14 Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia

Plus Tips to Get a Better Night's Rest

It's common to sometimes have trouble sleeping. When it happens often enough to get in the way of daily life, it's called insomnia.

Many people turn to natural remedies for insomnia. Some have been shown to be useful. Others have some evidence that isn't conclusive.

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Watch Now: Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia


Keep in mind that chronic lack of sleep could be related to a health problem. Some possible culprits include:

If you have any of these conditions, talk to your doctor. Avoid trying to self-treat with alternative medicine.

This article looks at some of the most common natural remedies for insomnia. It also discusses the evidence for their use.

Melatonin

You may have heard that melatonin supplements can help you sleep. Evidence suggests they are best for sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag.

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.

Melatonin supplements are good for conditions associated with low levels of melatonin, such as:

  • Aging
  • Mood disorders like depression
  • Delayed sleep-phase syndrome, when you fall asleep late at night and wake in the late morning or afternoon
  • Jet lag, when your sleep cycle is disrupted by a time zone change

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

Timed-release melatonin is used to treat insomnia in people over age 55. In most studies, melatonin was taken up to two hours before bedtime for up to 13 weeks.

With melatonin, the timing is important. When taken in the morning, melatonin may disrupt your normal sleep cycle. When taken in the afternoon or early evening, it can help regulate your sleep cycle.

Light Exposure

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. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try an outdoor walk first thing in the morning.

A home light therapy unit can also help. Ask your doctor or sleep specialist about these devices.

If you wake too early in the morning or you fall asleep very early in the evening, you may need more light in the late afternoon. Take an afternoon walk while it is still sunny outside. You can also try light therapy for two to three hours in the evening.

Meditation and Relaxation Techniques

Meditation may help you sleep. Regular meditation can slow breathing and reduce stress hormone levels. 

During meditation, you direct your attention to a point of focus, This could be your breathing, a sound, or a word. Meditation can help:

  • Increase awareness of your body
  • Relax your body
  • Calm your mind

Types of meditation include:

  • Guided meditation, where someone else's voice helps you relax
  • Vipassana meditation, a Buddhist mindfulness practice
  • Yoga nidra, a kind of guided meditation
  • Body scan, where you focus your attention on the feelings in different parts of your body

You can also try:

  • Visualization: This involves imagining a relaxing scene. Try this for 20 minutes while lying in bed. Involve all your senses. For example, picture yourself on a tropical island. Think of the way the warm breeze feels on your skin. Imagine the scent of the flowers. Look at the water and listen to the waves. The more vivid the image and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
  • Relaxation response: This is a way to counter the "fight or flight" stress of daily life. It is usually achieved by sitting quietly for a few minutes while concentrating on a single focus word.
  • Mindfulness: This type of meditation involves focusing on your mind on the present.

Early evidence suggests meditation may improve sleep. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says there's good evidence that these techniques can be helpful for insomnia. More research is still needed, though.

Yoga

Yoga is a system of relaxation, breathing, exercise, and healing. It has origins in Indian philosophy. It has been described as the union of mind, body, and spirit. 

A 2017 review cited evidence that yoga can relieve insomnia symptoms. The review also found benefits for mindfulness-based stress management and tai chi. Tai chi is a type of slow motion exercise.

Recap

Some studies have shown that melatonin, light exposure, meditation and relaxation, and yoga may help improve sleep.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestion. How it works is not well understood.

Hypnosis may bring about changes in the body. Examples include:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • An increase in alpha waves, slower brain waves that help you relax

This is similar to meditation and other types of deep relaxation.

Hypnosis may be helpful when used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques. So far, though, the studies have not been well-designed.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture and acupressure may help with insomnia. Studies have shown some evidence that acupressure can help. There is mixed evidence for how well acupuncture might work.

Aromatherapy

A 2011 analysis found that most studies into aromatherapy for assisting sleep aren't rigorous enough to be conclusive. However, English lavender has long been used as a folk remedy. It is one of the most soothing essential oils.

Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow. Or, place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief.

You can also try adding a few drops of lavender oil to a bath. A warm bath can also help decrease body temperature. This may help you sleep.

A few other aromatherapy oils are believed to help with sleep. These include:

Recap

There is limited evidence for the value of hypnosis, acupuncture, and aromatherapy. Some studies have shown that acupressure might help people with insomnia.

Food and Diet

What you eat and what you don't eat can impact your sleep.

Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep. Both these substances can cause insomnia and restlessness.

Drinks containing caffeine include:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Soft drinks

You may also find caffeine in unexpected places like:

  • Chocolate
  • Cough and cold medicines
  • Other over-the-counter medicine

Alcohol can also cause nighttime wakefulness.

Cut back on sugar

Sugar can give a burst of energy, but it's short-lived. It can also cause uneven blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels fall during the night, it may disrupt sleep.

Eat Foods That Help You Sleep

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.

Try eating carbohydrate snacks such as whole-grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6. This vitamin is found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas. B6 enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan.

Note that L-tryptophan supplements are not recommended. They have been linked to eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, a condition that causes pain and skin problems.

Eat Foods Rich in Magnesium

The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative. Some research shows that magnesium supplements can help with insomnia.

Magnesium deficiency can cause health problems, including:

Foods rich in magnesium include:

  • Legumes and seeds
  • Dark, leafy green vegetables
  • Wheat bran
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Whole grains

Include these whole foods in your diet. You can also try juicing dark leafy green vegetables.

Recap

What you eat and don't eat can have a big impact on your sleep. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. Try eating foods high in tryptophan or magnesium.

Vitex Agnus Castus

The herb Vitex agnus castus is also called chaste tree. It may help insomnia and sleep disturbances associated with menstrual periods and menopause.

In one study, females were treated with a combination of:

  • Vitex agnus castus
  • Magnolia extracts
  • Soy isoflavones, a plant compound that has properties similar to the hormone estrogen
  • Lactobacilli, a beneficial bacterium sometimes added to yogurt

Study participants were followed for one year. This treatment was found to be safe and effective.

Keep in mind that this herb should not be used by:

Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herbal home remedy. It is brewed as a tea or taken as a supplement. Its uses include:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Improving sleep quality
  • As a sedative

For insomnia, clinical trials of valerian have had inconsistent results. Studies measuring sleep quality have found no difference between people taking valerian and those taking a placebo.

Some people in the studies, however, anecdotally reported that their sleep quality improved with valerian.

Valerian is thought to affect levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is a calming chemical in the brain. Valerian also relieves muscle spasms. This is thought to help menstrual period pain.

Valerian is typically taken an hour before bed. A standard dose is 450 milligrams. If taken during the day, it may make you drowsy. It is often taken in two to three 300 milligram doses with meals. 

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) is a tea and herbal supplement. It is said to relieve anxiety and calm the nerves. It is sometimes included with valerian in supplements.

One 2013 study found lemon balm to be helpful. Unfortunately, reviews of studies have not found any evidence for lemon balm or other herbal "sleep formula" supplements.

Chamomile Tea

Clinical trials have not shown that this herb is helpful for insomnia. Chamomile is traditionally used to:

  • Reduce muscle tension
  • Soothe digestion
  • Reduce anxiety

This may help induce sleep.

Try sipping a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner. Don't drink too close to your bedtime, though. It may cause nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Other herbs sometimes used for insomnia include:

  • Hops
  • Passionflower

These remedies also have not been shown to be effective in studies.

Recap

Some herbal teas and supplements have a long history of use as sleep aids. Vitex agnus castus may be helpful for some females. Unfortunately, there isn't much evidence to support the use of other herbs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia is thought to be related to kidney energy weakness. This belief is not shared by Western medicine.

A few signs of kidney energy weakness are:

  • Low backache
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • A burst of energy at about 11:00 in the evening

People in menopause sometimes have this type of insomnia, including those taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as Soltamox (tamoxifen). People taking these drugs should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang. These formulas may increase estrogen levels.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda is an Indian healing philosophy. It is based on a balance between mind, body, and spirit.

In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a vata imbalance. In Ayurveda, vata is one of the three energies or life forces.

In Ayurveda, vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a vata imbalance are said to have irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia.

One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For vata imbalance this is usually warm sesame oil.

Improve Your Bedroom Feng Shui

Feng shui comes from the Chinese philosophy of Taoism. This practice provides instructions on how to arrange rooms to maximize energy flow. Try using feng shui tips for your bedroom.

Recap

Traditional practices like Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and feng shui also offer insight for improving sleep.

Other Natural Remedies

  • If you have hot flashes, try a Chillow. This is a thin, flat foam pillow insert. It can help cool your head during the night.
  • Gentle, slow music may also help improve sleep. Music therapy has been found to improve sleep quality. It may also decrease nightly awakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
  • Kava is sometimes recommended for anxiety-related insomnia. However, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury resulting from the use of supplements containing kava.
  • ack of exercise can contribute to poor sleep. Muscle tension and stress build in the body. Exercise can promote deep sleep that night. Avoid exercise too close to bedtime, though. This can increase adrenaline levels, leading to insomnia.

Summary

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

Melatonin, light exposure, meditation and relaxation, and yoga do seem to be helpful for some people. Acupressure may also help. There is less evidence for hypnosis, acupuncture, and aromatherapy.

You may be able to improve your sleep by avoiding certain substances like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar before bed. Some foods may also help you get to sleep.

Herbal teas and supplements have long been used to treat insomnia. Unfortunately, there is not much evidence for their effectiveness. 

You may also want to try traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and feng shui, or other remedies like music and exercise.

A Word From Verywell

Ask your doctor 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 doctor.

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 for pregnant people?

    Certain natural sleep remedies like yoga, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques are great for pregnant people. They can help you maintain a healthy, relaxed body and mind. If these techniques also aid in 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.

Insomnia Doctor Discussion Guide

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

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