Natural Sleep Remedies
Mark A. Stengler, NMD
Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine
May 6, 2011
onsistently getting a good night’s sleep isn’t a luxury—it’s essential
to your health. Insufficient sleep not only leaves you feeling tired
and irritable but also weakens your immune system and puts you at risk
for depression, weight gain and chronic headaches. To get the full
health benefits of sleep, most adults should aim for at least seven
hours of uninterrupted sleep a night.
Some people have trouble falling asleep. Others wake during the
night. I often help patients determine the nature of their sleep
problem—and what might help. See which sleep problem here matches your
own—and try one natural solution at a time for up to two weeks. If the
problem persists, try a second solution in combination with the first.
(Don’t try three solutions at once.) Once you find the remedies that
work for you, you can use them indefinitely. Before starting, check to
make sure that your sleep problem is not caused by any prescription
medication you might be taking.
Trouble Falling Asleep
If you have trouble falling asleep for any reason when you first go to bed, try...
Melatonin, the hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain, helps
to control sleep and wake cycles. Sublingual melatonin supplements
(lozenges placed under the tongue) generally work better than either
capsules or tablets. Start with 1.5 milligrams (mg) of sublingual
melatonin, 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. (If this doesn’t help within
three nights, try 3 mg.) Do not take melatonin if you are pregnant,
breast-feeding or taking oral contraceptives.
If you have trouble falling asleep because of anxiety, depression or stress, try...
The body uses this amino acid to manufacture the “good mood”
neurotransmitter serotonin. Taking a 5-HTP supplement increases the
body’s serotonin production, promoting a sense of well-being and better
resistance to stress. Start with 100 mg one hour before bedtime. (If
symptoms don’t improve within three nights, try 200 mg.) Don’t take
5-HTP if you are pregnant, breast-feeding or taking an antidepressant or
If 5-HTP doesn’t help and you need a more aggressive approach to combating anxiety and depression, add...
SedaLin. This formula, manufactured by Xymogen, can
help relax the nervous system. (You can have your health-care provider
order it at 800-647-6100, www.Xymogen.com). It contains Magnolia officinalis extract, from the bark of a type of magnolia tree, to relieve anxiety... and Ziziphus spinosa
extract from the plant of the same name to treat irritability and
insomnia. Take one capsule at bedtime for a minimum of two weeks to
allow your stress hormone levels to adjust. (SedaLin also can be used on
its own to relieve anxiety and nervousness during waking hours. Since
its main role is to calm the nervous system, it won’t make you drowsy.)
It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
If you are mineral deficient, try...
Calcium and/or magnesium. These supplements can help
people who are deficient in these minerals (especially seniors) fall
asleep by relaxing the nervous system. Take 500 mg of calcium with 250
mg of magnesium one hour before bedtime. Some people are helped by
taking either the calcium or the magnesium alone. Find what works best
If you are menopausal, try...
Natural progesterone. This bioidentical hormone (not
to be confused with the pharmaceutical progestin) has a natural
sedating effect for women with sleep problems related to low
Best: Have your hormone levels tested. If
progesterone is low, apply a total of one-quarter to one-half teaspoon
of progesterone cream to the inner forearm and wrist or the inner thighs
30 minutes before bedtime. One over-the-counter brand to try: Emerita Pro-Gest (800-888-6041, www.Emerita.com). For a stronger effect, take a progesterone capsule (100 mg to 150 mg), available by prescription.
Waking in the Night
If you have trouble getting back to sleep...
Eat a light snack before bedtime. Some people wake
up in the night because their blood sugar dips, triggering the adrenal
glands to produce adrenaline—exactly what you don’t want while sleeping.
Solution: Eat a small snack before bedtime, such as six ounces of organic yogurt.
If you consistently wake up between midnight and 2 am, try...
Balancing stress hormones. Many people wake up in
the wee hours and are unable to fall back to sleep quickly because of an
imbalance in stress hormones. Adrenal support formulas, available at
health-food stores and online, can help. (Follow directions on the
label.) In addition, try...
Walking after dinner. Exercise of any kind decreases
the production of stress hormones. Exercise as early as possible in the
evening, at least three hours before bedtime.
Listening to relaxing music. One study showed that
listening to relaxing music (such as classical) for 45 minutes before
bedtime resulted in better quality and longer sleep.
If you consistently wake up between 2 am and 4 am, try...
Balancing other hormones. Waking between 2 am and 4
am can be related to hormone imbalances, including estrogen deficiency
in menopausal women (note that this is a different sleep problem than
that caused by progesterone deficiency described above)... testosterone
deficiency in men age 50 and older... and/or growth hormone deficiency
in people age 60 or older. Have your hormone levels tested—and if they
are low, get a prescription for the appropriate bioidentical hormone.