Considering an estimated one in three American adults gets fewer than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, it’s no wonder every Starbucks Drive-Thru line snakes onto the street all morning long. But caffeine is not a solution for sleeplessness.
Practicing good sleep hygiene (e.g. avoiding screens and creating soothing bedtime rituals) goes a long way in supporting quality rest—but making the time to wind down can be easier said than done. Luckily, there are a number of natural supplements you can incorporate into your routine to support your bedtime efforts. This guide breaks down the most popular sleep supplements out there, so you can find the right option for you.
Why Sleep Is Non-negotiable
The benefits of a good night’s sleep are paramount. “When we’ve slept for a significant period of time without interruption, we’re able to focus, think, learn, remember, and generally have better cognitive function,” says Canada-based naturopathic doctor Sarah Connors, N.D. “ The brain needs sleep to function day-to-day, and to keep us healthy over time.”
Falling short on sleep, unsurprisingly, has both short- and long-term effects. “Lack of sleep makes it harder to think clearly and focus, lowers the function of our immune system, and increases inflammation in the body, all of which can contribute to the increased risk for chronic health issues, such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer,” Connors warns.
Sleep also plays an integral role in our hormone regulation. For instance, research published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has shown that even a single night of bad sleep can cause insulin resistance in healthy people. It can also negatively affect the stress hormone cortisol. “A bad night’s sleep can cause cortisol to be low in the morning, when it should be highest, and higher in the afternoon and evening when it should be waning, which inevitably prevents us from falling and staying asleep,” says Jennifer Ostman, N.T.P, a nutritionist with Key Cellular Nutrition. “It can also cause higher than normal levels of leptin, a hormone that plays a role in regulating hunger, in the morning.” High levels of leptin have not only been linked to overeating, but also inflammation, which can cause myriad issues in the body.
The Best Supplements For Supporting Sleep
Though it’s clear that sleep is integral to our overall health and something we should prioritize, navigating the slew of sleep solutions out there can feel overwhelming. To cut through the clutter, we’ve assembled experts’ go-to supplements.
One of the most popular sleep supplements in the game is melatonin, a hormone our bodies produce that plays a key role in our sleep-wake cycle. “When we’re going to sleep, our brain produces more melatonin and decreases the output of serotonin, so the thought behind using supplemental melatonin is to provide your body with extra support so that you can fall asleep,” explains Connors.
The only tricky part here is getting the amount right, as there’s no one-size-fits-all dose of melatonin and supplements offer anywhere between 0.5 and 10 milligrams. Your best bet: Talk to a dietitian or a naturopathic healthcare provider to identify the right amount of melatonin to try, and take it about an hour before bed.
“Keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better, as high-dosing melatonin can disrupt normal circadian rhythms and cause nightmares, grogginess, and daytime tiredness,” points out naturopath David Friedman, N.D., D.C.
Magnesium is a mineral involved in hundreds of processes in the human body, from supporting muscles to producing energy, and it’s important for brain function and heart health, notes Friedman. “Magnesium aids the body in naturally producing melatonin, so it can help calm the mind and make getting to sleep an easier task,” he says.
Read More: 7 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Magnesium
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t get their fair share of magnesium, which could be a contributing factor to sleep issues across the country, per the Sleep Foundation. That’s why clinical psychologist Michael Breus, Ph.D., author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, recommends first changing your diet so that you consume more magnesium-rich foods, like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes. (The National Institutes of Health recommends 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium for adult men and 310 320 for adult women.)
From there, you can also incorporate a supplement. Breus recommends starting with 250 to 350 milligrams per day to promote sleep. Try the form magnesium glycinate an hour or two before bed.
Including big names like ashwagandha and reishi, this class of herbs is known to help the body deal with stress. “When high stress levels are recurring, we feel wired and awake when we’re meant to be going to sleep,” Connors says. “In general, these herbs help reduce the stress hormone cortisol and/or the effects of cortisol in the body, which is helpful in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm.”
Of all the adaptogens out there, Friedman’s top recommendation for those having difficulty with sleep is ashwagandha. “If you have a hard time turning off your brain at night, this adaptogen can help you reach deep, restorative sleep, which is crucial to keeping your hormones balanced,” he says.
Schisandra is another popular option. “It helps to calm the mind, ultimately helping to shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and allow you to stay asleep longer,” says Friedman. In fact, research published in Scientific Reports suggests it also effectively helps those dealing with feelings of anxiety and fatigue.
Dosing varies based on the adaptogenic herb, so Friedman recommends speaking with your healthcare provider or a naturopathic doctor to make sure a given amount is right for you.
This amino acid, found in green and black tea, has long been known to promote calm and relaxation, and even help with sleep, notes Friedman. As a result, it’s become one of the more popular sleep supplements you can try. How it works in the body: “L-theanine helps to increase alpha waves, the electrical brain activity commonly present when a person is very relaxed,” he explains. “By diminishing feelings of stress and worry, l-theanine can help improve focus, learning, and concentration.”
When it comes to dosing, Breus recommends starting small, with 100 milligrams. From there, you can gradually increase the amount until you reach your desired effect. Just note that the maximum amount he recommends for promoting sleep is 400 milligrams daily.
5. Valerian Root
This popular herb, which you’ll find in several tea brands, helps the body calm down, relax, and sleep, according to Friedman. “Valerian root increases the levels of a chemical known as gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which contributes to a calming effect in the body,” he explains.
When taking valerian root as a supplement, the effects may not be immediate, Friedman notes, so be prepared to take it consistently for two weeks or more before you notice a difference. While there is no standard dosage, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) notes that 300 to 600 milligrams is generally supported by research as being effective for sleep.
6. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Though perhaps more under-the-radar than other popular sleep supplements on this list, 5-HTP is definitely one to watch. “This natural extract comes from the seeds of the Griffonia tree (found in West African countries) and is important in the formation of the brain chemical serotonin, which is involved in mood, behavior, appetite, and sleep,” notes Friedman. Research, including one study published in Life Sciences, has shown 5-HTP to have legitimate sleep-enhancing benefits, supporting both sleep quantity and quality.
When it comes to supplementing with 5-HTP for sleep, research suggests that 200 milligrams per day is the sweet spot.