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A Natural Sleep Aid: Different Types and Their Effects

written by / April 22, 2020
Natural Sleep Aid - Featured

Today, people often ask, “How can I get a better night’s sleep naturally?”. And it’s no wonder since modern life is filled with challenges preventing us from getting a good night’s rest. Low-quality sleep can be the onset of a myriad of health conditions. These include anxiety, depression, dementia, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases. Obviously, lack of quality sleep is linked to psychological and physiological diseases. 

Long-term sleep deprivation can bring negative changes to our basic physiology. Fortunately, people can tackle this problem with a natural sleep aid, and modern pharmacy offers more than a few options that can help us achieve a good night’s rest. 

Nature vs. Science

In contrast to prescription sleeping pills, these natural remedies have proven to be useful both traditionally and in modern medicine. There are many pharmaceutical sleep aids out there, and most of them are presented as effective and safe. However, there is a tone of misinformation in these claims. Herbs can also be harmful if used inappropriately, while amino acid-based supplements can become ineffective with prolonged use. 

Selecting the right product to help us fight off sleepless nights is challenging. A manufacturer’s quality statement can have as much influence on our choice as the composition of the product. To appropriately choose any of the natural sleep aids for insomnia, one must know their basic therapeutic traits. So let’s dive into the world of bark, stem, flower, root, and leaf. 

Chemically speaking, insomnia cures are a very diverse group. 

A sleeping aid can be any compound that can — in its natural form or altered — travel through blood vessels and cross the blood-brain barrier in satisfying quantities to express an inhibitory activity on the central nervous system (CNS). Depending on the receptors targeted and the dosage, therapeutic outcomes may vary. 

The 3 Main Categories of Sleeping Remedies by Chemical Origin

  1. Natural remedies for sleep are mainly herbs and their extracts. Albeit traditional, they are carefully assessed by modern science. Pure herbal extracts are mainly found in liquid form, while some are in powder or tablet form. Their potency varies depending on the composition and the extraction method. 
  2. Synthetic remedies are industrial products that contain chemicals like benzodiazepines or barbiturates. Therefore, they’re much stronger than natural sleep aids. They are the main active ingredients in prescription sleeping pills. Although effective, they have a significant number of adverse effects, such as the development of tolerance, rebound insomnia, and high abuse potential. When used in large amounts, they can lead to coma or death.
  3. Semi-synthetic remedies are the ones that are natural by origin, but slightly structurally altered or chemically enhanced to reach higher efficiency. Most of the products in forms of tablets or capsules — which are labeled as natural sleep aid pillsare semi-synthetic. 

In this article, we consider natural anything with a natural origin, regardless of the pharmaceutical dosage form, method of chemical alteration, or extraction process.

Pharmacy’s Consideration of Natural Choices

Herbal extracts have been used to aid sleep since ancient times. Home remedies have been cooked, cast, strained off excess liquid, and preserved. Often, they were secreted and used in undesirable quantities. These old recipes endured the test of time and are still in use today. However, some of the unstandardized and unregulated homemade remedies for sleep are considered unsafe.

Modern pharmacies offer the following natural sleep medications

OTC drugs these contain purified extracts and have clearly defined maximum daily dosages. The efficiency of herbal OTC drugs has been clinically proven, while their pharmacological effect can be accurately quantified. By the FDA regulation, these remedies are carefully tested for quality, safety, and efficiency.

Dietary supplements these include compounds that have no established dosage. They have low potency and are considered mild and non-toxic. They have Recommended Daily Allowances, which determine an approximate dose. Supplements are often complex in composition and can include minerals and other ingredients. Natural sleep supplements are only tested for toxic substances and not for their active ingredients or toxicity. 

Homeopathy

Although a medical controversy, homeopathy is based on natural substances, in which herbal extracts and mineral salts are the main active ingredients. A homeopathic preparation contains a low concentration of active ingredients, therefore acutely subdosing the patient. It’s the repetitive dosing regime that provides the desired medical outcome. 

With concordance, the homeopathic preparations for sleep can be very effective. They’re a craftsman’s mixture of specific ingredients used in various preparations and excellent natural remedies for sleep aid

The Best Natural Sleeping Aids

Insomnia has many causes, such as lifestyle habits, stress, and organic disorders. Thus, the right approach to treating sleep deprivation is mainly individual. Natural cures mostly act as anxiety remedies, as they have sedative properties. Some of the products are a clever mixture of several compounds, and their overuse can lead to severe drowsiness, followed by amnesia, disorientation, and falls. You might ask, “What is the most effective natural sleep aid?” And the answer is there isn’t a universal solution. There are only different combinations and individual approaches. 

List of Commonly Used Natural Sedatives 

Not all natural sleep remedies are created equal. Their effectiveness is characterized by the main active ingredient, mechanism of action, available dosage, and associated risks and limitations.

Herbs

Valerian: An Ancient Sleeping Remedy

Natural Sleep Aid - Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis) is essentially native to Asia and Europe. However, due to its frequent use, it has been cultivated worldwide. The ancient Greeks used the root of valerian for its tranquilizing properties. The root extract contains powerful alkaloids, such as actinidine, valerianine, and valerine. These alkaloids have a benzodiazepine structure and act as GABA agonists in the CNS, thus potentiating its depressive effects. 

As a natural sleep aid, valerian is very effective. Synthetic benzodiazepines have a mechanism of action similar to the valerian root. Although it has been used for millennia, its potential for curing anxiety disorders in the long-term is still unknown. According to research, the clinical trials that used this herb in mainstream anxiety treatment are still inconclusive.

Valerian is used as a potent sedative and muscle relaxant. In insomnia treatment, it’s most effective as a sleep onset drug. Newer studies show that when taken over a one- to two- week period, valerian proves to be an effective natural herbal sleep aid for treating mild to moderate sleep disorders. 

Dosing varies depending on the extract. It ranges from 300–900mg and should be taken before bedtime. The onset is also relative, and the potency of the extract determines it. So it can take from 30 minutes to two hours for it to take effect. 

Valerian interacts with synthetic CNS depressants, especially with benzodiazepines, alcohol, barbiturates, and antidepressants. People with stomach problems should use it with caution. The adverse effects of valerian use include stomach ache, dry mouth, uneasiness, and morning drowsiness. There are also recorded cases of hepatotoxicity. Still, it’s considered one of the safest natural sleep remedies for adults.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) is used for culinary as well as for therapeutic purposes. It’s known for its strong lemon fragrance and has been used in ancient Egypt. Lemon balm extract reduces the symptoms of anxiety, and it’s well tolerated for short-term use. In low doses, it is used for indigestion, and new data shows its potential in the treatment of  Alzheimer’s disease.

Although lemon balm is generally considered to be a safe natural sleep aid, there are limitations to its use. Adverse effects include abdominal pain and nausea. It shouldn’t be taken with prescription sleep medicines and stomach medication. As for the dosing, 300mg of the standardized extract should be taken twice daily for 15 days to treat insomnia. 

Hops

Hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is widely popular as a beer ingredient, and its calming properties are known among beer lovers. However, further research is needed for the quantification of its solitary use. There is scientific evidence that claims that the use of hops extract needs 28 days to fully express its effect as a natural sleep remedy for insomnia. The herb is mostly used in combinations with others, and it’s an effective potentiator of valerian and lemon balm effects.

Passion Fruit

Passion fruit (Passiflora Incarnata) is a herb Native Americans use for treating nervousness and insomnia. It’s cultivated and used worldwide today, and it remains California’s favorite herb for treating anxiety. It contains alkaloids, chrysin and harman, which have MAO-inhibitory properties. They are used as a mild antidepressant and indirectly can help regulate the circadian balance and positively affect sleep. 

The study from 2017 states that there is sufficient evidence for the consideration of creating a drug based on the extract of passion fruit. Passiflora is a safe and effective natural remedy to help sleep. In supplements terms, RDA is not determined, and the dosages may vary. 

Lavender 

The use of Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) for insomnia has been present within the aromatherapy principles for centuries. When applied externally, it has mild relaxing properties, and it could help with the treatment of migraine and depression. 

However, new staggering research results claim that oral lavender preparation can be used as an anxiolytic, mood stabilizer, sedative, and even as an anticonvulsant. Lavender inhalations are recommended as natural sleep aids for kids. Its dosing varies depending on the potency of the extract, and it takes from six to eight weeks for the herb to express its effects fully. 

Chamomile

Chamomile (Matricaria Chamomilla) is one of the most used herbs in the world today. It is a common component of herbal teas and mixtures. It relaxes smooth muscles and is a mild sedative. Drinking chamomile tea will aid relaxation and sleep. The effects start after 30–90 minutes. Chamomile is also a natural sleep aid for kids.

Cannabis

Today, cannabis (Cannabis Sativa var. Indica) is used both traditionally and medically. The expansion of THC and CBD products on the market has opened the door to thriving scientific research. The new results reveal a variety of sleep benefits. One study illustrates that THC consumption reduces REM sleep. It also induces the quicker onset of sleepiness and increases stage four of sleep.

Cannabis is considered a quality sleep remedy but needs to be administered carefully. If a tolerance appears, the dose increment is followed by side-effects, such as nausea and vomiting. Withdrawal symptoms include drowsiness, followed by demotivational syndrome, depression, and mild anxiety. It’s not listed among recommended natural sleeping remedies, and it should be taken only in cases of severe, drug-tolerant insomnia.

Other Herbs

Natural Sleep Aid - Other Herbs

  • Magnolia bark is used as a neuroprotective and a mild relaxant. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce oxidative stress, which is affiliated with dementia. It has also been used in herbal teas as a relaxing component and as an antidepressant.
  • Drinking tea is associated with better mental clarity and calmer sleep. The main component L-theanine is an amino acid that elevates the levels of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA in the CNS. Tea is not considered among the common natural sedatives for sleep, but drinking tea as a part of a regular diet has many sleep benefits. 
  • New developing research suggests that taking California poppy can aid with mild to moderate anxiety. It is also used for bedwetting in children older than three years.
  • Kava has potent alkaloids that also act as GABA enhancers and therefore are used as depressants. There is evidence that kava can be used as a mild anxiolytic and sleep inducer. However, an excessive amount of kava can have opposing effects on the CNS and lead to anorexia, elevated anxiety, and gastrointestinal problems.

Hormones

Melatonin

As a natural sleep aid, melatonin is very effective. It’s a brain hormone that regulates circadian rhythm. It decreases the neural activity that maintains wakefulness and induces natural sleep. 

It is considered safe with both children and the elderly. New information on melatonin shows promising results in the early prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. It regulates circadian rhythm disorders in third-shift workers and people affected by jet lag. 

Melatonin increases REM sleep, helps the brain regenerate during sleeping hours, and is treated as the most effective natural sleep aid for enhancing sleep quality.

Therapy outcomes depend on the preparation of a melatonin supplement. One study shows that fast-acting oral preparations are more efficient as sleep remedies than their slow-acting counterparts. Additionally, oral sprays that are absorbed directly from the buccal mucosa are seven times more efficient than oral tablets.

The usual doses are between 1–3 mg per day, taken before sleep. It works better if it’s dark outside. Caution is recommended with adolescents, because it can affect their daily rhythm, therefore alternating their hormonal levels.

Minerals

Magnesium

This mineral has more than 300 enzyme functions within the human body. It affects the brain, blood, heart, bone, liver, lung, and gland metabolism. Some mineral salts are commonly used for constipation and in the clinical treatment of preeclampsia. It can also be considered as a natural remedy for sleep disorders, as it has relaxing properties. 

Magnesium helps regenerate the biological clock, and it can be effective for restless leg syndrome. The research shows that taking 300–500 mg per day can relax blood vessels and relieve symptoms of headaches and mild anxiety. It can be used safely in adolescents and pregnancy.

Evidence shows that magnesium adds to the overall sleep score by helping with sleep onset and duration. Furthermore, 400 mg of this mineral in the evening can reduce the difficulty of early morning rises.

The most important aspect regarding magnesium supplements is their active compound, out of which biological magnesium is provided. The complex organic compounds, such as magnesium-dioxide, are ten times more efficient than inorganic ones.

Amino Acids as Natural Sleep Remedies

  • Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is the main precursor for the biochemical synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. The use of this substance has been proven effective as a sleep aid and in relieving symptoms of mild anxiety. 
  • Glycine is a vital amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When ingested as a supplement, it induces a stress-relieving state, which then reduces anxiety and induces sleep. It’s an effective natural sleep aid for seniors, which prolongs the REM sleep. In the CNS, glycine controls the synthesis of melatonin.
  • 5-hydroxytryptamine is an effective form of tryptophan in the body. In comparison to the plain amino acid, this compound acts more quickly and effectively. It aids sleep and prolongs its duration. It has been considered useful as a constituent within the complex sleep-aid natural supplements
  • S-adenosyl-L-methionine is a compound that biologically affects the creation of monoamines such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. It is used as an antidepressant and could be used as a sleep modifier.

DIY Home Medicine for Sleep

The internet generation researches web pages tenaciously for ways of improving quality of life, which often includes reading about various homemade sleeping solutions. Making natural home remedies for sleep is a questionable practice. In most cases, it includes diluting some essential oils and applying aromatherapy. This has been proven effective in relaxing the peripheral nerves, which puts the whole body in a state of relief and makes sleep more attainable. 

However, creating potions and powders for oral use is risky and, therefore, not recommended. An orally applied high-concentration lavender extract can cause esophageal erosion, nausea, and vomiting. High doses of the valerian root extract can lead to a potentiated effect and prolong drowsiness, which may last for several days. 

Sleep Aids for Children

There are few natural sleep remedies for children, and this is mainly because these substances are not tested on kids. Prescription sleeping pills are used only in rare cases of severe insomnia. In most cases, natural remedies are unregulated and inapplicable. 

However, there’s empirical evidence that low-dose combinations can be both effective and safe. If a child has autism or an attention deficit disorder, a doctor may prescribe a combination of omega-3 acids and lavender vapors. 

According to a study from 2016, it’s safe to say that melatonin is a good choice as a natural sleep aid for toddlers; however, there’s still insufficient data to make this a recognized medical recommendation. Melatonin should not be given to children under two years of age without medical supervision. Side effects of melatonin include nausea, vomiting, agitation, headaches, bedwetting, and dizziness. 

There is also empirical evidence that shows that lemon balm is safe in children older than three years. Low-dose preparations are prescribed for insomnia in a treatment period of one month. Furthermore, essential oils are used as natural sleep remedies for babies. Vapors and skin-spreadings are common choices. Moreover, mandarin oil, tea tree oil, chamomile oil, lemon oil, and lavender oil are all effective. When using oils, appropriate dilution is of the essence.

Are You Having Trouble Sleeping While Pregnant?

Pregnancy insomnia is common, and it can have numerous causes, such as pre-pregnancy anxiety, hormonal changes, and frequent wakes that break sleep. It’s not recommended to take any drug that can affect sleep in the first trimester, except in some rare cases. 

Antihistamines (diphenhydramine) are commonly used OTC medication for sleep in pregnancy. Natural sleep aids for pregnancy are rarely used. However, there’s evidence that aromatherapy can be effective, but it should be used with caution because it can cause nausea. 

Magnesium can be prescribed to treat leg cramps and constipation, but if taken in the evening, it can relax the nerves and muscles. Tryptophan tablets are considered safe during pregnancy but only under medical supervision. 

Sleep Aids for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a collapse of upper airways during sleep. The sudden seizing of breathing can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. This condition is seldom successfully treated with prescription medication. Unfortunately, there isn’t a natural remedy for sleep apnea. This is mostly because the available substances act on the CNS, which fails to control the spasm of upper breathing organs during sleep.

Medical cannabis has been used traditionally for sleep apnea. According to a recent study, there’s strong evidence that a semi-synthetic drug called dronabinol can be effective for sleep apnea, although there’s still more research to be done on this matter. 

Natural Sleep Remedies for the Elderly

Polypharmacy is the most common problem with the older population. 67% of the elderly use more than five medications per day. Therefore, the choice of an optimal natural sleeping medication must take into account the complexities of drug interactions. 

Older people that do not exercise and rarely eat nutritious diets tend to have severe sleeping problems and are treated with stronger prescription drugs. However, many of the natural medicines that are available can aid in mild to moderate cases. The use of melatonin as a natural sleep remedy has been proven effective, although some studies show possible interactions with dementia drugs. Amino acid products are also considered safe and effective and have less or no interactions with already used meds.

FAQs

Which is better for sleep, valerian or melatonin? 

There’s a significant difference between valerian and melatonin products. Valerian is dominantly an anxiolytic, while melatonin is a natural sleep hormone. Valerian can lower the stress symptoms and sedate into a state of tranquility, and it has stronger effects on falling asleep. 

Melatonin does not have such properties as it acts on inducing deep sleep. Therefore, it has more effect on the quality of sleep. Many products on the market have a combination of these two substances, and they have been proven most effective in both inducing and maintaining sleep.

What can I eat to stay asleep all night?

There are plenty of foods that — if consumed in the evening — can help a person fall asleep more quickly. Foods like turkey, milk, and fish contain tryptophan, or glycine, which act as sleep-inducing amino acids. Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews, contain a high percentage of magnesium. Some of them also have amino acids that are used in melatonin synthesis.

Is melatonin safe to take every night?

Melatonin is a biological component of our organism. As such, it’s heavily metabolized. A dose of 1mg of melatonin can last from three to five hours until it’s metabolized and eliminated. Given that there are no residual effects, it can be safe to use every night. There’s evidence that melatonin can be safely used in doses of 2–3mg every night for three to four months, after which a pause is recommended to regenerate the circadian rhythm fully.  

Conclusion 

Can a battle between wakefulness and sleep in the times of unrest be resolved by a natural remedy for sleep? Their main disadvantage is that they are not regulated in terms of extraction, potency, and dosing. Therefore, the effects can significantly vary between different products. They cannot cure insomnia but are used for mild to moderate cases. As there are no studies that depict the behavior of a natural substance over a long period, the lasting effects are unknown.

However, the main advantage of going with a natural sleep aid is the variety of choice. And what’s best, they are effective and susceptible to combination. Regardless of the age group, they help with different types of pathology, and there’s evidence of use in both children and pregnant women. These natural aids are safe both in terms of side effects and overdosing, making them the perfect solution to our sleeping problems.  

I think about milligrams every day. How much is enough, and how they can cure or hurt. My morning dose of caffeine gives me focus. And for the rest of the day, I think about herbal remedies, medical devices, supplements, nutrients, and heavy medication. By day I work with drugs behind the counter. By night I think about apostrophe misplacement. By day I try to explain substances to others and by night I explain sentences to myself. I am a pharmacist and a writer.