Think you know the best sleep aids? You might be wrong.
Even in a normal year, sleep hygiene for the holidays is important. But 2020 has been anything but ordinary, and more than ever, people are having trouble falling and staying asleep. The most common response for many is to turn to over-the-counter sleep aids or prescription medication. But there are natural solutions without the potential side effects.
Read on for my take on the best natural, short term sleep aids for those restless nights.
Do I need a sleep aid?
From over-the-counter sleep aids to prescriptions and alternatives, sometimes it feels like almost everyone is taking something to help them sleep.
Not everyone needs a sleep aid–even the best sleep aids are generally unnecessary if you’re keeping to a fairly consistent sleep schedule and waking up feeling rested and energized.
Another important note: sleep aids are just that; an aid. Helpful for occasional bouts of insomnia, or short term sleep issues like jet lag, any sleep aid or sleep prescription should not be used long term unless directed by a doctor.
Occasional insomnia happens to all of us. Long term insomnia may be a sign of a sleep disorder. If you are concerned about your sleep over an extended period of time you should consult your physician or a sleep specialist.
What are the Best Sleep Aids?
Now let’s jump into my recommendation for the best natural sleep aids. I’ll share the most useful sleep science behind each sleep aid, and things you need to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.
Of course, always consult your doctor before starting any sleep aid. One myth about natural sleep aids is that they are 100 percent safe.
Many natural sleep aids may come with side effects, may interact with medications, or carry other risks.
Finally it’s critical you take the correct dosage: often people assume more is better but there is risk in taking too much of anything, especially pharmaceuticals but also natural supplementation.
Valerian root reduces anxiety by slowing down neuron activity in the central nervous system. Known for both its sedative and anti-anxiety effects, many report feelings of calm and relaxation, especially helpful if you have a racing mind at night. If you experience racing mind and it keeps you awake, pairing Valerian root with Ebb Therapeutics can be a powerful combination.
In addition, slower neuron activity may support the amount of time spent in REM and slow-wave sleep. These stages of sleep are essential for physical repairs, and overall energy levels during the day. Research has shown improved sleep quality with valerian root especially for patients suffering from anxiety-driven insomnia.
Side effects of valerian root, when taking the correct dosage, are normally mild. Side effects include stomach aches; brain fog; headache and fatigue the next morning; these are much more common at high dosages. A few may also notice more vivid dreams.
Who Shouldn’t Take It
More research is needed for valerian use for pregnant or nursing mothers and children, so it’s best to find other sleep remedies. You should also stop taking valerian root as a sleep aid two to three weeks before major surgery.
Avoid taking valerian root with anything that also works as a sedative. This includes alcohol and medications like Xanax (Alprazolam ); Benzodiazepines; and anything that further slows the central nervous system.
Magnesium is one of my favorite natural sleep aids, because so much is known about it, and it’s generally considered safe in low doses–not to mention that high quality magnesium is fairly available.
Insomnia can actually be a symptom of magnesium deficiency. That’s not surprising, when you consider the role of magnesium in regulating sleep. Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to improve sleep efficiency, sleep onset, and sleep quality. It also can cut back on waking up too early in the morning.
The healthy adult who takes magnesium at low or moderate doses (most experts recommend 350 mg or less) typically has no to mild side effects (stomach upset is the most common). Higher doses can result in serious side effects that are quite serious, including low blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and even comas, which shows you it’s very important to get a dose recommendation.
Who Shouldn’t Take It
Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children are safest to take only magnesium as prescribed.
Health conditions like bleeding disorders, diabetes, alcoholism, immune diseases all impact how magnesium is absorbed. Meanwhile, anyone with heart block or kidney disease generally shouldn’t take magnesium.
Magnesium shouldn’t be taken with antibiotics, water pills, or muscle relaxants.
I’ve written in the past about what you need to know before taking melatonin. Melatonin is a great natural sleep aid, but there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding it, so read my advice in the link above.
A natural sleep aid I’d also recommend is lesser known: Magnolia Bark acts as a GABA booster. Not only is GABA (a neurotransmitter) involved in relaxing the body, but it’s also been shown to improve sleep. Specifically, GABA may improve non-REM sleep and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
Magnolia bark is considered generally safe for short term use but, like other sleep aids that have a calming effect, shouldn’t be used with sedatives.
How do I find these sleep aids?
Most of these sleep aids you can find through a natural health food supplier or on Amazon. You may also be prescribed magnesium or melatonin through a doctor.
If you’re looking for a safe, balanced dosage of all these ingredients, consider Sleep Doctor PM. My formula combines melatonin, magnolia bark, magnesium, and valerian root in a convenient sleep spray to help with the occasional restless night.
For short term sleep issues, try a natural solution before you resort to over the counter or pharmaceutical solutions–just make sure you find the one that’s right for you, and get a sleep check up if problems persist. Wishing you sweet dreams!