Nowadays, there’s no shortage of gizmos, gadgets, and medications you can try to improve your sleep. While many of these products are great (and hey, we’ve even tested out a few of them here at Sleepopolis), the sheer quantity can be overwhelming. In fact, it can almost make you wonder what folks did before the advent of sleep-tracking devices and fast-acting melatonin supplements.
In all likelihood, they slept, and arguably much better than we do. So, how did they combat weariness and fatigue? For my money, I’d say they probably used their fair share of natural sleep aids.
Thus inspired by our drowsy forebears, I decided to round up a few of the best natural sleep aids still available on the market. They run the gamut from teas to pills, supplements, extracts, and more and are sure to simplify your bedtime routine.
Benefits of Going Natural
Before we get into my picks, let’s chat a bit about why you might want to consider going “natural” with your bedtime routine. Though there are a lot of effective OTC medications designed to help folks slumber, there are some unique benefits to be found in switching to an organic sleep aid.
- First and foremost, the best natural sleep aids are generally considered safer than prescription drugs, mostly because they tend to have fewer negative side effects. Though not always the case, many common OTC medications can cause next-day drowsiness, headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
- They’re also more affordable! Almost all of the products I’m sharing with you today can be found for under $10 on the Internet, which makes them highly accessible.
- Additionally, many of these remedies have been used for centuries, and, in my opinion, this staying power speaks volumes to their effectiveness.
While all these benefits are noteworthy, it’s also important to point out that since most natural sleep aids are derived from herbs, they’re not regulated by the FDA. So, if you want to try out of any of my picks, I’d highly recommend chatting with a doctor before you do so, just to make sure you’re in the clear.
How I Made My Picks
My methodology for this list was fairly simple: I included a few natural sleep aids I personally use and did research into other popular methods to fill in the gaps. To be included here, the sleep aid had to be derived entirely of a natural substance (herbs, fruits, flowers) and couldn’t be mixed with any other chemical sedatives.
Accessibility was another big issue for me, as I wanted to make sure that all my picks were readily available either in-store on online. And since cost can be such a hurdle for folks looking to improve their sleep hygiene, I also endeavored to focus on relatively budget-friendly options.
But enough chat — let’s get into my picks! Below, I’ll give you a brief overview of each natural sleep aid, detailing its history, uses, and treatment profile.
Best Natural Sleep Aids
Lemon Balm is a member of the mint family and has been used to treat anxiety, improve mood, and induce slumber since the Middle Ages. Though sleep medicine has improved greatly since the time of knights and feudal overlords, the herb is still a popular calming agent most commonly seen in teas and lotions.
Part of the reason why it’s remained a favorite drowsy go-to is because there’s been a lot of research done to support the relaxing hype, with a recent study finding Lemon Balm to be effective at reducing anxiety and restlessness. (1)
Personally, I like to enjoy lemon balm in a tea. Any brand will do, but you’ll want to make sure to steep your bag in hot water for at least five minutes. Then, drink 30 minutes before bed. In my experience, lemon balm has a subtle calming effect, which helps to quiet my mind at bedtime.
Chamomile is another ancient medicinal herb with a history that reaches back hundreds of years. A member of the daisy family, this flowery plant is packed with flavonoids that have been shown to relax the body and encourage sound sleep. (2) Usually seen in teas, it’s a highly accessible natural sleep aid that you can find in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
To use, follow the same instructions as discussed with the lemon balm: steep for five minutes and enjoy 30 minutes before bed. When I drink chamomile tea, I find that it works super fast and always makes me feel satisfyingly drowsy.
In recent years, Montmorency Tart Cherry has gained traction as a possible natural sleep aid. Why? Because tart cherries are rich natural sources of melatonin, a hormone that’s been shown to induce slumber. While your body produces melatonin on its own (specifically in the pineal gland in the brain), adding an outside source of melatonin to your body’s natural supply can sometimes help improve your sleep.
While the idea sounds good in theory, only very limited clinical research has been conducted into tart cherry’s direct impact on slumber. However, a 2010 study did find that tart cherry juice was associated with statistically significant improvements in self-reported sleep among older adults with insomnia. (3)
If you want to try this remedy, you could either drink tart cherry juice or take a tart cherry pill supplement. I prefer the supplements as they’re less sugary than juice and get to work a little faster. That being said, you’ll need to take the supplements every night for at least one week before seeing results.
Kava Kava is a crop of the Pacific Islands and has long been regarded as an effective natural sleep aid. Though historically popular among the native populations of Hawaii and some parts of Micronesia, the tropical plant has only recently started to be used as an herbal medicine elsewhere.
The medicinal benefits are derived from the bitter root of the plant, which is said to have sedating effects. Research is limited, but seems to suggest that the herb could be useful for managing stress and reducing anxiety.
Kava Kava is mostly available in pill form, which you can take either during the day or at night. I tested the supplement for this review and noticed that it produced a lovely relaxing effect. It wasn’t so strong as to knock me out per say, but I definitely felt a pleasant sense of calm.
Valerian Root has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of Ancient Greece and Rome. Over the centuries, it has taken on many uses, from cough-reducing tea to mood stabilizer, sleep aid, and even elf repellant in Medieval Sweden (apparently, it was quite effective).
Nowadays, most folks take it in the form of a tea to reduce anxiety and relax the body. Though there have been many studies done into the root’s health benefits, few have looked specifically at sleep. One study from 2004, however, did find that valerian helped calm and decrease electrical activity in the brain. (4)
I personally love Valerian Root Tea and use it all the time to treat my sleep issues. Not only is it strong, but it works incredibly fast. One thing to note is that the tea has a slightly bitter taste, which may not work for all sleepers.
Lavender is one of the most popular medicinal herbs around and can be used to treat a myriad of different ailments, from topical burns to joint pain, bug bites, body tension, and poor sleep. Recent studies have pointed out that it’s specifically able to interact with the nervous system to relax and quiet the mind. (5)
As far as taking it for improved slumber, you can use lavender based sprays, lotions, creams, teas, or simply take a big whiff of the stuff right before bedtime! I’ve used it in all these different forms and have always found it to be incredibly relaxing.
And finally, let’s talk about passionflower. Native to Central and South America, this genus of flowering plants has been used for centuries to treat everything from skin boils to ear infections, restlessness, and stress-related fatigue. In our modern times, passionflower extract is often used to treat anxiety and insomnia.
While the research is somewhat limited into whether or not passionflower is actually effective at inducing slumber, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it is. To use, simply empty a dropper of passionflower extract into a glass of water, stir, and enjoy. I tried it out for this video and found it to be quite calming, though, as with Valerian Root, it does have a mildly bitter taste.
Well folks, that does it for this natural sleep aid guide! For more sleep-related content, make sure to subscribe to the Sleepopolis YouTube channel and visit us on social media.
FAQs on Sleep Aids
Are natural sleep aids expensive?
For the most part, not really! In fact, that's a big reason why many folks choose to use them over other sleep medications.
What is a good herb for sleep?
There are several great herbs for sleep. Some of the most well-researched include chamomile, lemon balm, Valerian, and lavender.
What is the most common natural sleep aid?
There's no definitive answer here, but some of the most common natural sleep aids include lavender, chamomile, and Valerian root. All three have been popular for centuries and are readily available online and in-store!
Are natural sleep aids safe?
Natural sleep aids are totally safe! However, it's important to consult with a medical professional before incorporating any new products or remedies into your bedtime routine.
- Scholey, Andrew, et al. “Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods.” Nutrients, MDPI, 30 Oct. 2014.
- Srivastava, Janmejai K, et al. “Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine of the Past with Bright Future.” Molecular Medicine Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Nov. 2010.
- Pigeon, Wilfred R, et al. “Effects of a Tart Cherry Juice Beverage on the Sleep of Older Adults with Insomnia: a Pilot Study.” Journal of Medicinal Food, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
- Yuan, Chun-Su, et al. “The Gamma-Aminobutyric Acidergic Effects of Valerian and Valerenic Acid on Rat Brainstem Neuronal Activity.” Anesthesia and Analgesia, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2004.
- Koulivand, Peir Hossein, et al. “Lavender and the Nervous System.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : ECAM, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2013.