5 natural sleep supplements that actually work

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natural sleep aids

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Ambien and other prescription sleep aids have become a stressed-out New Yorker’s best friend (and a $14 billion business). But they're not necessarily the solution for green-juice-drinking healthy types who prefer a drug-free route to seven solid hours of shut eye.

Because it's also exhausting trying to find an herbal remedy that actually works, we got recommendations from Jim Nicolai, MD, Medical Director of the Andrew Weil, MD, Integrative Wellness Program at Miraval in Tucson, and functional medicine expert, Dr. Frank Lipman, MD.

Here are the effective, herbal sleep supplements they say will gently help you doze off and get your beauty sleep without a drug-addled hangover. —Jennifer Kass


If you're someone who has trouble falling asleep (rather than waking in the middle of the night), melatonin is the best option. This is a big one for anyone who lives in a city, travels a lot, or has an abnormal sleep-wake cycle (AKA parents of young children).

"Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that’s released in cycles throughout the day. It keeps us alert during the day and at rest during the night, and it is what our body needs to in order to sleep," Dr. Lipman explains.

How it works: "Many people don't have high enough levels of melatonin at night, so adding the supplement can help you fall asleep," explains Dr. Lipman.

Your Rx: Dr. Lipman recommends 0.5-2 mg of melatonin. $15.26, amazon.com

New Chapter Holy BasilHoly Basil

If you're under a lot of stress (or going through something emotional) and consistently wake up in the middle of the night, holy basil's for you. It's been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and "creates a sense of calm by lowering anxiety and depression."

How it works: Stress disrupts cortisol's regular rhythm, Dr. Nicolai explains. "Often cortisol spikes between 6 and 8 a.m. to wake us up, but stress causes this spike to go backwards, waking us at 3 or 4 a.m. and holy basil can moderate this cortisol response."

Your Rx: He recommends 1-2 capsules in the early evening. New Chapter's Holy Basil Force, $16.90 for 60 soft gels, amazon.com


Valerian Root

Valerian Root

If your racing mind causes you to wake up in the middle of the night so often that you're considering medication for help staying asleep, Valerian root is your friend.

It helps calm the nervous system, says Dr. Nicolai. "It can be very helpful in creating a low level of calm without causing a major hangover or histamine coma or fog."

How it works: "It's a mild sedative that lowers the anxiety response and promotes relaxation and sleep," explains Dr. Nicolai.

Your Rx: He recommends 1-2 capsules a half hour before bed. Nature's Way Valerian Root, $4.29, amazon.com

5-HTP5-Hydroxytryptophane (5-HTP)

If you struggle with the winter blues and depression, mood-boosting 5-HTP might help add some extra hours of Zzzs. A more modern supplement, for decades Europeans have used 5-HTP to treat sleep and depression.

How it works: This amino acid is the building block of melatonin and it converts to serotonin, the "feel good" hormone, says Dr. Lipman. "Because 5-HTP is the precursor of serotonin and necessary for melatonin formation, it's very beneficial for mood and sleep."

Your Rx: Dr. Lipman's Be Well Sleep Bundle, $59, bewellbydrfranklipman.com

Rescue Remedy Sleep SprayBach Rescue Sleep Remedy

If you're not struggling with a serious sleep problem, Bach Flower Sleep Remedy might be all you need to nod off.

"It's great for quieting racing thoughts and an active or nervous mind—flower essences do this really do well," explains Alisa Vitti, women’s hormonal health specialist and founder of FLOliving.com.

How it works: Homeopathic extracts such as white chestnut help ease a restless mind and cherry plum targets tension.

Your Rx: Swallow a couple sprays right before bed and again, if you wake up in the middle of the night. $12, amazon.com

chamomile teaThings you might already be taking that promote sleep:

Magnesium calms nerves and relaxes muscles, aiding in sleep. but most of us are deficient in this mineral, so it's often added to sleep supplements.

Vitamin D can remedy daytime drowsiness while improving overall well-being. And that affects sleep.

B vitamins helps tryptophan in your body convert to niacin and serotonin, which regulate sleep and increase REM.

Passion flower is regularly added to sleep supplements or can be taken separately as an anti-anxiety.

Chamomile tea (pictured) at bedtime soothes and calms, acting as a very mild natural sedative.


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9 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. December 12th, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Likewise, Lotus Wei’s Quiet Mind formula has worked wonders for me. It also comes in a luscious skin serum, so I use it every night as my evening moisturizer.

  2. December 14th, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I’m a big fan of H. Gillerman Organics Natural Rest Sleep Remedy. It’s gotten me past recent crazy life-change sleep patterns and many anxious nights. It’s flowery but no joke blend of essential oils is yummy, mesmerizing and when I’m not too wound up to remember to use it, extremely effective.

  3. January 17th, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    I’m actually a major fan of lavender oils to help me unwind and get a good night’s rest. Relaxing and rubbing a bit on my neck before bed I find is a great way to help really unwind and wake up refreshed in the morning. There are a few other great blends out there as well that I’ve tried before, but to be honest I can’t remember their exact names right now. I’ll be sure to post on here if I can find an old bottle just to add to the list.

  4. February 5th, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Great recommendations! Drug dependency on Ambien is a big problem, and I think physicians have to step up, rather than just routinely prescribe the drug. They might want to have a conversation with their patients to find alternative ways to get a good night’s sleep.


  5. April 2nd, 2013 at 10:51 am


  6. April 3rd, 2013 at 7:18 am


  7. July 24th, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I’ve had a lot of luck with Berry Sleepy. I like that it’s 100% fruit, so I’m getting better sleep and vitamins and antioxidants.

  8. December 16th, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve tried a few but have found that Rest-Fully by Amrion is easy to take and quick to put me to sleep. Refreshed and no drowsiness in the morning. It’s a natural supplement so no worries about any drug dependencies.

  9. November 20th, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Yes!! There are some products which actually work alteril is one of them. Alteril is an all natural way to get you that good sleep you need.It helps you fall and stay asleep gently, using ingredients that have been used for decades to encourage sleep naturally. Read to know more it at: http://bit.ly/11jjl3O

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