Exercise, diet and sleep – the holy triad of health. Eat well, move more, sleep enough. Easy, right?

Not always. Unfortunately, in the same way that many of us have a less than balanced diet, and aren’t as active as we should be, getting enough sleep is not always high on the priority list.

But it needs to be.

Poor sleep has a negative impact on almost all aspects of your health: your hormones, cognitive function, memory and exercise function to name a few [1]. Whether it’s due to stress, poor lifestyle habits or a medical condition, we’ve all suffered with insomnia at one point or another.

Getting enough sleep may be as simple as changing routines, diet, or habits, but natural sleeping aids can also work wonders to help you sleep better. Natural sleeping aids have been well-researched in the last decade. They’ve been said to encourage relaxation, ease anxiety and promote sleep.

Many of the natural sleep aids are also linked to other health-promoting behaviours, such as improved digestion and pain relief. It’s a win, win.

What herbal medicine is good for sleeping?

Essential oils and herbal medicines have many different benefits. With powerful abilities from weakening viruses and strengthening the immune system to soothing feelings of anxiety and slowing down the brain, herbal medicine can also be powerful way to help you relax and sleep better.

The benefits will vary, but the most widely researched and notable natural sleep aids are:

Melatonin

Possibly the most widely discussed sleep-aid, melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It controls your circadian rhythms and supplemental melatonin may help you to fall asleep faster and boost the quality of your sleep.

When used as a sleep aid, individuals are able to fall asleep more quickly and spend more time in a deep-sleep [2]. The recommended dose is ~1-5 milligrams before bedtime.

Lavender

Lavender is a fragrant plant often used to make oils and perfumes. Thought to boost health and well-being, it’s calming effect can also help induce sleep. The theory suggests that lavender works by slowing your nervous system, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure to allow you to fall into a deep sleep.

Popular in aromatherapy, studies have shown that it essential lavender oil can increase slow and deep-wave sleep, promote feelings of relaxation and a boost of get-up-and-go the next morning [3]. With that being said, essential lavender oil should always be diluted, and never taken internally. As an oral supplement, the recommended dose is ~80-160mg.

Valerian

Valerian is an herbal medicine made from the root of the plant. The research is very early, but it has been noted to have sedative properties, and therefore could potentially act as a powerful sleep aid.

Studies have shown that valerian can treat insomnia and improve the quality of sleep when taking 530mg twice a day for two to six weeks [4]. Common symptoms may include headaches, dizziness and irritability.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral vital for brain function and heart health, suggested to have a relaxing effect on the mind and body. Magnesium regulates the production of melatonin, which as mentioned above, is a hormone that guides the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It also appears to increase the brain levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a brain messenger known for its calming effects [5].

Studies have shown that increased magnesium intake can help to optimise the quality and duration of sleep. It is worth remembering that these findings are often found in subjects with a deficiency; the results for people with normal levels of magnesium to begin with are less clear.

L-tryptophan

L-tryptophan is an amino acid that induces a rise in serotonin and melatonin levels, hormones key for making you want to hit the sack. Doses as low as 1 gram per day of this essential amino acid can help you fall asleep faster and may help improve sleep quality [6].

While tryptophan occurs naturally in many foods, supplementation is an easy way to ensure you reap the benefits. Up to 3g per day has been recommended as a safe dosage, but as always, supplements should be added slowly to your diet.

What is the strongest natural sedative?

The strongest natural sedative will depend on multiple factors and unfortunately, it’s not an easy answer.

Valerian and lavender were found to be among the strongest natural sedatives, noted as the most effective ‘tranquilizer herbs’ [7]. The effects of each natural remedy will vary according to dosage, and it’s always worth noting that some may bring unwanted side effects.

More effective than a stand-alone natural sleep aid, the market is now saturated with supplements containing optimal doses of a handful of the most powerful ingredients available. We now have the benefit of a wide range of single supplements that combine the best of the herbal medicines known to improve and aid sleep. Three options widely available are:

1. Performance Lab Sleep

Performance Lab Sleep is a premium sleep product that has been clinically tested to improve sleep and nightly regeneration. It has an impressive ingredients list, with magnesium, a natural source of melatonin (very rare to see) and l-tryptophan. They also use plant capsules that are easily digestible.

2. Alteril Dietary Supplement

The Alteril Dietary Supplement claims to help you fall asleep faster and prolong deeper sleep stages. It offers a great dose of melatonin and l-tryptophan but needs to be taken on an empty stomach. It does have a few unproven ingredients in there, but a good option, nonetheless.

3. Avinol PM

Avinol PM is a natural sleep aid designed to naturally enhance sleep quality. It contains l-theanine, magnesium and melatonin, ingredients we’d expect to see in top sleep aids. Unfortunately, the dosage facts are hidden, so it is difficult to gauge how effective the supplement may be.