If a good night’s sleep feels like an elusive dream, you might be tempted to reach for the medicine bottle. Over-the-counter drugs and prescription sleeping pills are among the most often used medications. And while those options will help you get more z’s, they don’t come without some downsides—some prescription sleep med side effects include driving, eating and walking during sleep, as well as short-term memory loss.
Okay, so now you’re really wide awake! But the good news is that drugs aren’t the only route to more restorative sleep. Here, several natural approaches that help you to have more restful nights.
Why it may help: Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally in the body. It is normally at its highest after dark, when it works to make you sleepy and ready to go to bed. “But melatonin is very sensitive to light—especially the blue light emitted from electronics like televisions, iPads, computers,” explains Catherine Darley, N.D., of the Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicine, Seattle. “Being exposed to that blue light can shut off melatonin production, making it harder to fall asleep at night.”
Melatonin is most proven for helping to shift the timing of your body clock—what is called “delayed sleep phase syndrome”—for people who can’t fall asleep until very late. “People take it for insomnia, but the research on its effectiveness for this isn’t as well established,” says Darley.
How to make it work for you: To maintain your natural melatonin levels, keep your electronic devices out of the bedroom and don’t use them right up until bedtime.
These days, people are treating melatonin supplements like they’re sleeping pills, popping one or two (or more!) right before hitting the sack. But melatonin is a sleep regulator, not initiator. It shifts your body into a state that is more available for sleep, but it’s not a quick lights-out solution. Because of this, take melatonin 90 minutes before you want to sleep to give it time to work. One milligram is all you need—anything more could make you groggy in the morning.
Why it may help: L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. It has been shown to help boost mood and improve cognition, but the supplement’s connection to sleep is that it also helps to quiet the mind. A study in Japan found that subjects who took 200 mg. of L-theanine had improved sleep quality as compared to a control group who took a placebo.
How to make it work for you: If an overly busy brain is what’s keeping you up nights, taking an L-theanine supplement at bedtime can help. “It won’t make you sleepy, but it will help calm your brain,” says Darley.
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