How to cure insomnia naturally: 15 of the best insomnia remedies
Figuring out how to get rid of insomnia is an individual journey for everyone, as not being able to sleep night after night can be caused by multiple factors. The good thing is there are lots of natural insomnia remedies you can try to help you get that good night’s sleep you deserve!
We’ve gathered the 15 best ways how to deal with insomnia naturally in this guide. See if it can help you discover which remedy could help you on your way to better sleep.
Insomnia: a brief overview
Insomnia is a condition that causes people to struggle to fall or stay asleep at night, resulting in them consistently not getting enough sleep. It’s believed to affect up to a third of British people in their lives,1 with elderly populations being more likely to suffer with it.
Common insomnia symptoms:
- You find getting to sleep difficult
- You wake up multiple times during the night
- You often lie awake at night and struggle to get back to sleep
- You feel tired after waking up
- Even when you’re feeling tired, you find it difficult to nap during the day
- You feel irritable from tiredness most days
- You find it difficult to concentrate on things during the day because you’re so tired
These symptoms can last for a few months or a few years, as the symptoms tend to cause a ‘vicious cycle’ of tiredness and stress, which feed each other daily.
If you want to find out more in general about insomnia, what can cause it, and some advice on when you should see your GP, read this guide to insomnia. If you want to jump right ahead learn about some of the best natural ways how to help insomnia, then keep reading!
The top 8 natural remedies for insomnia
Sleep is important. Without sleep, our brains and our bodies struggle to function properly, and with the right amount of sleep – we really flourish. A good night’s kip can2 :
- Improve your memory
- Sharpen your learning skills
- Help you to make good decisions
- Boost your creativity
- Help you ‘be in the moment’
- Keep your heart nice and healthy
- Help support your immune system
- Reduce your overall stress
- Help you maintain better relationships with family, friends, colleagues and the other people in your life
We think you will agree that for your health’s sake, it’s about time you tackled any insomnia issues you have head-on. Especially if you’ve exhausted all the usual good sleep hygiene recommendations and feel like you need a little more support.
Here’s some of the most popular natural insomnia cures you can try:
1. Be the master of your melatonin levels
Our bodies make and use hormones as instructions for our brains and bodies, amongst other things. The most important hormone for sleep is melatonin, which naturally signals to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep.
Melatonin is produced by our bodies when it gets dark, which was fine back in the day when we relied on only the sun, moon and occasional bit of fire to light up and dim back down our world.
Nowadays, the artificial electric lights that we depend on for lots of things have a very big potential to send our sleep cycle out of whack by disguising the darkness that would usually naturally send us to sleep3 This is one of the reasons people who do shift patterns at work, e.g. working alternative / irregular and often long hours, are so susceptible to sleep problems.
A sleeping pattern study on people with cancer and insomnia found that taking an oral melatonin supplement helped to significantly improve sleep patterns and sleep quality when taken 2 hours before bedtime.4
Where can I find a melatonin supplement?
Man-made melatonin is currently only available in prescription form in the UK and is only usually prescribed to people aged 55 and over, some children with sleep problems and adults who suffer from headaches.
Speak to your GP if you’d like to explore that avenue and they will be able to tell you if it’s suitable for you or not.
Is there a natural way to help maintain your melatonin levels?
Yes! As well as the lifestyle changes you can make to improve your natural sleep-wake cycle (your circadian rhythm – which we will talk about in the next section), there are certain foods you can eat to naturally support your melatonin production.
The following foods are high in tryptophan, which may help to naturally support healthy melatonin and other hormone levels that may have dipped over time,5 like 6 :
- Meat – especially turkey and other poultry
2. Get that circadian rhythm back in order
What is circadian rhythm?
We humans may have invented the concept of time, but we have always had our own internal clock called the circadian rhythm. All living things have one.
Our human circadian rhythm is a light-sensitive 24-hour sleep / wake pattern, which is why we sleep when its dark and wake when it’s light. However, modern inventions and realities like electric lighting, alarms, commuting to work and other technology can definitely confuse things.
This sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a small area in the base of our brains called the hypothalamus.7 This is where the body gets instructions on which chemicals and hormones it has to release, e.g. sleep-inducing melatonin when it gets dark outside and cortisol when it gets light outside again.
The problem nowadays is that unnatural light exists, whether it’s a streetlight glaring through your bedroom, the landing light or the bright lights of our phones and TVs, all of which can disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Another big contributor to circadian rhythm unrest is working in shift patters, e.g. being on the night shift. You’re asking your body to flip its natural instinct on its head and sleep when its light and work when its dark – so you can understand why it may be a little confused when it comes to sleep!
A few tips on how to improve your circadian rhythm
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day8 . Your circadian rhythm loves predictability and routine, so give it what it needs and establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time. But do only go to bed when you’re tired – you will figure out the routine that works best for you over time.
- Do some exercise 9 . Doing some daily exercise can improve your life in so many ways, including your sleep-wake pattern. Daily physical activity can help you feel less drowsy throughout the day, allow you to fall asleep easier at night and improve your overall sleep quality.10
- Leave your phone alone. Flashing bright lights into your eyes from a phone or other screen just before bedtime is a good way of bamboozling your circadian rhythm. Leave it outside or on night mode, so it won’t be vibrating or flashing while you sleep.
3. Valerian root
One of the most popular natural remedies for insomnia across Europe and the United States is valerian root. 11 It is the root of a herb called Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), which has been used traditionally for centuries for its calming and sedative properties.
How does valerian work?
Valerian relaxes the brain. It’s not yet fully understood how it does it, but a popular theory is that is helps stimulate a chemical messenger in the brain that helps to calm the nervous system.12
The neurotransmitter messenger we’re referring to is called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). This acid helps calm the brain by attaching itself to a protein in your brain called a GABA receptor, which can help to ease feelings of stress, anxiety and fear.13 Anxiety and stress are also big reasons why some people suffer from insomnia, so Valerian could work in two ways there when it comes to helping you sleep.
Valerian has even been approved to treat both mild anxiety and to aid sleep by the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee based on its long-standing, traditional use.14
How to take valerian for insomnia
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in lots of bodily processes, including those keeping your heart healthy and brain functioning normally. It has been shown to both help people fall asleep and stay asleep for longer15 due to its soothing and calming effect on both the mind and body.
Just like valerian, magnesium also helps our bodies to maintain healthy levels of the neurotransmitter GABA which can help relax our minds. Just what you need for a good night’s sleep.
One study on elderly people with insomnia found that those taking a magnesium saw improvements in:
- Sleep time
- Sleep efficiency
- Early morning awakening
- Concentration of melatonin
- The time it takes to fall asleep (sleep onset latency)
So, if you struggle with insomnia and some of the other magnesium deficiency symptoms then it may be worth contacting your GP to investigate. And if you do? Keep reading for different ways to consume more magnesium.
Another one of the most popular herbal remedies for insomnia is passionflower. Part of the same family as passion fruit, people have been using passionflower medicinally since the 1700s.16
Like most of the other herbal insomnia remedies we have mentioned so far, it is predicted that passionflower can also promote calmness of the mind by helping our bodies to produce enough of the neurotransmitter GABA.17
There have been multiple animal studies that have found that passionflower can improve sleep quality and help increase sleep duration.18,19
Limited research is available when it comes to its effect on humans. However, there was one study where participants drank either a passionflower tea or a placebo parsley leaf tea. The participants drank their tea every night for a week 1 hour before they went to bed. They then had a 1-week break and repeated the whole process with the other tea.
After the study was finished, each participant was asked to rate their sleep quality subjectively and as a collective, they rated it around 5% higher when they were drinking the passionflower tea compared to when they were drinking the placebo parsley leaf tea.20
One other study on insomnia found that those who consumed passionflower extract for 2 weeks has significantly improved sleep parameters like total sleep time and the percentage of time they spent sleeping in bed (not lying awake) in comparison to a placebo group.21
Numerous other studies have found passionflower to be no more effective than a placebo for insomnia.22
Everyone knows about this one, right?!
Have you ever noticed that room sprays, temple balms, bed linen fragrance sprays and pillow mists tend to be lavender scented? That’s because it is known for it’s calming, soothing and sleep-inducing qualities.
Numerous studies have shown that even just inhaling a little bit of lavender oil before bed can enhance the quality of your sleep and help significantly reduce insomnia.23,24 More studies are needed to evaluate lavender’s true effectiveness as a sleep aid, but the research conducted so far is positive.
How to use lavender for sleep
- Inhale it: simply inhaling when you are ready for bed could help you drift off
- Diffuse the situation: placing a lavender essential oil diffuser near to your bed could help you relax, wind down and prepare your mind for sleep
- Drop it: a few drops of lavender essential oil on your pillowcase at night could help you on your way to a peaceful night’s sleep. Make sure you apply it to the underside of your pillow though, as it can irritate your eyes and skin if put on top.
You may not have heard of this one before, but glycine is an amino acid that gets to work in your body to help you build muscle, metabolise food efficiency, support your brain and help you get a good night’s kip.
Glycine is a neurotransmitter that can both stimulate and block nervous system activity. People use it for all kinds of stuff, like improving their sleep, increasing insulin sensitivity and enhancing their memory, and it can also be used topically to treat skin ulcers and help wounds heal.
This amino acid enables collagen production – an essential protein for maintaining strong bones, skin, tendons and muscles.
How does glycine help you sleep?
Glycine helps the body sleep in a number of ways, including helping to:
- Create serotonin, a neurotransmitter and hormone that affects sleep and mood
- Increase blood flow to our extremities and reduce core temperature before we sleep. Studies have shown that glycine supplements can trigger this drop in body temperature and help people to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep for longer.
How to top up on glycine for better sleep
Making sure to eat plenty of glycine-rich foods is one of the easiest things to help insomnia out there. Get munching on foods like:
- Bone broth
Even if increasing your glycine intake doesn’t result in better sleep, it’s a pretty good thing to be eating for your overall health anyway.
8. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is a lemon-scented herb that shares a family with mint. It has been used traditionally to enhance cognition and mood for years and years and may be used to support those with insomnia.
In one study, standardised lemon balm extract was seen to lower insomnia by 43% in volunteers who had reported moderate levels of difficulties with falling asleep and restless nights before the study.25 However, more research is needed before it can be validated as a sleep aid.
Lemon balm is also commonly used to help relieve feelings of mild anxiety, which may be contributing to your restless nights.
How to take lemon balm for sleep
- Lemon balm herbal remedies: you can find lemon balm extract in tablets and capsules which aid sleep based on traditional use only
Other potential natural options you could try for insomnia
If you want to stay away from medicinal sleeping tablets and other prescription-level sleep aids, curing insomnia naturally is a path worth exploring. The following natural supplements for sleep are not supported by strong scientific research but can still be found in many sleep-promoting supplements on the market. Find out why:
- L-theanine: topping up on this amino acid or taking a daily supplement of it may help people to relax and sleep easier. However, it is mainly animal research at the moment that supports this26
- Tryptophan: another amino acid that could help us fight back against insomnia is tryptophan. It is an essential amino acid, so we should be aiming to consume it every day anyway to keep our bodies healthy. One study revealed that a dose as low as 1g could help improve sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster27
- Ginkgo biloba: older studies revealed that this natural herb may help to reduce stress, promote sleep and enhance relaxation. These findings are based on the participant consuming about 240mg of gingko biloba before bed.
People also ask:
What is the best herbal medicine for insomnia?
Herbal remedies to aid sleep have long been used to help people drift off, some of the best include:
- Valerian root
- Lemon balm
How can I cure insomnia naturally?
There are many ways you can try to improve your sleep. As well as trying natural and herbal sleep aids that we have discussed above, there are lots of natural changes you can make to your general lifestyle and diet to help you kick insomnia to the curb.
Here’s some other examples of what can help insomnia sufferers get better sleep:
- Cutting out caffeine: yes, we all love a bit of caffeine in the morning to perk ourselves up and get us ready for the day ahead, but drinking even a moderate amount can send your sleep pattern into meltdown. Try cutting out teas, coffees and fizzy drinks containing caffeine after 4pm, switch to decaf varieties, or try totally avoiding these products for a while to see if this change helps you sleep.
- Try herbal teas: even if you’re ditching your usual cuppa in the evening to cut down on your caffeine, there are lots of herbal teas that can take its place. We already discussed lemon balm tea and passionflower tea above, but other teas that could get you feeling nice and snoozy include:
- Chamomile tea: this delicate-tasting tea has calming effects on the body and mind and is one of the most popular sleep-promoting drinks out here. This is because chamomile tea contains apigenin- an antioxidant that attaches to brain receptors that can help you feel ready for sleep.28
- Bedtime teas: there are lots of specially blended night-time teas on the market that mix ingredients like chamomile, valerian root, fennel, passionflower, lemon balm and other natural sleep enhancers.
- Insomnia music: Research suggests that using music for insomnia is an easy and very safe way to try and tackle your sleepless nights. You can’t just blast out any old tunes though, you need to make sure it’s the right sort. The best types of music to listen to before bed include:
- Classical music
- Music with 60 beats a minute – this is said to be the perfect tempo for sleepiness and you can find whole albums / playlists with songs that fit 60BPM. The most relaxing song in the world is said to be ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union – a British ambient band.29
- Music that has no emotional connotations for you – positive or negative
Don’t go to bed in earbuds or headphones, though, as you won’t want to disturb your lovely sleep with the discomfort of rolling over onto hard plastic! However, you can buy pillows with speakers inside them that are specially designed for listening to music in bed.
Prep your bedroom for better sleep
Where you lay your head down at night can have a big impact on the quality and duration of your sleep. It’s important to make your bedroom as relaxing as possible, here’s a few tips on how to do just that:
- Keep pets outside
- Clean and tidy it regularly
- Shut out lights at night
- Keep it cool
- Turn off the tech
- Find the perfect duvet for you
- Dim the lights before bed
- Go for high-quality bed linen if you can
- Try a weighted blanket
- Choose a traditional alarm clock
- Freeze your pillowcases if you’re too warm
Want to find out more about transforming your bedroom into a sleep haven? Read 12 ways to prep your bedroom for better sleep here.
If you continue to have insomnia symptoms, please seek the advice of your GP as they will have a better idea of what could help you.
Last updated: 3rd December 2020
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
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