Top 9 Sleep Supplements of Natural Origin

In a nutshell

  1. As one ages, the absorption of vitamins in the intestines can become less effective, which may result in various health issues, including sleep disturbances.
  2. Natural sleep supplements can be a valuable resource to enhance your sleep and optimize the quality of your rest.
  3. Melatonin: our bodies naturally produce melatonin, this hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. However, as we age, melatonin production may decrease, leading to sleep disturbances. Supplementing with melatonin can help realign your body’s internal clock, especially in situations of jet lag or shift work.
  4. Magnesium, Glycine, Tryptophan, and L-Theanine: these supplements are known to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia symptoms.
  5. Valeriana Root and Apigenin: if sleep problems are caused by anxiety or stress, supplements like Valeriana root and Apigenin (found in chamomile tea) can be beneficial. They have been used for centuries as a herbal remedy for insomnia and anxiety.


Sleep problems can arise due to various factors, including stress, anxiety, and age-related changes that may impact your sleep patterns, such as hormonal changes, neurological changes, and malabsorption of key nutrients and vitamins.

The impact of vitamins and minerals on sleep cannot be overlooked, with deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin D or magnesium leading to poor sleep quality. As we age, our body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals declines, emphasizing the importance of dietary manipulations and supplementing to improve nutrient absorption and enhance sleep quality.1 Woudstra, Trudy, and Alan B R Thomson. “Nutrient absorption and intestinal adaptation with ageing.” Best practice & research. Clinical gastroenterology vol. 16,1 (2002): 1-15. PubMed Source 2 Drozdowski, Laurie, and Alan B R Thomson. “Aging and the intestine.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 12,47 (2006): 7578-84. PubMed Source

If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are plenty of things you can do to improve the situation. We recommend you first check out our guide to sleep routines and habits. If you need a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, we have prepared a list of the nine most efficient natural sleep supplements.


1. Melatonin

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Melatonin is probably one of the most well-known sleep aids. This hormone is produced by the pineal gland. It serves as a cue to your biological clock and promotes sleep.

Unfortunately, with age and certain diseases (e.g., dementia, cancer), the robustness of the circadian system decreases, and melatonin production is diminished or shifted. Melatonin supplements can, to some extent, help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality. 3 Brzezinski, Amnon et al. “Effects of exogenous melatonin on sleep: a meta-analysis.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 9,1 (2005): 41-50. PubMed Source However, it is mainly useful when there is a problem with the circadian rhythm. So you might want to try using melatonin when you are adjusting to jet lag, shift work, or moving your sleep schedule. Outside these situations, it is better to try the other sleep aids described below first.

There is no official recommended dosage, but the USA’s National Sleep Foundation suggests that taking 1 to 5 milligrams of melatonin a few hours before bed appears effective.

2. Magnesium


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Low magnesium levels may make it harder for you to fall or stay asleep. Unfortunately, with aging, the absorption of this mineral is diminishing, leading to a mild magnesium deficit. The symptoms are lack of energy, hyperemotionality, and sleep disorders.

Some forms of magnesium, such as magnesium L-threonate or glycinate, 4 Ghabriel MN, Vink R. Magnesium transport across the blood-brain barriers. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: PubMed Source are more powerful as a sleep aid because they can pass from your bloodstream to your brain.

The recommended daily dose for women is 310-320 milligrams and 400-420 milligrams for men. Take it a few hours before going to bed. Talk to your doctor before adding it to your diet: too much magnesium can lead to cramps and nausea.

3. Valeriana root

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

Valeriana officinalis L. is a safe and effective herb that can promote sleep.5Shinjyo, Noriko et al. “Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine vol. 25 (2020): 2515690X20967323. PubMed Source It has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for insomnia. It works by relaxing the body and mind and decreasing anxiety. That is why it is primarily effective as a sleep aid when sleep problems are caused by anxiety and worries. It is even more helpful when combined with other herbs like melissa (Melissa officinalis) and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).

It is often best to start with a low dose, then gradually increase it over time, if needed. The noticeable effect will start to appear after two weeks of use. There are no clear guidelines on recommended dosage, so it is best to discuss it with your doctor first.

4. Glycine


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Glycine is an amino acid that participates in several functions in the central nervous system. This amino acid is synthesized in the body, and we also get it through the diet. Additional glycine taken as a supplement can pass from the bloodstream to the brain.

The dose of 3 g/day before bedtime improves sleep quality and reduces sleepiness and fatigue during the day.6 Kawai, Nobuhiro et al. “The sleep-promoting and hypothermic effects of glycine are mediated by NMDA receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.” Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology vol. 40,6 (2015): 1405-16. PubMed Source

5. GABA


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GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. Neurotransmitters function as chemical messengers, and GABA is considered an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it blocks, or inhibits, certain brain signals and decreases activity in your nervous system.

When taken as a supplement in a dose between 200 to 500 mg, it improves subjective sleep quality and objective sleep duration.7 Byun, Jung Ick et al. “Safety and Efficacy of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid from Fermented Rice Germ in Patients with Insomnia Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial.” Journal of clinical neurology (Seoul, Korea) vol. 14,3 (2018): 291-295. PubMed Source It might take a week to notice the results. However, don’t use this supplement longer than a month before talking to your healthcare provider. Much remains unknown about the effects of GABA sleep supplements, and research is still ongoing.

6. L-theanine

Green tea is rich in L-theanine. Photo by Kiran K. on Unsplash.

L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in tea leaves. It reduces stress and anxiety, resting heart rate, and improves sleep.

The recommended dosage is 200 mg/daily one hour before bedtime, but do not take it if you are a sleepwalker. Recently, it has been shown that combining L-theanine with tryptophan, glycine, magnesium, and tart cherry powder can give more noticeable results.8 Langan-Evans, Carl et al. “Nutritional Modulation of Sleep Latency, Duration, and Efficiency: A Randomized, Repeated-Measures, Double-Blind Deception Study.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 55,2 (2023): 289-300. PubMed Source This cocktail improves sleep quality, increases sleep time, and helps you to fall asleep faster.

7. Tryptophan


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Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning it’s a nutrient the body can’t make on its own; it must be obtained through food. It is commonly found in foods such as oats, bananas, dried prunes, milk, tuna fish, cheese, and chocolate.

Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, two neurochemicals that play key roles in the regulation of sleep. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences mood, appetite, and sleep, among other things. Melatonin, often referred to as the “sleep hormone,” is directly related to the body’s sleep-wake cycle.

Tryptophan supplements are often marketed as sleep aids, and some research does suggest that tryptophan can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. It can reduce night awakenings and help to maintain sleep.9 Sutanto, Clarinda N et al. “The impact of tryptophan supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression.” Nutrition reviews vol. 80,2 (2022): 306-316. PubMed Source The most common dosage is 60 mg/daily, but don’t take L-tryptophan supplements for more than three weeks.

8. Apigenin


Photo by Catia Climovich on Unsplash.

Apigenin is a bioflavonoid, and it is found in chamomile tea and other vegetables and fruits (like grapefruit and celery). It is suggested by some research that apigenin reduces anxiety and has sedative effects at higher doses. However, its efficacy for treating sleep problems is currently uncertain.10 Salehi, Bahare et al. “The Therapeutic Potential of Apigenin.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 20,6 1305. 15 Mar. 2019, PubMed Source

If you would like to give it a try, the suggested dosage is 50 mg/daily before bedtime. Alternatively, have a cup of chamomile tea which is rich in apigenin, before bed.

9. Lavander

the scent of lavender can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety
The scent of lavender can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Photo by Valerie Sidorova on Unsplash.

Lavender and its essential oil have a very soothing fragrance. Lavender aromatherapy enhances sleep quality already, starting from the second night of use. It helps to fall asleep faster during bedtime and facilitates sleep onset if you woke up at night.11 Lillehei, Angela Smith et al. “Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 21,7 (2015): 430-8. PubMed Source

Lavender aromatherapy also is effective in combating sleep disturbances in elderly people with dementia and has been shown to improve their sleep quality.12 Takeda, Ai et al. “Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM  vol. 2017 (2017): 1902807. PubMed Source If you are interested to learn about different soothing scents that can be used in aromatherapy, please see our guide.



Recap and final thoughts

Sleep disturbances may arise due to different reasons, and one of them could be less effective absorption of some nutrients in the intestines as one ages. Some natural sleep remedies are proven to aid sleep problems. They include melatonin, magnesium, glycine, tryptophan, L-theanine, GABA, tryptophan, apigenin, and lavender. Remember that long-term use of over-the-counter sleep aids can increase drug tolerance over time. Therefore we recommend you don’t use them longer than indicated; if sleep problems continue, talk to your doctor.

References

  • 1
    Woudstra, Trudy, and Alan B R Thomson. “Nutrient absorption and intestinal adaptation with ageing.” Best practice & research. Clinical gastroenterology vol. 16,1 (2002): 1-15. PubMed Source
  • 2
    Drozdowski, Laurie, and Alan B R Thomson. “Aging and the intestine.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 12,47 (2006): 7578-84. PubMed Source
  • 3
    Brzezinski, Amnon et al. “Effects of exogenous melatonin on sleep: a meta-analysis.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 9,1 (2005): 41-50. PubMed Source
  • 4
    Ghabriel MN, Vink R. Magnesium transport across the blood-brain barriers. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: PubMed Source
  • 5
    Shinjyo, Noriko et al. “Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine vol. 25 (2020): 2515690X20967323. PubMed Source
  • 6
    Kawai, Nobuhiro et al. “The sleep-promoting and hypothermic effects of glycine are mediated by NMDA receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.” Neuropsychopharmacology : official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology vol. 40,6 (2015): 1405-16. PubMed Source
  • 7
    Byun, Jung Ick et al. “Safety and Efficacy of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid from Fermented Rice Germ in Patients with Insomnia Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial.” Journal of clinical neurology (Seoul, Korea) vol. 14,3 (2018): 291-295. PubMed Source
  • 8
    Langan-Evans, Carl et al. “Nutritional Modulation of Sleep Latency, Duration, and Efficiency: A Randomized, Repeated-Measures, Double-Blind Deception Study.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise vol. 55,2 (2023): 289-300. PubMed Source
  • 9
    Sutanto, Clarinda N et al. “The impact of tryptophan supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression.” Nutrition reviews vol. 80,2 (2022): 306-316. PubMed Source
  • 10
    Salehi, Bahare et al. “The Therapeutic Potential of Apigenin.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 20,6 1305. 15 Mar. 2019, PubMed Source
  • 11
    Lillehei, Angela Smith et al. “Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 21,7 (2015): 430-8. PubMed Source
  • 12
    Takeda, Ai et al. “Effects of Inhalation Aromatherapy on Symptoms of Sleep Disturbance in the Elderly with Dementia.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM  vol. 2017 (2017): 1902807. PubMed Source
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