Melatonin is the most popular over-the-counter sleep aid on the market and for years it was part of my bedtime ritual. But I’ve recently changed my stance on melatonin supplementation out of concern for both its safety and effectiveness. Here are 3 natural sleep aids that work better than melatonin.
Americans are more stressed than ever before. When you’re stressed-out, sleep quality and duration tend to suffer, triggering a hormonal cascade in the body that leads to overeating and poor dietary choices.
Prescription sleep aids are habit-forming and should be avoided. There’s growing interest in natural and holistic remedies for common health issues but quality and effectiveness can vary widely among these natural alternatives. Melatonin is the go-to sleep aid for a lot of Americans but we may want to re-think that strategy.
When you take a melatonin supplement, you’re introducing an exogenous hormone into your body. The systems responsible for our body’s natural production of hormones are intricate and tightly regulated. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea to mess with that.
The other issue with melatonin supplementation is that it’s only been shown to help shift workers and those suffering from jet lag. So keep it on hand for strategic and occasional use in those situations but for daily, long-term use, consider these safer and more effective supplements.
3 Natural Sleep Aids That Work Better Than Melatonin
Research published in Nursing in Critical Care reported that patients who inhaled natural lavender essential oil over a period of two weeks experienced better sleep and felt less anxious than participants who inhaled a placebo.
In another study, scientists at Wesleyan University gave groups of participants either natural lavender essential oil or distilled water and instructed them to sniff the solution. Sleep cycle data was recorded using brain scans and it was determined that lavender increased slow-wave sleep. This phase of the sleep cycle is when your heartbeat and muscles relax. Subjects in the lavender group had a deeper sleep with few interruptions. The group also reported feeling more energetic the next morning—a benefit you should not expect from a melatonin supplement.
TIP: Use a pure, natural essential oil that hasn’t been watered down. You can use a diffuser or a pillow spray, dab some on your neck or wrists, or you can add a few drops to a bath before bed.
Magnesium helps boost levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which slows brain activity in preparation for sleep. People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night.
Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep. Magnesium is also a natural strategy for relieving restless-leg syndrome, which can cause insomnia.
TIP: The most absorbable forms are magnesium citrate, glycinate, taurate, and aspartate. Cheaper forms like magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide won’t do much for you. Aim for 500 mg. In place of a supplement, try eating some almonds. One ounce (about 23 almonds) provides 20% of your daily magnesium requirement.
A 2009 study sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that chamomile tea reduces stress and anxiety, both of which can make it harder to get and stay asleep.
The relaxation benefits of chamomile have been attributed to a compound called apigenin, which attaches itself to benzodiazepine receptors in the central nervous system. This mechanism is similar to how Xanax and Valium exert their benefits.
If you’re not a tea drinker you can still reap the benefits of this natural sleep aid: a study involving people with chronic insomnia found that those who supplemented with natural chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days fell asleep about 15 minutes faster than participants who did not receive the extract. Further, those who received the extract woke up fewer times in the middle of the night, compared to the placebo group.
TIP: Let is steep for five ten minutes to allow the flavor to intensify and drink it 30-60 minutes before you go to bed. If you’d prefer an extract, the beneficial dose used in most studies is in the 300 – 400 mg range.
Most Americans experience sleep issues at one time or another. While melatonin is a popular choice to combat sleep dysfunction, it’s safety and effectiveness is questionable.
Natural sleep aids such as lavender, magnesium, and chamomile have all been proven safe and can even be used in combination. Unlike melatonin, they won’t leave you feeling groggy in the morning either. Because they are natural, these melatonin alternatives won’t produce side effects. In addition to helping with sleep, each of these supplements provides a range of other health benefits.