Although it’s common to have the occasional sleepless night, insomnia is the inability to sleep or excessive wakening in the night that impairs daily functioning. Of natural remedies, three have been shown to be useful, and others have some preliminary but inconclusive evidence.
Since chronic lack of sleep may be linked to a number of health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression), it’s important to consult your physician and avoid self-treating with alternative medicine. While you might be tempted to turn to an over-the-counter sleep aid, there are numerous natural remedies to consider, such as the 12 below.
Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions, but the best evidence is for help with sleep problems caused by shift work or jet lag. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain. It is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night.
It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag. Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia.
Timed-release melatonin is used to treat primary insomnia in people over age 55 in the European Union and elsewhere. In most studies on melatonin for insomnia in older adults, melatonin was taken up to two hours before bedtime for up to 13 weeks.
The timing is important—when melatonin is taken in the morning, it delays circadian rhythms but advances them when taken in the afternoon or early evening.
Light therapy is used as part of sleep treatment plans. If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning.
Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.