7 Insomnia Natural Remedies
Having trouble sleeping? You aren't alone. The CDC has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.
One in 10 people suffer from chronic insomnia. About 4 in 10 have trouble sleeping. That's a lot of people.
I recently attended an excellent class by Dr. Catherine Darley, ND about helping clients overcome insomnia naturally (1). In this post, I'll pass on some of the things that stood out to me from the class along with information about insomnia that I've learned from other sources over the years.
What's In This Post
In this article I'll cover:
- Signs of Insomnia
- 3 Things to Stop Doing if You Want to Sleep
- Medications that Can Cause Insomnia
- 7 Natural Remedies for Insomnia
For information about what normal sleep looks like, healthy sleep patterns, and more on insomnia side-effects, check out my blog post: What is a Normal Sleep Pattern? What is Insomnia?
Disclaimer: No part of this post should be taken as medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with your personal doctors and medical professionals about your individual circumstances. Pregnant and nursing mothers and people on medications should take special care to check with their doctor regarding any potential counterindications for specific natural remedies.
Signs of Insomnia
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
People with insomnia may:
have a hard time falling asleep (more than a half-hour),
have trouble going back to sleep if they wake up during the night,
wake up too early and can't get back to sleep, or
feel tired and unrefreshed after sleep.
3 Things to Stop Doing if You Want to Sleep
In a moment, I'll list some natural remedies for insomnia, but there are several lifestyle choices that could be interfering with your ability to sleep that you may want to consider reducing or eliminating.
If you have trouble sleeping:
- stop caffeine by at least 3 pm (potentially earlier -- even morning coffee gets in the way of night-time sleep for some people)
- don't drink a bunch of alcohol: alcohol may help you get to sleep but then disturb your sleep
- avoid evening screen time: blue light from computer monitors, phone screens etc in the evening may interfere with melatonin production
I talk more about these and other potential insomnia contributors in my blog post, Lack of Sleep and Anxiety.
Medications that Can Cause Insomnia
Pharmaceutical medications can sometimes interfere with sleep.
When I was taking the class from Dr. Darley, it struck me that the list of insomnia-producing medications she gave contained many drugs that are used to lift mood. I had not thought about it before, but it makes sense that these drugs could have the potential to give too much lift and interfere with sleep.
Here is Dr. Darley's list of medications with possible insomnia side effect (1):
- Antidepressants: SSRIs, Buproprion, MAOIs, Venlafaxine
- Antineoplastics (cancer treatment): Medroxyprogesterone, Leuprolide acetate, Pentostatin, Daunorubicin, Interferon alfa
- Hormones: Oral contraceptives, Thyroid meds, Cortisone, Progesterone
- Neurologic drugs: Phenytoin, Topiramate, Methylphenidate, Lamotrigine, Levodopa
- Antihypertensives (high blood pressure meds): Clonidine, Mehyldopa, Reserpine,
- Beta-blockers: Propranolol, Atenolol, Pindolol
Fat-soluble statins is another set of drugs that can cause insomnia: Lipitor, Mevacor, Vytorin and Zocor.
If you started getting insomnia after you started a pharmaceutical medication, check with your doctor to see if there is a connection and for suggestions on how to improve the situation.
Do NOT discontinue medications without consulting with your doctor. Some medications, including antidepressants, require a well-planned weaning process.
7 Insomnia Natural Remedies
I'll focus this article on seven natural insomnia relief treatments: four supplements and three non-supplement products that are used to improve sleep.
These aren't everything that could be on an insomnia natural remedies list but it includes ones that I hear about most often and/or see positive results from in my clients.
- Hypnosis Recordings
- Weighted Blankets
1. Magnesium for Insomnia Relief
Magnesium is needed for hundreds of chemical reactions in your body. It helps you deal with stress and it is used up by stress.
Magnesium has the potential of relaxing your body and your mind, help you fall asleep, and help you get a full restful rejuvenating sleep.
There are many ways to supplement magnesium. It can be taken in pill form, as a powder mixed with water, and/or in formulas that are absorbed through your skin (transdermal).
Magnesium always has to be compounded with another biochemical in supplements.
Magnesium Pills or Capsules
In pills/capsules, magnesium can be found compounded with at least a dozen different biochemicals. Exactly which compound works for you may depend on your body.
Personally, I've tried at least a half-dozen versions and all of them make me somewhat nauseous feeling so I've given up on this form and instead use powder and transdermal forms. (Update: I found a magnesium capsule supplement that sounds promising. I've ordered some and will let you know about it if I like it. Update on the update: Nope. I didn't like this one either.)
Definitely avoid Magnesium Oxide. It is the most common magnesium compound in oral supplements, the cheapest to produce, and the least absorbable. One author I read said "You might as well eat a rock." Check the back labels of supplements carefully. Many manufacturers only mention that their supplements include magnesium oxide on the back label.
Also, avoid Magnesium Aspartate because aspartate is an excitatory neurotransmitter.
Magnesium can be absorbed through your skin (AKA transdermally).
You can put it into an evening full bath or footbath and do a 20- to 30-minute soak, or you can spray it onto your skin in the form of magnesium oil.
Epsom Salts are composed of Magnesium Sulfate. While you might find Epsom Salt baths or footbaths helpful for sleep improvement, I don't find it as good a source of transdermal magnesium as Magnesium Chloride flakes and oil.
I usually do Magnesium Chloride flakes footbaths several evenings a week and spray on Magnesium Oil other days. As long as I keep up this regimen, I don't have the neck pain that I suffered for a decade after a bad car accident. If I slack off on magnesium intake, my neck pain reappears after a few days. If I use it again, the neck pain goes away. And, while I don't really have sleep problems, I do find that I sleep particularly well the nights that I do a footbath.
Magnesium Chloride flakes -- a cup in a footbath, more in a full bath (If you use Epsom Salts instead, try 2 cups per footbath.)
Some people get itchy from the magnesium oil spray. It is suggested that if that happens to you then dilute the oil 1:1 with water. (Magnesium oil is actually a water solution. It's called oil because of its slippery feeling.)
Magnesium Powder Drink
Many of my clients experience a great improvement in sleep with a Magnesium Citrate powder known as Natural Vitality CALM. It is readily available in stores and online. I use it occasionally when I know that I need some magnesium but don't feel like taking a footbath. I get good results with it too.
Since magnesium is a muscle relaxant, it can cause diarrhea when taken orally. Follow the container's instructions for how to start out with small doses and work your way up toward full dose.
A note regarding the diarrhea effect: For a long time, I was suggesting that my anxiety clients who experienced a lot of diarrhea avoid this form of magnesium, but more recently I am getting feedback from clients who had suffered for years with diarrhea that CALM made their diarrhea go away. My assumption is that it had a calming effect on a cramping intestinal tract or that their diarrhea was anxiety-induced. (CALM calmed the anxiety and in turn that calmed the diarrhea.)
2. L-theanine for Insomnia Relief
L-theanine is a non-protein amino acid. It can be effective for reducing anxiety and also for improving sleep.
Dosage according to doctors Mark Stengler, James Balch, and Robin Young Balch in Prescription for Natural Cures:
- 200–250 mg 2x/day for anxiety (2)
- 200–500 mg for sleep (half-hour before bedtime) (3)
Look for supplements that say they contain L-theanine (not D-theanine).
Here's a couple of sources for L-theanine.
Sports Reseach Suntheanine 200mg capsules
3. Glycine for Insomnia Relief
Glycine is a calming neurotransmitter. Supplementing with glycine can reduce anxiety and improve sleep.
Authors of a glycine/sleep article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology begin their report of research with this statement (4):
"The use of glycine as a therapeutic option for improving sleep quality is a novel and safe approach."
Dosage recommended by Dr. Darley, ND (1):
- 3 g before bed
For example, you would take 3 capsules of Thorne 1000 mg (1 gram) Glycine
4. Melatonin for Insomnia Relief Treatment
Melatonin is a hormone that helps your body know when it is time to sleep.
Melatonin normally cycles opposite to daylight: it goes down in the morning to wake you up and up at night to make you drowsy.
I've had many clients who used melatonin as a sleep aid long before I met them.
I don't know if it's a good idea to use melatonin supplements nightly long-term. I wonder if it could interfere with your body's ability to produce it on its own. I have favored directing people toward ways to support the production of melatonin at night rather than direct supplementation long-term. Having said that, I don't know if my concerns are well-founded when it comes to adults.
There is evidence that long-term use of melatonin in children could interfere with the production of other hormones. (5)
I could easily find several journal articles that publish the results of researchers who examined many melatonin-for-sleep-disturbance studies performed by other researchers. These types of articles are known as meta-analysis. They all concluded that melatonin supplements can be helpful for sleep. (5, 6, 7)
Here's how the Brazilian authors of one such article stated it (5):
"This meta-analysis demonstrates that melatonin decreases sleep onset latency [time to get to sleep], increases total sleep time, and improves overall sleep quality.
The effects of melatonin on sleep are modest but do not appear to dissipate with continued melatonin use."
The Mayo Clinic website has this to say (8):
"Melatonin is generally safe for short-term use. Unlike with many sleep medications, with melatonin you are unlikely to become dependent, have a diminished response after repeated use (habituation), or experience a hangover effect."
Melatonin supplements are meant to cause drowsiness so don't take them when you are supposed to be alert.
Dr. Darley's dosing recommendations for melatonin (1):
- for help getting to sleep: 1-3 mg within 30 minutes of bedtime
- for help staying asleep: 1-3 mg slow-release capsules
These Melatonin Lozenges by Source Naturals are super-convenient since they could be kept by your bed, don't require water to take, and dissolve in your mouth so they will absorb quickly:
The same company makes a time-release melatonin supplement, Source Naturals Sleep Science Melatonin 3 mg Time Release.
Melatonin supplements cause headaches in some people. Watch out for that and also check to make sure that it doesn't have negative interactions with medications that you are prescribed. (One way to investigating drug interactions is by using online checkers such as https://www.drugs.com/drug_interactions.html.)
5. Hypnosis Recordings for Insomnia Relief
One of the therapeutic modalities that I use with clients is hypnotherapy. I love it for its gentle efficiency and effectiveness.
I sell mp3 downloadable recordings of some of my hypnosis on this store.
Each recording begins with me talking you through becoming relaxed. Each can be used anytime you have a half-hour to relax or as you are going to sleep. They are effective even if you fall asleep a few seconds in.
Hundreds of people have reported back to me that the recordings help them get to sleep faster and help them have a better sleep. I've even had several people tell me that when they listen to them out-loud (instead of using earbuds), not only do they sleep better -- their dogs sleep better too. Some people also listen to them if they wake up during the night and find that it helps them get back to sleep.
One person had this to say about my Release & Refresh Emotional Detox Hypnosis downloadable recording:
"Release and Refresh gave me an opportunity to have a great night's sleep. This is after a long litany of sleepless nights. The added bonus to a great sleep is that I woke up refreshed."
Here are a couple of examples of my recordings that you might find helpful:
6. Weighted Blankets for Insomnia Relief
There is a lot of enthusiasm for weighted blankets recently. To many people, they are like a relaxing hug that helps them fall asleep and stay asleep.
I write lots more about how weighted blankets work, related research, and what to look for in weighted blankets in How Weighted Blankets Work for Anxiety and Sleep and I give blanket recommendations based on my research of over 40 brands in Best and Worst Weighted Blankets Reviews.
7. Light Therapy for Insomnia Relief
Light therapy lamps (AKA Happy Lights) are special uber-bright lights that were developed for treating winter depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Since melatonin is usually controlled by light and dark conditions, these bright lights can potentially help reset your melatonin levels so that you have a more normal lowering of melatonin in the morning and rise at night.
For insomnia treatment, Dr. Darley suggests (1):
- 30 minutes with a light therapy lamp in the first 1-2 hours of the wake time
- 10-minute bursts of light with the light therapy lamp every couple of hours until around mid-afternoon
I explain more about light therapy in How to Use Light Therapy for SAD, Winter Depression Treatment, and More and give suggestions for purchasing in Best Light Therapy Happy Lamps Reviews.
1) Catherine Darley, ND, Sleep and Mental Health: Non-Medication Interventions to Restore Sleep Quality and Improve Clinical Outcomes (PESI, 2019).
2) James F. Balch, Mark Stengler, and Robin Young Balch, Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods, Revised Edition (Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing Company, 2016), 53.
3) Balch, Stengler, and Young Balch, Prescription for Natural Cures, 412.
4) Makoto Bannai, and Nobuhiro Kawai. 2012. “New Therapeutic Strategy for Amino Acid Medicine: Glycine Improves the Quality of Sleep.” Journal of Pharmacological Sciences, no. 2: 145. doi:10.1254/jphs.11R04FM.
5) Tsutsui, Kazuyoshi, Takayoshi Ubuka, George E. Bentley, and Lance J. Kriegsfeld. “Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone (GnIH): Discovery, Progress and Prospect.” General and Comparative Endocrinology 177, no. 3 (2012): 305–14.
5) Eduardo Ferracioli-Oda, Ahmad Qawasmi, and Michael H. Bloch. “Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders.” PLoS ONE 8, no. 5 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063773.
6) Li, Tian, Shuai Jiang, Mengzhen Han, Zhi Yang, Jianjun Lv, Chao Deng, Russel J. Reiter, and Yang Yang. “Exogenous Melatonin as a Treatment for Secondary Sleep Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 52 (2019): 22–28.
7) Xie Z, Chen F, Li WA, et al. A review of sleep disorders and melatonin. Neurological Research. 2017;39(6):559-565.
8) Brent A. Bauer, M.D. “Pros and Cons of Melatonin.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, October 10, 2017.
- Ann Silvers