Mind and Body

The 12 best natural sleep aids

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If you have trouble sleeping, you probably don't need a scientific study to tell you that a good night's rest is essential for your mood. But not getting enough sleep doesn't just make you feel irritable the next day, it can also prematurely age your body and impact how well your brain processes memories. If you could use some help getting some quality shut-eye, the best natural sleep aids could help you to reap the benefits of sleep more easily. Fortunately, the internet offers way more options than your standard drugstore shelf, but unfortunately, that huge selection makes it particularly hard to choose one. To help narrow down the best options, I reached out to Dr. Kasey Nichols, NMD — a licensed naturopathic doctor with extensive knowledge of how varying substances and ingredients interact with the body.

"When selecting a sleep-promoting supplement, consider what is likely keeping you awake at night," Dr. Nichols told Inverse. For some, it may be stress, environmental disruptions, or physical pain. For others, it could be a disrupted circadian rhythm or a lack of essential sleep hormones. If you first narrow down a suspected cause, you can then choose a supplement or sleep tool that targets the specific cause or causes so you can better tackle the issue. Hopefully, this will help you sleep better — but reviewers of these top-rated sleep aids found that the right option may also reduce stress and more balanced energy throughout the day.

1. This Slow-Release Melatonin If You Wake Up After A Few Hours

Melatonin is one of the most popular natural sleep aids, but not all of them are created equal. "Melatonin is one of our primary sleep hormones released by a small gland in the brain called the pineal gland. [It responds to signals from] another area of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), [which is] often called our internal clock because of its role in setting our circadian rhythm," said Dr. Nichols. "If you decide to use a melatonin supplement, try and find a sustained-release formula. Most melatonin supplements are a short release, which can be a problem for those that wake in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back asleep."

Natrol's advanced melatonin supplement is one of the best-selling options on Amazon — and that's because it slowly releases the melatonin over a period of eight hours to help you stay asleep all night. It also features vitamin B6 and magnesium, and reviewers report that they "don't feel groggy in the morning."

2. This Essential Oil Blend To Help With Your Relaxation Response

"Certain essential oils can promote relaxation and sleep because when these chemicals are inhaled, they affect the olfactory bulb — nerves in the nose that connect directly to the brain," Dr. Nichols wrote. "The olfactory bulb sends signals to the limbic system among other brain regions that are involved with our stress and relaxation responses."

That's precisely how Edens Garden Good Night essential oil aims to help you fall into a deep, relaxed sleep. This essential oil blend contains soothing scents like lavender, chamomile, bergamot, and ylang ylang. All of the ingredients are pure and quality-tested in small batches. One reviewer raved, "Better than any sleep aid I've tried, and I've tried them all."

3. An Energy-Balancing Supplement That Promotes Serotonin Production

According to Dr. Nichols, serotonin is another naturally occurring hormone that has the “ability to stimulate restful sleep.” If you find that your energy levels are often imbalanced, Genius Joy aims to promote calm cognition during the day and soothing stress-relief at night. That's because it uses natural nootropics to boost serotonin production — not to mention vitamin D, B12, and L-theanine to support your mood.

Currently, it has nearly 5,000 reviews and a 4.5-star rating on Amazon. "I can't recommend this enough," one reviewer raved. Another wrote, "I have energy when I'm supposed to and I sleep normally."

4. These Ashwagandha Root Capsules For Stress

Specifically for those whose stress gets in the way of a good night's sleep, a good ashwagandha supplement may be able to help. "Withania somnifera, often referred to as ashwagandha, is believed to promote sleep by affecting the GABA receptors of the brain," wrote Dr. Nichols. "Chemicals that bind to the GABA receptors promote relaxation and calmness, which can aid individuals in falling and staying asleep."

With over 3,500 positive ratings, Physician's Choice Ashwagandha is one of the most highly rated options on Amazon. It delivers the ground-up root extract in a veggie capsule to support stress levels, adrenal health, and mood. It also includes black pepper extract to help with increased absorption.

5. Some Soothing Chamomile Tea With Added Lavender

"Chamomile is a gentle, relaxing herb that can promote sleep by relaxing smooth muscles," wrote Dr. Nichols. "The relaxing of smooth muscles throughout our body fosters a sense of calm. Chamomile also contains small amounts of L-theanine, which increases GABA and dopamine release in the brain."

In addition to chamomile, Bigelow Benefits's sleep tea also contains lavender and calming rose. Each order comes with six boxes of 18 tea bags, so you'll be set for quite a while — and reviewers love both the taste and the effects. "Can't sleep? Try brewing a cup (or 2 bag double cup) of this tea and sip whilst reading a favorite novel. I do and then just drift pleasantly off to sleep. No fogginess in the morning," one wrote.

6. This Top-Rated Hemp Oil

Hemp, according to Dr. Nichols, is another useful supplement when it comes to pain- and stress-relief: "Hemp or, more specifically, the CBD components of hemp, are able to activate the serotonin receptors of the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that can promote a sense of relaxation and promote sleep."

This best-selling hemp oil is rich in fatty acids and vitamins, all of which help to support wellbeing and relaxation. Each bottle contains 240,000 milligrams of hemp extract, which break down to about 30 standard servings. "I was pleasantly surprised at how this product helped relieve my chronic nerve and muscle pain, and helped me sleep better," one reviewer wrote. "Easy to use, quick-acting and worth trying."

7. A Weighted Blanket Made From Glass Beads & Cotton

"Weighted accessories such as weighted blankets are proposed to promote a sense of relaxation and calm by stimulating the release of serotonin," wrote Dr. Nichols. "Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a role in making people feel happy, calm, and relaxed. As previously mentioned, "serotonin is also one of the primary neurotransmitters involved in getting a restful night’s sleep."

The LUNA weighted blanket comes in tons of weights and color options, and it's designed to simulate the feeling of a serotonin-boosting hug. The cover is made from 100% sustainable cotton, while the individually stitched squares are filled with hypoallergenic glass beads. Many reviewers reported that the 15-pound option helped with "insomnia, restless legs, joint pain, and muscle pain," but as a general rule of thumb, you can pinpoint the ideal heaviness for you by calculating 10% of your body weight.

8. This Weighted Aromatherapy Sleep Mask For 3-In-1 Relaxation

When it comes to aromatherapy, lavender may be one of the best options for sleep and relaxation: "Some research indicates that compounds found within essential oils like lavender attach to the GABA-A receptor which is the same receptor that benzodiazepines attach to," Dr. Nichols told Inverse. "Our GABA receptors promote a sense of relaxation and feelings of wellbeing."

The ASUTRA silk eye pillow combines three of Dr. Nichols's sleep tips into one: First, it's filled with lavender buds to promote the aforementioned sense of relaxation. Second, it's weighted with flax seeds to create a hug-like boost of serotonin. Finally, it blocks out light to help your pineal gland release melatonin at the right time. (It's also covered in cooling silk, adjustable to fit most people, and microwavable to reduce stress or pain.)

9. A L-Theanine Supplement For A Feeling Of Calm All Day Long

Because each capsule contains 200 milligrams of L-theanine (an amino acid found naturally in green tea), these supplements from Nature's Trove may be able to help with anxiety throughout the day, and, therefore, stress-induced insomnia at night. "L-theanine can improve sleep and promote a sense of relaxation by increasing the amount of GABA and dopamine in the brain," wrote Dr. Nichols. "While dopamine can promote alertness, the effect leans more [toward] sedating due to the GABA release." Each capsule is made from vegetarian ingredients, Kosher-certified, and free from synthetic additives.

10. A Topical Magnesium Oil To Help With Pain & Muscle Aches

"Magnesium comes in many different forms," explained Dr. Nichols. "If you’re someone who carries a lot of tension throughout their body, which is leading to your sleep difficulties, then a magnesium supplement that promotes skeletal muscle relaxation may be more beneficial for your needs."

Seven Minerals's magnesium oil spray, for example, is a topical supplement that aims to promote full-body relaxation — especially for those who experience soreness and muscle cramping. Simply spray it onto the affected area and rub it in. Tons of reviewers wrote that it provided significant relief from back pain, restless legs, and aching, all without having to worry about the dosing of oral supplements.

11. An Oral Supplement For Those With Racing Thoughts

"On the other hand, if you’re someone that goes to bed but has difficulty falling asleep because of racing thoughts, then select a supplement with magnesium L-threonate, which is able to cross the blood-brain barrier more easily and affect the brain directly," Dr. Nichols wrote.

These magnesium L-threonate (also called "magtein") supplements from Double Wood are designed for bioavailability, meaning that the body can more easily use the magnesium for improved sleep. Reviewers also reported that it helped with brain fog, focus, mood, and anxiety during the day, which explains the 4.7-star rating.

12. This Valerian Extract That's Non-Habit Forming

Finally, if you're searching for a solution that's less likely to create dependence, valerian root may be the way to go. According to Dr. Nichols, "Valerian root is another botanical that weakly acts on the GABA receptors of the brain, but unlike benzodiazepines, valerian is non-addictive." One reviewer wrote that this liquid extract from Herb Pharm "puts me right to sleep," without the "grogginess from prescription sleep aids." It's free from alcohol, GMOs, and gluten. "Valerian was recommended to me for a natural sleep aid by my doctor so I decided to try this product. It helps me sleep very well," wrote another customer.

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