You spend all day working, chasing the kids around, running errands, and then trying to keep your home in some semblance of order. Yet, even though you are exhausted, you just can’t seem to get to sleep.
Does this sound familiar?
An estimated 10% to 40% of the world population has insomnia, which is defined as a condition in which you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep, or getting restful sleep. Obviously, something is very wrong if so many people are suffering from sleepless nights! Luckily, there are solutions in the form of natural sleep aids.
Why Not Melatonin as a Natural Sleep Aid?
When talking about natural sleep aids, melatonin is usually the #1 which comes to mind. Melatonin is the natural hormone which our bodies produce in response to darkness. But, just because melatonin in our bodies is natural, it doesn’t mean taking melatonin pills is safe and healthy.
First off, let’s clarify that melatonin is a hormone. Our bodies produce it from serotonin. You need healthy levels of both serotonin and melatonin to sleep well. Melatonin is primarily responsible for regulating the circadian clock (sleep pattern) whereas serotonin triggers sleep and REM (rapid eye movement). Just taking melatonin isn’t going to solve your sleep problems. The one time when taking melatonin may be okay is when you need to reset your sleep schedule, such as when starting a new job with different hours or recuperating from jet lag.
Melatonin is a hormone, and taking melatonin pills means you are taking hormone therapy. Hormone therapy is very controversial because it causes your body to produce less of the hormone being taken. If you take melatonin, your body will stop producing so much melatonin! You soon become dependent on the melatonin pills to get to sleep.
Further, melatonin is not even a sleep hormone. It is a stress hormone. Our bodies produce melatonin in response to the stress from the dark. This is why it makes you feel sleepy. As I talk about in my article about why I choose magnesium over melatonin, it induces limpness in your body where blood is restricted to the brain and heart and your general cognitive function is impaired. Yikes! Deliberately slowing down the blood supply to my vital organs isn’t something I really want to be doing all that often. As a stress hormone, melatonin can also cause all sorts of bad side effects like headaches, nausea, and shrinking sex organs, to name a few.
Top Natural Sleep Aids
Forget melatonin. These natural sleep aids will help solve the root cause of your insomnia so you can get to sleep easier and feel rested in the morning.
When it comes to natural sleep aids, magnesium is #1. In fact, magnesium deficiency might be the very cause of your sleepless nights (as well as the cause of the stress, depression, and anxiety which is making it so hard to sleep). How does magnesium work as a natural sleep aid? One of the many roles of magnesium in the body is to calm the excitory signals between your nerve cells. Magnesium also helps move calcium from the muscles so your muscles can relax. Without magnesium, your nerves would be constantly excited and your muscles constantly contracted! I like getting my magnesium through Epsom salt baths (recipe here). I like this brand of Epsom salts, but you can also rub magnesium oil on your body or take a magnesium supplement. If you want to learn more, read my post about how to use magnesium as an insomnia treatment.
2. Bone Broth
Bone broth is my go-to remedy for everything from wrinkles to sickness. It is also a great natural sleep aid because it contains gelatin. Gelatin (which is so awesome that I even wrote an entire book about its health benefits — see the ebook here) is just cooked collagen and is mainly comprised of two amino acids: glycine and proline.
Most of us only eat muscle meats (you know, steak, chicken breast, ground beef etc). While muscle meats are healthy, our bodies are really designed to eat all parts of an animal. The glycine and proline found in connective tissues (but not found in muscle meat) are anti-inflammatory. When you only eat muscle meat, you can end up with an imbalanced intake of amino acids. By consuming gelatin in bone broth, you balance out your amino acid profile and reduce stress and inflammation. Glycine is also recognized as a powerful inhibitory neurotransmitter which can help you sleep naturally.
You can read how to make bone broth here (it is super easy, especially if you have a slow cooker). If you can’t be bothered to make bone broth, you can buy this high quality broth online.
If the thought of bone broth altogether is something you’re just not ready for, then you can buy gelatin instead. Just make sure it is real gelatin, and not that chemical stuff you find in packs in the supermarket. I like this brand of gelatin which is made from quality ingredients.
As a bonus, gelatin helps heal your gut. If your gut is damaged, then you won’t be able to absorb nutrients properly (no matter how healthy you are eating) which means you can end up deficient in magnesium which his crucial for inducing sleep.
3. Fermented Cod Liver Oil
There are numerous natural chemicals and hormones which are involved in sleep, such as tryptophan, serotonin, melatonin, histamine, and dopamine. Did you know that your body needs healthy fat to help produce these sleep chemicals and hormones?
One of my favorite healthy fats is Fermented Cod Liver Oil (I use this brand). It is a nutrient powerhouse containing the healthy fatty acids Omega 3, DHA, and EPA. Low levels of these fatty acids has been shown to reduce melatonin rhythm, weaken the circadian clock, and cause night sleep disturbances. By contrast, higher intakes of these fatty acids is shown to lower norepinephrine levels, and alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. FCLO also contains the fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, which are hard to find even in the healthiest of diets. The nutrients in FCLO are in perfect proportion since it is a real food and not a supplement. Nature knows what it is doing in that regard!
4. Blue-Light Blocking Glasses
Yes, these funny glasses really do help me sleep better! The reason is because our human bodies evolved to view the orange and red glow of firelight, not the blue light which comes from computers and devices like your tablet and smartphone (also from many energy-efficient light bulbs). That blue light actually suppresses the production of melatonin. Stop using all digital devices a few hours before bedtime. Or, if you really must be on the computer before bed, then get yourself a pair of these glasses (buy here). Or you can install the f.lux app on your computer which will block blue lights (it’s free).
There is a growing body of evidence that iron deficiency can cause insomnia, even when it isn’t severe enough to cause anemia. The theory is that low iron levels affects the body’s ability to move blood and oxygen to the central nervous system and causes dopaminergic dysfunction. My favorite source of iron is organ meat, such as in these hidden liver burgers.
6. A Better Mattress
Not too surprisingly, the quality of your mattress actually does affect your sleep and your health.
Your mattress affects your body alignment as you sleep. An old, worn-out mattress can equate to discomfort and bodily pains. As this article points out, an old mattress might also be festering mites and allergens. So, you could actually be allergic to your mattress!
Sleep expert Dr. Levy told the NY Times, “You want something on top that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the shoulders and sacrum but you don’t want a mattress too soft where your shoulders fold up like a pretzel.”
Exercise is by far one of the best natural insomnia cures, and has the added benefit of helping you lose weight and look great. When you exercise, it not only physically tires you out, but also reduces levels of stress hormones in your body which cause insomnia. Just know that it can take a while before the effects of exercise are evident. It can take weeks before exercise kicks in at beating insomnia. So don’t get frustrated if you exercise but don’t sleep better right away. Stick with it!
If you are having trouble getting to sleep, I highly recommend that you read Go to Bed: 14 Easy Steps to Healthier Sleep. The guide gives you really valuable information about the science of sleep, why you aren’t sleeping, and how to get to sleep by taking a few easy steps. Check it out here.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite natural sleep aids? Please comment below!
Resources for this article:
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11 thoughts on “7 Natural Sleep Aids (Hint: They Aren’t Melatonin!)”
Melatonin makes my restless leg syndrome 10x worse. I will try some of these suggestions. Thank you very much.
I do a lot of these already…maybe that is why i sleep so well!! Plenty of other issues…but at least I got the sleep part down!! I had insomnia during pregnancy occasionally, it was the WORST!
I cant believe that you are still taking cod oil after the findings state it is rancid.
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You’re welcome Marsha!
Passiflora- homeopathic sleep aid. Great info, thanks
What a fantastic article!!! Thanks for this! 🙂
You’re welcome Marsha!