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The Most Effective Natural Sleep Aids to Help With Insomnia

Reviewed and edited by Tod Cooperman, M.D. Tod Cooperman, M.D.
Initial Posting: 11/14/2015    Last Update: 2/18/2020

Question:
Which supplements can help me sleep?
Supplements for Sleep -- woman awake in bed
Answer:
There are several supplements, discussed below, which may help to improve sleep -- as well as several which may interfere with sleep. Use the links to get more details, including dosage, cautions and ConsumerLab.com's ratings of tested products. What you eat may also affect sleep.

The following supplements may improve sleep:

Melatonin is one the most popular supplements for sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster, although it will not necessarily help you sleep longer. Some research has shown it may also improve the quality of sleep in people with tinnitus, and improve sleep quality and duration in people with autism. However, be aware that taking melatonin may increase leg movements in restless legs syndrome.

Tart cherries contain a small amount of melatonin, and there is some evidence that tart cherry juices, concentrates and extracts may contain enough melatonin to improve sleep for some people. One study, for example, found that drinking two 8 oz. glasses of tart cherry juice daily moderately improved some measures of sleep, such as reducing waking after falling asleep in older adults.

L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are amino acids which are used by the body to produce melatonin (as well as serotonin). L-tryptophan supplements can increase sleepiness and decrease the time needed to fall asleep in people with mild insomnia, but have not been shown to increase sleep time. They do not appear to be helpful for people with severe insomnia. (Be sure to read Concerns and Cautions for these supplements.)

L-theanine, an amino acid found in black and green tea, can reduce stress and improve sleep quality, but does not cause drowsiness. Interestingly, L-theanine may also help to increase alertness during the day.

There is preliminary evidence that CBD (cannabidiol) can help improve sleep in people with insomnia and other conditions that can cause difficulty sleeping, such as anxiety and Parkinson's disease.

One small study found magnesium reduced leg movement associated with waking in people with restless leg syndrome, although this study was not blinded or placebo controlled.

Ashwagandha may improve sleep quality and decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as reduce anxiety, according to one clinical trial.

Saffron extract provided a modest benefit in a small, company-funded clinical trial. The study, among 55 men and women (average age 50) in Australia with mild to moderate insomnia, found that 14 mg of saffron extract (affron®, Pharmactive Biotech Products -- standardized to 3.5% lepticrosalides) taken twice daily for 28 days modestly reduced self-reported severity of insomnia symptoms (i.e., difficulty falling and staying asleep, early morning awakenings) and improved sleep quality (as indicated by reported tiredness, mood, and energy) compared to placebo. Most of these improvements occurred within the first seven days of supplementation (Lopresti, J Clin Sleep Med 2020). [Note: The same extract has been found to decrease symptoms of depression].

Valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid, although the evidence behind this use is mixed. One study reported an improvement in sleep for postmenopausal women who suffered from insomnia; however, a review of 37 studies of valerian concluded it was probably not effective for treating insomnia. Like ashwagandha, however, it may have a calming effect and be helpful for stress and anxiety, which can contribute to insomnia.

Prevagen, a branded supplement that contains jellyfish protein, and PQQ, and antioxidant compound, have each been tested in a single study and found to improve sleep -- however neither study was placebo-controlled.

For more information, see the Encyclopedia article about Insomnia, which provides information about information about other proposed supplements for sleep.

The following supplement may make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep:

In addition to the obvious culprits - such as energy drinks, weight loss supplements and cocoa products which contain caffeine and/or other stimulants - supplements such as red yeast rice, garlic, policosanol (a common ingredient in cholesterol-lowering supplements), DHEA and chromium have been reported to cause insomnia in some people. Vitamin D and CoQ10, taken in high doses or at nighttime, may also make it difficult to fall asleep.

There is also some evidence that diet, and specifically, carbohydrate intake, can affect the risk of insomnia. A study that followed over 50,000 postmenopausal women in the U.S. found that those whose diets were highest on the dietary glycemic index (i.e., diets that most increase blood sugar levels) were 11% more likely to have insomnia at the start of the study and 16% more likely to develop insomnia over the next three years than those whose diets were lowest on the dietary glycemic index. Higher risk of developing insomnia was specifically associated with higher intakes of added sugars, starch, and refined grains, while higher intakes of fruit (but not fruit juice) and vegetables, dietary fiber, and whole grains were associated with a lower risk (Gangwisch, Am J Clin Nutr. 2019).

Learn More About Supplements and Sleep:



Can L-theanine help as a sleep aid? Will ConsumerLab.com be testing these supplements? >>

Could my CoQ10 supplement be causing my insomnia? >>

What is the best way to take melatonin to get a good night's sleep? >>

What are the health benefits of tart cherry juice? >>

I've heard that taking vitamin D can reduce your natural production of melatonin and interfere with sleep. Is this true? >>

I started taking red yeast rice and soon after developed insomnia. Could my red yeast rice supplement be the problem? >>

Can glycine really help improve my sleep? >>

Do any supplements help for restless legs syndrome? >>

I am having trouble sleeping. I regularly take a multivitamin, fish oil, magnesium, calcium, vitamins D and K, and a protein supplement. I also take a low-dose blood pressure medication. Could any of these supplements be causing my insomnia? >>

Can CBD help with insomnia or improve sleep? >>

See other recent and popular questions >>
COMMENTS

Elizabeth20134   June 7, 2020
Everyone on here who is having trouble sleeping, please try eating 2 kiwi fruits about 2 hours before bed. It's like a miracle, it's cheap and kiwi is good for you anyway! There is some evidence to back this up: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21669584/

There are other studies also. But of course because you can't patent kiwi fruit, there is little monetary incentive to study and publish on this, since you can't make money on it.

But I have struggled with insomnia for 10+ years and the only thing that has worked like a miracle for me is this method. Every time I have done this, I sleep through the night and wake up feeling so refreshed it's insane. I NEVER sleep through the night or wake up feeling refreshed otherwise, ever.

Unfortunately for me, I can't do this all the time because kiwi also contains an enzyme which is what they make meat tenderizer out of, and I have a history of ulcers and a sensitive stomach, so if I take it for more than one 1 or 2 nights my stomach starts to hurt.

But I wanted to spread this message since it's such a miracle cure for insomnia and if you have a normal stomach, you should be able to tolerate it! Happy sleeping, all.

Sherry19024   January 17, 2020
I have been taking an herbal medicine called Deep Sleep. It really helps my sleep pattern. It claims its safe but would love for Consumer Lab to investigate it.


Martha18819   January 6, 2020
In addition to 390 mg algal-based DHA (with 195 mg EPA - Nordic Naturals brand) helping me to sleep beyond my usual 2.5-3 hrs, I've also found St John's Wort (Perika brand) to help -- it was the only thing that jarred my system out of a 4-day streak of no sleep and the brink of total meltdown. After the SJW, I went 2 weeks sleeping about 5-6 hrs most nights and was thrilled. Then I had to increase the dose from 1 to 1.5 tabs, then to 2 tabs. Unfortunately then the effects seemed to wear off and now I don't notice a big difference whether or not I take it. Melatonin helps to fall asleep but because it peaks pretty quickly (and in opposition to natural melatonin's release curve) I almost always wake up after 3 hours. I tried the sustained 6-hr release melatonin only once and had a horrible migraine the next day, although I did not wake up after 3 hrs as I did with immediate release melatonin. I've been too scared to try it again due to the migraine, but I'm not sure if there's a cause/effect relationship between the controlled release melatonin and the migraine. The other supplement that helped significantly with falling asleep was Eclectic SLEEP drops (valerian and passionflower). Those definitely help me to fall asleep, but again, I typically wake up after 3 hrs, and taking it when I wake up in the night doesn't help me fall back asleep - just gives me a hangover effect the next day. I'm also experimenting with evening primrose oil which seems to have some effect but I haven't figured out exactly what that effect is. L-theanine did nothing for me. Tried pumpkin seeds for the tryptophan but it caused bad upset stomach and GI issues and I didn't notice sleep improvement. Might try it again in a bedtime smoothie - worth a shot -- I don't want to take the risks of EMS with tryptophan supplements in capsule form.

Devereau19101   February 19, 2020
Have you tried any form of magnesium? I have tried both a powder desolved in water, (only about 200mg) and just soaking my hand in warm water with Epsom salt, and it seems to help me stay asleep longer, but it doesn't seem continue working, so I use it one or two nights, then go off it, then try it again several nights later. This sounds iffy I know, but may be worth a try. The magnesium may also loosen your BM.
I have also heard people say that CBD has helped.
I hope you find something to help, lack of sleep at your level is truly horrible!

Sandra19105   February 19, 2020
Anything I take for sleep actually makes it worse. It seems to have a reverse effect upon me. Perhaps you could try altering your diet e.g. going keto for a couple of weeks. I found it certainly helped my sleep but I can't stick to it long term because it makes me feel tired and a bit unwell. You could also try going very low carb after say breakfast and just have something fatty before bed. Have you looked at the possibility that some foods keep you awake? Good luck!

Carol18468   September 29, 2019
Children taking Omega-3 fish oil, specifically DHA, was found to increase sleep in UK children by about an hour, compared to those taking a corn or canola oil placebo:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4263155/pdf/jsr0023-0364.pdf
Some sleep specialists are now recommending fish oil for this benefit, on top of the other benefits of fish oil.

Martha18818   January 6, 2020
Thanks for the study link! Looks like the kids were given 600 mg algal DHA. I've been having horrible insomnia for 3 years ever since 3rd trimester of pregnancy. Got worse and worse. I've been taking 390 mg algal DHA myself and noticed a distinct improvement, although I still have bad nights of sleeplessness. At one point I ran out of the DHA and then forgot about taking it. Just recently I restarted it and noticed a marked improvement. My post-menopausal mother has also noticed improvements with algal DHA (we prefer algae-based to avoid mercury).

Jay18102   July 7, 2019
People should be aware that melatonin can cause a gassy diarrhea. Personal experience +
https://www.healingwell.com/community/default.aspx?f=26&m=2994343
https://www.apoe4.info/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=4853

Karen16597   March 17, 2018
Accidentally discovered that half a Zyrtec or generic equivalent about 3hrs before bedtime makes me stay asleep or if I do wake up, I fall back asleep fairly quickly. Had started Zyrtec trying to help allergies at night time. Realized after a few days I was sleeping through the night which was rare after I started menopause. It does not make me drowsy like Benadril. I remain alert until I fall asleep. It just helps me STAY asleep. Whole pill was too much for me causing a groggy morning "hangover". Half pill works well without hangover. Been taking evening half-pill for several years with no apparent side effects. Still working finding effective allergy meds or supplements.

Robin18824   January 8, 2020
Dr Daniel Amen has warnings on long term use and brain shrinkage leading to risk for dementia. Look his video up on YouTube if interested

Michael16575   March 14, 2018
I've found that any /all of these help sleep: GABA 2 grams (dissolve in warm water - tasteless), Rhodiola, St. John's Wort 1 capsule 1 hr. before bedtime. Melatonin used to help, but since I started taking B6 (2mg/day), it no longer does. Theanine has no effect on me, day or night.

ConsumerLab.com   March 19, 2018
Hi Michael - Thank you for sharing this. We're not aware of any reason that taking vitamin B6 would make melatonin less effective (some melatonin supplements add vitamin B6 as an ingredient, although the benefit of this is unclear: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/melatonin-supplements/melatonin/#timedrelease). Also, you are taking a large dose of GABA, which, taken orally, is not likely to improve sleep (see the same section of the Melatonin Review, as well as the Encyclopedia article about GABA ( https://www.consumerlab.com/tnp.asp?chunkiid=222543).

Sydney Gurewitz8059   November 15, 2015
I put a few drops of White Chestnut Flower Essence under my tongue at night, and it seems to help me quiet my busy brain so I can get some sleep. Hope it works for you, too.

James-Henry8055   November 15, 2015
What about kava-kava? Skullcap? Hops?

Amy8063   November 16, 2015
Hi James-Henry - These are discussed in the Encyclopedia article about Insomnia, linked to in the second to last paragraph in the above answer.


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This CL Answer initially posted on 11/14/2015. Last updated 2/18/2020.
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