The 5 Best Natural Sleep Aids of 2023, According to a Dietitian
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There are many types of sleep aids, but these are the ones we recommend.
Fact checked by Rich ScherrMedically reviewed by Melissa Nieves, LND, RD
Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep for the whole night is not only incredibly frustrating, but it can also contribute to a number of health problems. Chronic sleep problems have been linked to increased risk of injuries, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, poor immune function, mood disorders, dementia, and more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, which leaves many people reaching for supplements to help.
Supplements may help some people fall asleep in the short-term, but they act more as a band-aid than a long-term solution. You’ll want to address the underlying reason for your sleep problems. “Before turning to a supplement, make sure you're addressing your sleep hygiene. There could be things you're doing that are sabotaging your sleep without realizing it," advises Kelsey Lorencz, RD, of Zenmaster Wellness.
Lorencz adds, "Drinking caffeine too late in the day, using your phone or computer or watching TV too close to bedtime, and exercising in the evening can all disrupt sleep.” Some medications and health conditions can also disrupt sleep. It’s also important to address overall lifestyle habits such as managing stress and anxiety, exercise or regular movement, and eating enough and a well-balanced diet, which can improve sleep quality.
The safety of sleep supplements—including "natural" ones—varies and will depend on your health status. It may not be a good idea to take sleep supplements if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have other medical conditions, or take certain medications. “Supplements can interact with medications or cause unwanted side effects with certain conditions,” says Lorencz. Before starting a sleep supplement, always check with your healthcare provider to ensure it’s safe for you.
Our team of registered dietitians reviews and evaluates every single supplement we recommend according to our dietary supplement methodology. From there, a registered dietitian on our Medical Expert Board reviews each article for scientific accuracy.
Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.
Best Melatonin: Thorne Research Melaton-3 Melatonin Supplement
NSF certified for sport
Free of common food allergens
May interact with some medications
May be higher dose than some people need
Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body know it’s time to sleep, and research has shown that melatonin supplements may help some people both fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Thorne Research’s Melaton-3 is a good option for those with chronic insomnia or if you’re aiming to overcome jet lag.
Thorne is well known for simple, quality supplements, and the Melaton-3 is no exception. It contains 3 milligrams of melatonin, with no unnecessary additives or other sleep aids that could be problematic. It’s NSF certified for sport meaning the ingredient amounts, contaminants, and banned substances for athletic competitions were third-party tested to be accurate and at safe levels.
This melatonin is vegan, gluten-free, and free from the top 8 allergens, making it a good choice for anyone with dietary restrictions or food allergies. Most research suggests 1-3 milligrams is a safe and effective dose, though some people may experience side drowsiness or other side effects with 3 milligrams.
Although melatonin is naturally occurring in our body, it may not be a safe supplement for everyone. It may interact with some medications including blood thinners and epilepsy medications. It’s also been shown to increase risk of bone fracture in some women. Of note, long-term use of melatonin has not been studied, so as with all supplements, it’s best to use only as a short-term solution.
Tal Shachi, M.D. says, "Optimal sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. Melatonin is a dietary supplement used as a sleep aid. There is little evidence to support its use, however it is generally considered safe and well-tolerated."
Price at time of publication $13 ($0.22 per serving)
Form: capsule | Dose: 3mg | Servings per container: 60
Best Valerian Root: GNC Herbal Plus Valerian Root Extract
Can interact with alcohol and some medications
GNC Herbal Plus Valerian Root Extract provides 500 milligrams per capsule of root extract which some small studies suggest may reduce the amount of time it takes some people to fall asleep and cut down on the number of night wakings. This GNC supplement has also been tested and approved by ConsumerLab.com.
Valerian root is typically either sold as an extract or a root powder. Studies that have shown benefits suggest a dose of between 400-600mg of extract is adequate, and higher doses may not provide additional benefits and lead to drowsiness the next day. Less is known on the dosing of root powder. It’s also found in some teas, though this form has not been well studied.
When considering whether or not to try Valerian root, it’s important to know that the research on valerian root is limited to small, older studies. Also, it may interact with medications and supplements that also have sedative effects such as Xanax, Ativan, St. John’s Wort, and melatonin.
Price at time of publication $25 ($0.50 per serving)
Form: capsule | Dose: 500mg | Servings per container: 50
Best Magnesium: Nature Made Magnesium Citrate
Absorbable form of nutrient
May have laxative effect for some
Magnesium is an essential mineral, and it’s estimated that around 50 percent of older adults don’t get enough, as absorption decreases with age. Many older adults experience insomnia, and magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve quantity and quality of sleep. In addition, adequate magnesium intake is associated with better quality sleep in younger adults, suggesting adequate magnesium intake is important for quality sleep.
While it’s possible for most people, especially younger adults to get enough magnesium through food, if you don’t regularly eat foods like nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, a supplement may help.
We like the Nature Made’s Magnesium Citrate because it contains a form of magnesium that may be well absorbed by our bodies (potentially more than other forms), is USP verified, and is relatively budget-friendly. It offers 250 milligrams of magnesium citrate, which is about 60 percent of most people’s daily needs and is well below the tolerable upper limit of 350 milligrams from supplements. Note magnesium is known to have a laxative effect which may be problematic for some people.
Price at time of publication $19 ($0.16 per serving)
Form: capsule | Dose: 250mg | Servings per container: 120
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Best Tea: Yogi Comforting Chamomile Tea
Safe for most people
Chamomile is only ingredient
May be less effective than some supplements
For those that can use a little help winding down at night, a cup of warm chamomile tea may be just what the doctor ordered. Herbal tea is a safe choice for most people, and chamomile is known to have a calming effect—which may help promote sleep. One study among postpartum women showed that a cup of chamomile tea per day led to better quality sleep. Some studies also suggest that chamomile can support sleep, though more research is needed on dosing and form.
Yogi Chamomile tea is a great way to improve your bedtime routine and prepare your body and brain for sleep. It’s USDA Organic and Non-GMO project verified. Because the only ingredient is chamomile, it’s likely safe for most people. In tea form, chamomile is unlikely to cause side effects, unless you have an allergy to it, which may be more common in people with allergies to ragweed and certain flowers.
Price at time of publication $8 ($0.48 per serving)
Form: tea bag | Dose: 1500 mg | Servings per container: 16
Best Essential Oil: Plant Therapy Lavender Essential Oil
Safe for most people including kids
Can be used as needed
Tested for purity
Scent may not be for everyone
Diffusing essential oil before or during sleep may help you relax and support a better night’s rest. Lavender is known to be a calming herb, and preliminary studies show that diffused essential oils may improve sleep quality. Aromatherapy oils such as lavender have also been shown to reduce anxiety which may in turn support better sleep.
Plant Therapy’s lavender essential oil is a great option for the whole family, as it’s safe for most people including kids (as long as it’s being used while supervised by adults). Plant Therapy uses English lavender (lavendula angustifolia), and one study showed this type of inhaled lavender to improve sleep in college students with sleep problems. Plant Therapy tests all of their oils for purity using GC-MS testing—an important measure to ensure there aren’t contaminants in the oils that may reduce effectiveness or even be harmful.
Plant Therapy’s lavender essential oil should not be consumed orally and is only meant to be used with a diffuser.
Price at time of publication $9
Form: essential oil| Dose: 3-15 drops, diluted| Servings per container: varies
Sleep Aids We Don’t Currently Recommend
There are hundreds of supplements marketed to support or promote sleep, many of which are not well studied. Some may be sold as individual supplements, though many are combination products of various herbs, amino acids, and other nutrients. At this time, there isn’t enough research to support combination products, as we don’t know how those ingredients interact with each other or what the effectiveness is when combined. We also do not recommend the following products for sleep:
Animal studies suggest potential sleep benefits of passionflower. One older study showed that passionflower tea may slightly improve sleep in people with mild sleep disturbances, but more research is needed to understand the effectiveness of supplements in humans. Not much is known about the safety of passionflower, and we do know it is not safe for pregnant people as it could induce uterine contractions.
Research on CBD and sleep is still emerging and results are inconsistent. It may also have the opposite effect you’re looking for—some studies have shown it can be helpful in keeping people awake.
Our bodies use 5-HTP to create melatonin, a main hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Because of this, 5-HTP supplements are marketed as sleep aids. Some very small studies suggest 5-HTP may increase the amount of REM sleep in people with sleep disorders. Preliminary research also suggests it may be helpful for people with Parkinson’s Disease who have trouble sleeping, but it could interact with common Parkinson's medications. However, more research is needed to understand the best dosing, safety, and who it might be appropriate for. Of note, 5-HTP is known to cause a dangerous condition called serotonin syndrome when taken with antidepressants.
L-theanine may reduce stress in some people, but there hasn’t been sufficient research to understand its effect on sleep.
A review of 14 studies on GABA and sleep concluded that there is not enough research to support using it for sleep.
Many sleep supplements combine several ingredients that on their own may be safe and effective but haven’t been tested in combination with the other ingredients in the supplement. More is not always better, and may even be harmful. We recommend avoiding combo products since safety and side effects are not well known.
Who May Benefit from Natural Sleep Aids?
Sleep supplements may benefit some people, but keep in mind that most supplements are a short-term solution, and are best used while working to address the underlying cause of your sleep problems. Supplements affect everyone differently and what works for one person may not work for another.
The following groups may benefit from natural sleep aids:
People with insomnia: No supplement will guarantee a good night of sleep, but some research suggests that melatonin and Valerian root may help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer, especially if you have insomnia
Older people with sleep disorders: It’s estimated that nearly half of older adults have trouble sleeping, and supplements may help. One study showed that chamomile extract improved overall sleep quality in hospitalized people over the age of 60 who had difficulty sleeping. Another study showed that magnesium may support sleep in older adults.
Shift workers: One meta-analysis suggests that dietary supplements may help improve sleep quality in shift workers who have sleep disruptions, such as those who work overnight. It’s important to note that because of the wide range of supplements available and limited number of studies on each, more research is needed to understand which supplements are best for shift workers.
People with certain medical conditions: Some medical conditions like Parkinson's disease can disrupt sleep and supplements like melatonin may help. Sleep aids may worsen symptoms of some conditions, so always check with your doctor to make sure sleep aids are a safe choice for you.
People taking certain medications: Some medications like beta-blockers are known to disrupt sleep. In these cases, sleep aids may be helpful, especially if other lifestyle choices like regularly exercising and managing stress aren’t enough.
People with jetlag: Sleep aids such as melatonin may help regulate your circadian rhythm after travel across time zones.
Who May Not Benefit from Natural Sleep Aids
Pregnant or breastfeeding people: Most sleep aids are not studied in pregnant or breastfeeding people, so both safety and efficacy are unknown. Because drowsiness or inability to focus is a common side effect of sleep aids, it’s not recommended for anyone caring for a baby or small children. That said, one small study of postpartum women (breastfeeding is not specified) suggested chamomile tea may be helpful in improving quality of sleep, and herbal tea is considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding people.
People taking certain medications or supplements: Sleep supplements may interact with some medications and other supplements. Be sure to evaluate a supplement you’re considering with your healthcare provider to determine its safety for you.
People with certain medical conditions: Sleep aids may worsen the symptoms of some medical conditions, so always check with your healthcare provider before starting a supplement.
Young Children: The safety of natural sleep aids is not well studied in young children, and is not recommended.
How We Select Supplements
Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here.
We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products.
It's important to note that the FDA does not review products for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.
We interviewed the following experts for what to look for in natural sleep aids:
Kelsey Lorencz, RD, of Zenmaster Wellness
Tal Shachi, MD, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
What to Look For in Sleep Aids
Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:
Third party testing does not test to see if a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing.
The third party certifications we can trust are: ConsumerLab.com, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive for manufacturers, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations.
Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies, it does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer, and calling up the manufacturer and their testing lab to determine their protocols and decide if you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.
Each sleep aid included in this roundup comes in multiple forms, and we’ve recommended the best, most effective, and safest forms for sleep. If you’re considering a different form, be sure to check with your healthcare team to understand safety and effectiveness for you.
Ingredients & Potential Interactions
It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included, relative to the recommended daily value of that ingredient. Please bring the supplement label to a healthcare provider to review the different ingredients contained in the supplement and any potential interactions between these ingredients and other supplements and medications you are taking.
Many sleep aids contain more than one active ingredient, some of which the safety is unknown. The above section “supplements we do not recommend at this time” has more details on ingredients we suggest to avoid in your sleep supplements.
How Much is Too Much?
Most sleep aids, with the exception of magnesium, don’t have defined tolerable upper limits. Keep in mind that more is rarely better, and higher doses could lead to both short term and long term side effects. Always review dosing with your healthcare provider before starting a supplement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are sleep aids safe?
The safety of sleep aids varies and may depend on whether or not you have any underlying health conditions, take medications, or take any other supplements. When used in the short-term, supplements like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium are likely safe for most healthy people. The safety of other herbs and amino supplements isn’t well established. Other types of sleep aids like diffused essential oils and herbal teas are the safest options and can be used safely by most people.
Most oral sleep aids are not well studied in pregnant or breastfeeding people, and therefore not much is known about safety in that population. Always check with your healthcare provider to determine if a specific sleep aid is safe for you.
What natural sleep aid is the most effective?
There is not one sleep aid that is effective for all people. The effectiveness largely depends on the root cause of your sleep problems. For example, melatonin may be helpful with jet lag as well as insomnia, but magnesium may be best for older people or those that are deficient. It’s best to work with a healthcare provider and ideally a registered dietitian who understands sleep supplements to determine which one would be best for you.
What natural sleep aid is most effective for people with dementia?
Dementia can affect a person's ability to get quality sleep. Melatonin may be an effective treatment for sleep, but it can come with unwanted side effects in this population. It’s been shown to increase depressive behaviors in those with dementia, but those side effects may be counteracted with bright light therapy. Medications for dementia may cause unwanted side effects and further cause sleep disturbances. More research is needed in this population to understand the best options.
Magnesium could potentially be helpful, as magnesium absorption declines with age. Dementia is also associated with eating behavior changes which could lead to a reduced intake of this important nutrient.
Are there any good foods that are natural sleep aids?
Your overall diet and eating patterns are more likely to affect sleep than any individual food. Research shows that eating too close to bedtime (30-60 minutes before going to sleep) can negatively affect sleep quality. On the flip side, eating a well balanced diet and eating enough (not overly restricting calories) may promote better sleep.
In addition, eating enough carbohydrates may support better sleep, especially among athletes. That said, there are some foods that may support better sleep, particularly those that contain melatonin, tryptophan (an amino acid that is involved in melatonin production), and magnesium.
Eggs, fish, legumes, and seeds naturally contain some melatonin. Almonds, cashews, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and black beans are all good sources of magnesium. Turkey is known to be a sleep promoting food because of the high levels of the amino acid tryptophan.
Tryptophan is also found in chicken, fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, milk, and cheese, among other protein-rich foods. If you’re struggling to sleep, it certainly can’t hurt to try including more of these foods in your diet.
What’s the best sleep aid for insomnia?
There’s no supplement that’s a guaranteed ticket to a great night sleep for those with insomnia, but some studies have shown promise of melatonin and valerian root.
If you suffer from insomnia, it’s important to identify the root cause, as treatment options will vary. For example, insomnia due to anxiety, or a side effect of a medication you take, or if it’s from a nutrient deficiency like magnesium can all have different best treatments. Lifestyle changes with sleep hygiene can be important to address for some people with insomnia as well.
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