In an ideal world, we’d all be using all-natural-everything—shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, vitamins, supplements...you name it. And it’d all work. The reality is that it’s easier said than done to check the labels of every item you grab off the CVS shelf or order from Amazon. Even if you did have all the time in the world, natural products have a reputation for being, well, less effective. There’s a stigma that “you can’t have it both ways.” You either opt for the natural product or the product that works.

When it comes to sleep aids, we’re on team “both-and” rather than “either-or.” You don’t have to choose between a supplement that’s good for you and a supplement that’s good for your sleep. Because, contrary to what some may believe, natural CAN equal effective.

First things first...what do we mean by “natural”?

The word “natural” is thrown around a whole lot in the wellness world. When we use it in the context of supplements to differentiate from standard, over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills, this is what we mean:

  • Safe
    Drug-free, non-habit-forming, and safe to take as part of a long-term sleep wellness routine (without major side effects such as next-morning or next-day grogginess)—plus produced in a facility approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that is Good Manufacturing Practices and Guidelines (CGMP) compliant.
  • Clean
    Third-party tested for purity and to verify the absence of heavy metals, microbes, and pesticides.
  • Minimal
    Vegan, gluten/dairy/sugar-free, non-GMO. No artificial colors or binders.

Natural sleep supplements work. The proof is in the science.

Hundreds of positive human clinical studies show that various natural, safe supplement ingredients support sleep in two major ways:

  1. Directly impacting sleep quality or quantity (physical)
  2. Indirectly supporting sleep by reducing everyday stress and promoting a sense of calm and relaxation (emotional + behavioral)

1. Melatonin

About:
Melatonin is a hormone our bodies naturally produce to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Quantities increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours. Some choose to take the supplement form of melatonin for sleep needs since it's effective in regulating one's internal clock.

The science behind it:
A 2013 study (1) conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined the efficacy of melatonin compared to placebo and found that melatonin supplements significantly reduced the amount of time it took subjects to fall asleep (aka sleep latency).

It’s particularly effective in resetting your natural sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm. It's ideal post-shift work—or for frequent travelers suffering from jet lag and a disrupted sleep schedule across time zones. In some cases, standard melatonin (which has been shown to support sleep onset) is combined with MicroActive® (MA) extended-release melatonin, which has been shown in dissolution studies to provide support throughout the night rather than just during the first hour.

READ MORE: The Proper Guide To Melatonin: Uses, Types, Side Effects, + More

2. Valerian Root

About:
Valeriana officinalis
, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Europe and Asia whose roots have been used since ancient Greek and Roman times as a sleep promoter.

The science behind it:
Research shows (2-6) that valerian plays a role prior to and during N1 (first sleep stage) when the body needs to feel calm, relaxed, and drowsy in order to move to N2 (second sleep stage). By working synergistically with a natural amino acid known as GABA (more on that below), valerian root extract ensures a more relaxed, calm state.

READ MORE: A Guide To The 4 Stages Of Sleep (REM + NREM)

Valerian Root

3. Lemon Balm

About:
As its name suggests, lemon balm (or Melissa officinalis) is a lemony-scented herb derived from the same botanical family as mint. Although it's native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, it’s grown throughout the world.

The science behind it:
When combined with valerian root, lemon balm has been shown (7) to ease symptoms of sleep disorders—although more research is needed to validate the findings. In additional studies, (8-10) lemon balm was shown to foster a sense of calmness, enhance cognition, and reduce feelings of anxiety, all of which may contribute to improved sleep quality.

4. GABA

About:
Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter produced naturally in the brain that decreases activity in your nervous system.

The science behind it:
When GABA binds to its receptor (GABA-A), it renders the neuron less responsive to stimulation. In essence, it suppresses or inhibits the central nervous system to reduce excitability and, when bound, produces a calming effect that may support a reduction in stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.

READ MORE: The Proper Guide To GABA For Better Sleep

5. L-theanine

About:
L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that was discovered in 1949. Because it has been shown, in clinical studies, to promote relaxation without drowsiness, many people consume it in tea or supplement form to help them unwind, relax, and cope with everyday stress.

The science behind it:
Four studies (11-14) show that L-theanine effectively reduced symptoms of stress and anxiety among participants, with additional studies (15-18) finding that L-theanine enhanced mood, performance, and mental alertness without causing drowsiness.

6. Ashwagandha

About:
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which refers to a group of herbs that have been used in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) for thousands of years to promote longevity, enhance vitality, support a healthy immune response, enhance focus, and help reduce everyday stress and fatigue.

The science behind it:
Sensoril® Ashwagandha, which is derived from a unique extract of the leaves and roots of the Withania somnifera plant, has been studied in 14 human clinical trials. It has been shown to decrease cortisol (a key marker of stress) and relieve occasional sleeplessness. (19)

READ MORE: The Proper Guide To Ashwagandha For Stress + Anxiety

Ashwagandha


7. Chamomile

About:
Chamomile isn’t your ordinary medicinal herb—it’s one of the oldest known to mankind. It’s found as one of two varieties: German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) and Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

The science behind it:
Chamomile contains flavonoids, a group of natural plant chemicals (aka phytonutrients) that, in addition to contributing to the vivid hues of fruits and vegetables, also contributes to its sleep-promoting effects. Clinical trials (20) suggest that it functions as a central nervous system relaxer (similar to valerian). Chamomile extract has been shown (21-23) to improve sleep quality and may be effective and safe for supporting general anxiety.

8. Magnesium

About:
Magnesium is an incredibly common mineral found in a variety of foods, including leafy greens, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and whole grains. It's essential for bone, brain, heart, and muscle health.

The science behind it:
Magnesium levels appear to play a key role in your body’s circadian rhythm, (24) which responds primarily to light and darkness. And remember—regulating the sleep-wake cycle based on circadian rhythm is essential for healthy sleep.

Note: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, please seek medical advice from your healthcare provider prior to taking any dietary supplements/sleep medicine. It’s also best to consult with your doctor to ensure whichever supplement you choose won’t interact with other medications you’re taking for conditions such as high blood pressure, antidepressants, etc. About Herbs and Drugs.com are two great resources for this.

The effectiveness of natural sleep supplements isn’t one-size-fits-all

Sleep is complicated. No surprise there. But it’s still worth noting because anyone who occasionally has trouble sleeping or suffers from more complex sleep problems (insomnia, sleep apnea, sleep deprivation, etc.) needs to first understand if these issues are caused by physical, emotional, and/or behavioral concerns—each of which comes with its own solution...or multiple solutions.

"I am often asked if I can recommend a specific supplement, medication, therapy, etc. that will definitely correct someone's sleep issue, and my response usually entails a prolonged explanation that the therapeutic nature for each person is unique to his or her sleep issue," explains Ruchir Patel, MD, MB, BCh, FACP, a fellowship-trained sleep medicine specialist who's double board-certified in Sleep Medicine and Internal Medicine. "With that being said, I have noted over the last 10+ years in my sleep medicine clinic that not everyone responds the same to melatonin (in fact, I have noted anecdotally that ~50% of patients actually note a positive response) and the same applies to all-natural sleep aids. Our bodies metabolize everything we place into them differently."

Improving sleep health isn't a one-size-fits-all issue, nor does it have a one-size-fits-all solution. Your sleep and overall health must be evaluated holistically to help you understand and solve the issue(s).

But to answer the question at hand? Yes, natural sleep aids can be effective in producing better sleep in the short term and long term.

Join the pursuit of Proper sleep to experience what a natural good night's sleep feels like for yourself.