7 Sleep Herbs and Supplements that Actually Work

7 Sleep Herbs & Supplements that Actually Work

Issues with getting to sleep and poor sleep quality are so widespread that almost everyone experiences them at some point. Multiple sources of stress in our lives from work, education, financial issues and the challenges of raising a healthy family can contribute to even more difficulty with getting a good night’s sleep.

While many people turn to prescriptions from their doctor for this problem, conventional sleeping pills often come with a host of undesired side effects. Natural herbs and supplements are a great alternative for those experiencing restlessness or anxiety that contributes to a lack of sleep.

7 of the Most effective Natural Sleep Remedies:

1. Melatonin: 

Any discussion about sleeping problems should begin with a basic understanding of melatonin. It’s a naturally occurring hormone that regulates our waking and sleeping cycles as humans. It’s primarily produced in the pineal gland, as well as in lower amounts by the retina, eye lenses and skin. It’s onset is controlled by light, and is released in response to low light conditions. This release of melatonin by our bodies in the absence of light is known as “dim light melatonin onset”. Due to modern conditions such as constant electric light, computer monitors and cellphones our natural circadian cycle has been disrupted.

Surprisingly, certain foods have trace amounts of this hormone present in them. These sources include tomatoes, tart cherries, kiwi fruit, golden berries and goji berries. While it’s difficult to get an exact dosage if you choose to supplement with foods, regular intake of these fruits can naturally increase overall melatonin levels, especially when eaten at night.

Aside from promoting healthy and deep sleep, melatonin exerts a strong antioxidant effect and can help to delay certain signs of aging. It’s a promising antioxidant for anti-aging because of it’s ability to cross the blood brain barrier and act as a direct scavenger of free radicals like oxygen, nitric oxide and hydroxide.

When shopping at a health food retailer always be aware that certain melatonin products can be derived from porcine (pig) pineal glands, a byproduct of the slaughter industry. It’s important to source a brand that is pharmaceutically synthesized to ensure higher purity and to avoid the potential of animal based contaminants.

Onnit Labs manufactures a vegan melatonin product that combines lemon balm with pure pharmaceutical grade melatonin in a naturally sweetened chewable tablet, called Melatonin 5 with Lemon Balm. The combination of melatonin with the traditional sleep aid Melissa officinalis produces a powerful synergistic effect.

2. Lemon balm (Melissa officials): 

Lemon balm is an inhibitor of GABA transaminase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Without sufficient levels of GABA, it’s common for nerve cells to become over reactive. A wide range of disorders and conditions are associated with low levels of this neurotransmitter including chronic anxiety, Parkinson’s, mood disorders and many addictive behaviors.

While GABA is a very important factor in getting quality rest and maintaining a balanced mood, the problem with using a pure extract is that oral supplementation has a poor ability to cross the blood brain barrier. Other GABA stimulators have only a temporary anxiolytic effect as our bodies natural homeostatic control quickly builds a tolerance to these compounds.

Because lemon balm naturally boosts GABA by slowing its breakdown, it has the potential for long term use without the development of tolerances. It’s also extremely easy to grow in your garden, and to forage in any urban environment. Lemon balm tea makes an incredibly inexpensive homemade remedy for sleep and stress.

3. L-Theanine: 

A rare amino acid found primarily in green tea leaves, L-theanine is known to promote a relaxed feeling of alertness and to act as a modulator for the effects of caffeine. Traditionally, Buddhist monks participating in meditation have consumed green tea as a way to increase alertness without experiencing the agitating side effects associated with other stimulants.

L-theanine is often overlooked as a sleep aid, and it has the ability to promote a relaxed alpha brain state. People frequently report an increased quality of sleep when supplementing with L-theanine directly before bed. Many companies distribute standardized L-theanine, which is sourced naturally from tea leaves. It can also be obtained directly from green tea, however only matcha tea contains substantial amounts of this compound.

4. 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan): 

5-HTP is an extract taken from griffonia seed that’s a breakdown product of the essential amino acid tryptophan on its way to forming serotonin. Deficiency of serotonin, which is your happy neurotransmitter, can be an underlying cause of anxiety conditions, depression and sleep disturbances.

5-HTP supplementation is a very well established treatment for improving sleep quality and relieving insomnia. It’s ability to increase serotonin levels can also improve your mood during the day as well as help to control appetite and sugar cravings. Another important role for serotonin is as a precursor for melatonin production. Adequate levels of vitamin B6 are also required as it’s a co-factor in this conversion process.

Onnit Labs makes one of the most complete herbal mood and relaxation products on the market. Their New Mood formula includes vitamins B3, B6 and D along with magnesium, tryptophan, valerian, chamomile and lemon balm.

However, If you take any type of serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications or have recently taken them, it’s important to avoid taking 5-HTP.

5. Magnesium: 

Up to three-quarters of North Americans are deficient in this mineral, due in part to relatively low consumption of green vegetables in the standard diet as well as lower micronutrient content in our foods due to soil depletion.

While the mineral calcium controls the contraction of muscles, magnesium is needed to relax them. A great way to add magnesium to your night-time routine is by taking a bath in magnesium salts or applying topical magnesium before a shower. The effects of magnesium absorbed through transdermal delivery are immediate and your muscles will relax, helping to promote a state of calmness that will lead to sleep.

6. Valerian (Valerian official): 

Valerian is among the most popular herbal mood and sleep aids available today. It contains multiple constituents that produce a relaxed and sedated state. It also contains the essential amino acid L-valine, which gets its name from the valerian plant that it was first isolated from. Supplementation with L-valine alone has been shown to improve symptoms of insomnia.

Valerian has been cultivated throughout history and has been used by many cultures for its sedative medicinal properties. The downside of its usage is that it has a very pungent taste, so many people prefer to use an encapsulated form as opposed to a tea or tincture.

7. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomile): 

Chamomile has a long history of use as a natural stress relief herb and sleep aid. Modern studies also offer support for its use as a sleep remedy. Another positive quality of this herb is that it acts as a mild muscular relaxant, which can soothe the digestive system and help relieve some more mild symptoms of inflammatory gut conditions or indigestion.

Chamomile is yet another sleep herb that is often consumed as tea. It can be combined with passionflower in its whole form for an even more potent effect. Herbal infusions can be a great remedy if you’re experiencing only mild sleeplessness, and don’t have a need to invest in a high quality herbal extraction intended for prolonged use.

Disclaimer:The information presented is not intended for the treatment or prevention of
disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment

Madeleine Brown

Nutrition Ambassador at Young and Raw
Madeleine is a holistic nutritionist and freelance writer born and raised in beautiful Vancouver, BC. Having turned to holistic healing as a teenager to improve her poor digestion and chronic fatigue, she's now inspired to share her knowledge and experience gained over her many years of trial and error. She's constantly experimenting in her kitchen to develop new recipes and find simple yet delicious ways to prepare whole, raw foods!