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Natural Insomnia Remedies: Foods, Herbs, and Supplements continued...

Sleepy-time snacks. The best sleep-inducing foods include a combination of protein and carbohydrates, says Shelby Harris, PsyD. She's the director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.

Harris suggests a light snack of half a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a whole wheat cracker with some cheese. Eat one of these snacks about 30 minutes before hitting the hay.

Magnesium apparently plays a key role with sleep. Research has shown that even a marginal lack of it can prevent the brain from settling down at night. You can get magnesium from food. Good sources include green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and almonds. Check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements.  Magnesium can interact with many different medications, and too much of it can cause serious health issues.

Lavender. Lavender oil is calming and can help encourage sleep in some people with insomnia, research shows. “Try taking a hot bath with lavender oil before bed to relax your body and mind,” Harris says.

Valerian root. This medicinal herb has been used to treat sleep problems since ancient times. “Valerian can be sedating and may help you fall asleep,” says Tracey Marks, MD, an Atlanta-based psychiatrist.

Research on the effectiveness of valerian for insomnia is mixed. Marks says if you try valerian as a sleep remedy, be patient. It can take a few weeks for it to take effect. Talk to your doctor before taking valerian and follow label directions.

L-theanine. This amino acid found in green tea leaves may help combat anxiety that interferes with sleep. A 2007 study showed that L-theanine reduced heart rate and immune responses to stress. It's  thought to work by boosting the amount of a feel-good hormone your body makes. It also induces brain waves linked to relaxation. Talk to your doctor before taking it.

Natural Sleep Remedies: Lifestyle Changes

The following changes to your lifestyle and environment can also help you combat sleep problems:

Turn off the TV. In some people, nighttime light can hinder melatonin and create “social jetlag,” which mimics symptoms of having traveled several time zones. To keep your sleep surroundings as dark as possible, Ahmed recommends moving the TV out of your bedroom and using a DVR or TiVo to record favorite late-night shows for later viewing.

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