. A four-week, double-blind study of patients with generalized anxiety disorder compared passion flower to the common anti-anxiety drug.

While the oxazepam worked a little faster, both were the same in terms of effectiveness — however, the passion flower did not cause problems with job performance, such drowsiness while on the job, unlike the oxazepam.

This shows that passion flower is one of the most powerful anti-anxiety natural sleep aids that doesn’t cause lingering tiredness the next day.

6. Valerian Root to Induce Sleep

Valerian root contains many healing properties, in particular for a relaxation and sedative effects. It’s often found in combination with chamomile in a tea.

By increasing the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), it helps calm the nerve cells in the brain, resulting in a calming effect. GABA works by blocking brain signals that cause anxiety and the ongoing trickle effect that can come from it. This calming effect makes it a favorite natural remedy for anxiety too.

7. St. John’s Wort May Help Provide Sleep Through Less Depression

Depression is a common characteristic that can lead to lack of sleep. St John’s wort may be able to help.

Studies indicate that chemicals, such as hyperforin and adhyperforin, found in St. John’s wort act as little messengers in the brain that drive mood and work as powerful antidepressants.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that insomnia is common among those who are depressed and notes that people with insomnia have a much higher risk of becoming depressed. Research from the Department of Psychology at the University of North Texas shows that depression may affect many aspects of sleep, from getting to sleep to staying asleep.

By treating depression using St. John’s wort, you may be able to find that restful sleep your body and mind longs for.

Related: What Is Pink Noise & How Does It Compare to White Noise?

Risks and Side Effects

Always make sure you start with small amounts of any new food, herb or essential oil, as different people have different reactions to certain foods. If you notice anything unusually, stop the treatment immediately.

It’s also advised to avoid sleeping pills, as people can become dependent upon them and continue to struggle to get natural sleep, among a host of other potential side effects. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleeping pills can cause:

  • Burning or tingling sensation in the hands, arms, feet or legs
  • Change in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness during the day
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Gas
  • Headache
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Mental impairment the following day
  • Difficulty paying attention or remembering things
  • Stomach pain
  • Impaired balance
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Weird dreams or nightmares
  • Weakness

Also, if you have been on prescription medication for sleep or any other medication, please consult your doctor first.

Related: What Is White Noise? Benefits for Sleep & More

Final Thoughts

Sleep is a crucial part of our health and healing. Take it seriously, and seek out the help of a functional medicine practitioner if you can’t get your sleep under control.

Stay away from synthetics and stimulants, and try the following natural sleep aids instead:

  • Tryptophan and serotonin foods
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Essential oils
  • Passion flower
  • Valerian root
  • St. John’s wort

In addition, consider using a journal to track the results so you can better determine what works for you, and make sure you get a good night’s sleep every night. Your health depends on it.

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