From teas to topical creams to herbal supplements, these natural sleep aids and insomnia treatments will help you fall asleep easily without traditional sleeping pills. I explain the different types of natural sleep remedies, what situations to use them for and how they stack up against hormones like melatonin for sleep.
I often struggle when my head hits the pillow.
My mind races. Volatile fidgeting commences. And soon I’m back on the old insomnia merry-go-round, where fear of not being able to fall asleep becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’ve been here many times before.
Back when I was a hyperactive child, I had so much trouble winding down at the end of the day that my parents often resorted to a cocktail of melatonin, valerian root drops, and catnip (which has the opposite effect on humans than it does on felines) to get me to sleep.
My mind was usually the culprit, and that trend has continued in adult life. I talk about in my book The Wellness Project finally getting that piece of my health puzzle under control. But I still sometimes feel the mental mania creeping back in during busy work seasons or when I fall off the meditation wagon.
Even when your brain refuses to shut down, I find that it’s helpful to implement some natural sleep aids that can calm things down on the physical front.
I hope you don’t need me to tell you that Ambien and other sleeping pills are not your friend for building better sleep habits long term. They may not even be your friend as a quick fix, since the reduced REM cycle might leave you feeling hungover and not so well rested the next day. Not to mention the long-term increase in risk factors for Alzheimers, diabetes, amongst other things.
Though a natural sleep aid, melatonin is also tricky when it comes to encouraging our body to fall right asleep. Since it’s not a herb or supplement, but rather a hormone, it’s best use case is to start with a low dose and use consistently every day to retrain your hormonal waves to crescendo at the right times of day. It’s very different than some of the other herbal sleep remedies that can be used as a one-off in a pinch, or in the middle of the night to help you fall back asleep.
Read on for some of my favorite natural sleeping pills and alternatives to traditional over the counter sleep aids. You can even use some of these tactics in conjunction with one another, as falling asleep quickly and easily often comes down to building good rituals into your days. Take the time to build your toolbox and when you hit a mental bump in the road, these fixes will always be waiting for you.
For more of my healthy hedonist tips on sleep, make sure to check out that chapter of my book The Wellness Project. After all, these natural sleep aids will only get you so far if you’re not addressing the root cause of your sleeplessness.
What are some of your go-to methods? I’d love to hear in the comments section!
With health and hedonism,
Magnesium glycinate or citrate: Low magnesium levels, which are especially common in women, can throw many of the body’s functions off balance, including sleep. Since it also regulates the body’s stress response system, supplementing with magnesium before bed is like a double whammy for your physical and mental sleep hygiene. My favorite forms of supplementation is magnesium glycinate since it’s easy on the gut and also helps with your digestive system over night. These pills are my preferred form since they don’t require you to drink water before bed (which can lead to a different type of sleep problem – waking in the night!). Though it’s less useful for magnesium deficiency, getting magnesium through Epsom salt baths before bed time is also helpful for hacking your body temperature to be sleep-ready. You can also dissolve powder into water this powdered magnesium citrate supplement. The unflavored version has a not unpleasant but slightly salty, sour taste. But again, beware having to pee in the night! If you want to read more about the best magnesium supplements for sleep and how it works on a deeper level to help with anxiety and digestion, make sure to read my full post.
Sleepytime Tea: I know, I know. This is the favorite sleep solution of the all basic bitches everywhere. But that’s because it works. The Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra is my personal favorite these days. I’ve tried other knock offs (like this and this one). But even the tea companies I prefer for other blends don’t come close to matching the effectiveness of this old faithful. If you want to try a DIY version, there’s a recipe in The Wellness Project book for my favorite homemade blend. But you can’t go wrong with any combination of dried chamomile, lavender, and spearmint. Regardless of what you go with, a warm cup of tea before bed is a great tactic for winding down and slowly tricking your body into getting ready for bed. Just make sure to drink it early enough that you won’t wake up having to go to the bathroom.
Uma Oils Pure Rest Wellness Oil: I was skeptical at first about the power of the topical approach, but after sampling this essential oil blend for a month, I was blown away by how well it worked for my sleep. Uma is a woman-owned company, and I was lucky enough to attend a workshop with the founder who showed us the best way to apply their functional wellness oil: by rubbing a few drops on the bottom of your feet, the place on the body with the fastest absorption. This also makes for a lovely ritual at night. After getting into bed, I dab each of my feet, massage the oil in, then rub my palms together and breath in the remaining scent (which somehow doesn’t smell at all like feet!). It’s definitely on the pricier side, but a little goes a long way (it will last you at least 6 months), and I can’t recommend the impact of this oil enough.
GABA Trex: These chewables are my personal favorite for lulling me back to sleep in the middle of the night. They contain the amino acid L-theanine which have an overall calming effect on your nervous system. I don’t find that these tablets knock me out right away, but they are more fast acting than most capsules (about 30 minutes versus an hour) to metabolize. Unless I take them at 5am, I also don’t find they result in much grogginess. Since they don’t last a long time, they might not be enough to get through the whole night if you’re prone to wake windows. But they are safe a safe non-habit forming natural sleep aid, so you don’t have to worry about taking a second dose if you need it.
Jet Set Natural: Specifically formulated for travel, this dual pack of herbs is perfect after a red eye or night flight to help you get through the following day and adapt to your new time zone. The packet comes with two different pills: the jet, which helps you fall sleep, and the set, which helps pep you up. The idea is to take the jet right before you want to go to bed on your flight, and the set when you arrive at your destination. The package comes with several sets of pills in case you need the added help falling asleep or staying up on the subsequent day or return journey.
Valerian Root & Catnip Drops: These two herbal powerhouses are just what you need to induce sleep. As I mentioned, my parents have been giving me a drop or two of Valerian and Catnip since I was a kid. You can put them in your bedtime tea for added effect or straight under your tongue. Either purchase individually, or try a formulation like The Nue Co. sleep drops.
WTHN Sleep Well: Formulated by an acupuncture practice, this mix of naturally sedative herbs including organic ashwagandha, jujube and valerian supports deep sleep. It’s a great option to encourage yourself to sleep through the night without being groggy in the morning as you might with an ambien or NyQuil.
Urban Moonshine Hit the Hay: I’m a big fan of Urban Moonshine’s line of herbal remedies, from their digestive bitters to this ultra powerful sleep potion made from passionflower and kava. Warning: it doesn’t taste great…which to me is always a good sign for medicinals! But a little goes a long way and you can dilute in water if that’s easier for you to swallow.
Olly Restful Sleep Zen Vitamin Gummies: If you’ve gotten this far down the list you might be wondering…why hasn’t she talked about melatonin yet? Well, I’m not the biggest fan of using this hormone as a supplement. First off, yes, it’s a HORMONE. Which means that when people pop them like an ambien, it rarely has the same effect. The key is to use melatonin micro dosing (1 milligram at a time) at the same hour every day to train your body onto a better sleep cycle. If you’re looking for a more delicious and fun way to do so, these gummies have a very small dose of melatonin in them along with a few other great extracts that can help with immediate calm. Take 1 at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed time every night. And make sure to brush your teeth afterwards as there is sugar in them.
Lavender Essential Oil: When I’m not messing with anything fancy, I turn to this ultra basic natural sleep remedy. Calming lavender essential oil is one of the best scents to get you ready for rest. Create your own sleep spray by adding a few drops to a spray bottle with water and spritzing your pillow. Better yet, add a few drops to a diffuser and fire it up before bed.
Radical Roots Rest & Relax CBD Oil: There’s a lot of compelling research these days about how cannabinoids can be an effective treatment for a wide range of conditions from sleep and anxiety to inflammation and even SIBO related digestive symptoms! I take a nightly dose to help with all of these things, and though I don’t feel the immediate effects as dramatically as some of these other tools, I still love adding it along with the rest. The radical roots formula has the added benefit of specific Chinese herbs that also help with sleep.
Need help finding lifestyle changes that last? Let’s work together to create your path forward. My 4 Weeks to Wellness Course might just change your life. With 4-weeks worth of elimination diet-friendly recipes that are gluten, dairy, corn, soy and refined sugar free, not to mention tasty AF, it’s a perfect way to explore your food sensitivities and heal inner and outer chaos. Plus, one of the weeks is completely dedicated to overhauling your sleep hygiene and morning routine! Beyond natural remedies, I’ll help you set up all the rituals you need for a good nights sleep for the long haul.