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Categories > Sleep Disorders > Insomnia

Natural sleep aids

Insomnia is keeping you awake at night and making you bleary-eyed and inattentive all day. You may feel that you desperately need a sleep aid. But if you’re not interested in taking medication, what can you do?

A variety of “natural” sleep aids are available at pharmacies or health-food stores that sell dietary supplements. But just because supplements aren’t drugs doesn’t mean that they don’t have side effects. Read on to see if any are right for you, consulting a healthcare provider before taking anything new.

  • Aromatherapy. You may have heard that breathing in scents from essential oils can relax you and help you sleep at night. Safety testing on essential oils shows few negative side effects or risks when they’re used as directed. Some essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Kava. This root of a plant from the South Pacific is ground up for medicinal purposes, and it’s been used historically to treat insomnia, so you may be curious to try it. However, studies haven’t shown kava to be effective for sleep problems. More importantly, kava can cause severe liver damage or even death, so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Melatonin. Your body produces melatonin, a hormone that helps adjust your internal clock so you know when to sleep. A synthetic form is available in a pill or chewable form, and research suggests that it may help adults fall asleep somewhat quicker.
  • Valerian. This plant, native to Europe and Asia, has been used to treat sleep problems for centuries. The roots and stems can be found in teas, capsules and extracts. A handful of studies have found that people fell asleep more quickly and stayed asleep longer after taking valerian.