9 Best Natural Sleep Aids

Plus Tips to Get a Better Night's Rest

Whether you're looking for things to help you sleep because of the occasional restless night or long-term insomnia, many people find these supplements to be helpful natural sleep aids. Keep in mind that supplements are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it's important to talk with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.

This article discusses 9 natural sleep remedies. It also explains the evidence to support the claims for natural sleep aids and other ways to get a good night's sleep.


Watch Now: Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia


Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone. It helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. Your body makes it at night when the light is low. Research suggests melatonin supplements may help conditions associated with low levels of melatonin, such as:

  • Circadian rhythm-related sleep disorders
  • Jet lag
  • Shift work
  • Insomnia in children with neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Nocturnal hypertension

Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia.

The most common side effects of melatonin are:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Nightmares

Melatonin supplements can interact with some types of medicine, so talk with a healthcare provider before taking them.

Valerian Root

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is thought to affect levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)—a calming chemical in the brain. Studies measuring sleep quality have found no difference between people taking valerian and those taking a placebo. However, some people in the studies anecdotally reported that their sleep quality improved with valerian.

Valerian root is typically taken an hour before bed. Side effects of valerian root, if any, tend to be mild, and may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Itchy skin
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort


Kava is sometimes recommended for anxiety-related insomnia. Most of the research on the effects of kava on insomnia is limited to animal studies. One small, older study showed relief of insomnia after 14 days, but the "quality of sleep" questionnaire was very subjective and even people taking a placebo reported significant improvements in sleep.

Even with short-term use, common side effects include:

  • Indigestion
  • Mouth numbness
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Visual disturbances

Keep in mind that the FDA has advised consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury from using supplements containing kava.


Chamomile as an aromatherapy oil is believed to help with sleep. Chamomile is traditionally used to reduce muscle tension and anxiety, which in theory may help induce sleep. However, clinical trials have not shown this herb is helpful for insomnia.

For those that can use some help winding down at night, a cup of warm chamomile tea may be helpful. In tea form, side effects of chamomile are uncommon but may include nausea, dizziness, and allergic reactions.


Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid found in certain foods. It is a building block of serotonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin. Research shows mixed evidence for the effectiveness of tryptophan on sleep quality.

Try eating foods that contain tryptophan, such as:

  • Milk
  • Fish
  • Turkey and chicken
  • Cheese
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Note that L-tryptophan supplements are not recommended. Side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision

In 1989, L-tryptophan was linked to cases of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (a condition that causes pain and skin problems), but these cases might have been due to contamination.


The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative. Some research shows that magnesium supplements can help with insomnia. Another study showed a positive association between magnesium intake (from food and supplements) and better sleep quality and sleep duration.

Include these magnesium-rich foods in your diet:

  • Pumpkin and chia seeds
  • Almonds, cashews, and peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Soymilk
  • Black beans and edamame

Magnesium supplements come in a variety of forms, including magnesium oxide, citrate, glycinate, and chloride. The most common side effects occur with high doses of magnesium supplements and include:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Before starting a magnesium supplement talk with a healthcare provider about which form of magnesium to try for improving sleep.


Like valerian, passionflower is thought to help with anxiety and sleep by affecting levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.

Experiments have shown improved sleep in laboratory animals, but clinical trials in people are lacking. Passionflower is often combined with other herbs, like valerian and kava, making it difficult to know what effects passionflower has on its own.

One small study showed participants who consumed passionflower in the form of tea reported short-term subjective sleep benefits compared to a placebo. However, more studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm these results.

Passionflower should not be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Although passionflower is considered safe in moderate amounts, side effects may include drowsiness, confusion, and uncoordinated movement (ataxia) in some people.


Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana). It is derived directly from the hemp plant and does not cause a “high" when taken by itself.

Preliminary research on cannabis and insomnia suggests that CBD may be beneficial for treating insomnia. Research on CBD and sleep is limited and has yielded mixed results. More research is needed to understand and confirm the effects of CBD on sleep.

Side effects of CBD may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue

CBD can also interact with other medications, such as blood thinners. The long-term effects of using CBD regularly are unknown.


Glycine is an amino acid your body makes and is found in foods like beef, chicken, turkey, seeds, and peanuts. It acts as a neurotransmitter, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory, among other functions. Results of one study showed participants who took three grams of glycine before bed fell asleep faster and reported feeling less fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

The evidence that glycine improves sleep is limited because research has been done on animals or in very small human studies, so more research is needed.

Other Ways to Get Better Sleep

In addition to supplements, these remedies may be worth considering to get better sleep.

  • Light Therapy is sometimes used in sleep treatment plans. Light exposure helps tell the body when to go to sleep and when to wake up. 
  • Meditation can slow breathing, reduce stress hormone levels, relax the body, and calm the mind. Although more research is needed, early evidence suggests meditation may improve sleep.
  • Yoga & Tai Chi. Yoga is a system of relaxation, breathing, exercise, and healing. A 2017 review cited evidence that yoga can relieve insomnia symptoms and found mindfulness-based stress management and tai chi (a type of slow-motion exercise) provided sleep benefits too.
  • Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestions that may promote relaxation and decreased heart rate and blood pressure. It may be helpful when used with cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques, but studies so far have not been well-designed.
  • Acupuncture may help with insomnia, but the research is mixed about how well acupuncture might work.
  • Aromatherapy. A 2019 analysis of 23 studies concluded that aromatherapy improves sleep quality and that aromatherapy massage was more helpful than inhalation. However, the review also noted that better-quality studies are needed.
  • Food & Diet. Avoid caffeine and nicotine because they can cause insomnia and restlessness. Choose foods that contain tryptophan and magnesium because they might help promote sleep.
  • Ayurveda is an Indian healing philosophy used to balance the mind, body, and spirit. One Ayurvedic treatment is putting warm sesame oil on the head and feet to regulate breathing and circulation.
  • Gentle music. Music therapy has been found to improve sleep quality. It may also decrease nightly awakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
  • Exercise. Most studies have found exercise improved sleep quality or duration. But avoid exercising too close to bedtime because it can increase adrenaline levels, leading to insomnia.


You can try many natural remedies if you're having trouble sleeping. Some have been proven through research. The value of others is mixed or inconclusive.

Herbal teas and supplements have long been used to treat insomnia. Unfortunately, the evidence for their effectiveness is limited. 

Some supplements, light exposure, meditation and relaxation, and yoga seem helpful for some people. There is less evidence for other supplements, hypnosis, acupuncture, and aromatherapy.

Avoiding certain substances like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine and choosing foods rich in tryptophan and magnesium in the evening may also help you get to sleep.

Lastly, you may also want to try music and exercise as other potential remedies.

A Word From Verywell

Ask your healthcare provider before starting any natural remedies. Chronic insomnia can be a symptom of another condition, such as:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Lung disease
  • Hot flashes
  • Diabetes

Think of insomnia as a "wake-up call." Ensure you get early treatment for potentially serious conditions. The Doctor Discussion Guide can help you start that conversation with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do natural sleep aids have side effects?

    Some natural sleep aids can have side effects. For example, certain herbs or supplements may cause allergic reactions in some people. Melatonin may cause:

    • Headaches
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Excessive sleepiness ("hangover effect")

    Drug interactions can also occur. This is why it's important to check with your doctor before taking any new supplements.

  • Are natural sleep remedies safe if you're pregnant?

    Certain natural sleep remedies like yoga, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques are great if you're pregnant. They can help you maintain a healthy, relaxed body and mind. If these techniques also aid sleep during pregnancy, that's a plus.

    However, some supplements, aromatherapies, herbs, and teas may not be safe to use while pregnant. Always ask your doctor before trying any of these methods.

  • What foods naturally contain melatonin?

    Foods that contain melatonin and can promote a good night's sleep include:

    • Almonds
    • Banana
    • Cow’s milk
    • Eggs
    • Fatty fish, including sardines. salmon, and trout
    • Pistachios
    • Tart cherry juice

Insomnia Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.