According to the US Center For Disease Control, somewhere between 50 and 70 million American adults struggle with some form of sleep disorder(1). For many, this comes in the form of insomnia – difficulty falling and staying asleep, which can cause fatigue and ultimately result in physical and mental problems as well. Many individuals with sleep disorders rely on medications to help regulate their sleep cycles. But there’s a downside to taking these pills on a regular basis.
Benzodiazepines, for example, are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for sleep disorders – but those who take them for too long or at too high a dose risk becoming dependent on these drugs.
Sleeping pills, especially when abused, can have serious side effects – “They may cause problems with memory, concentration, sleep and lead to behavioral changes,” one survey writes. “They can also affect people’s ability to drive and, particularly in older and unwell people, increase the likelihood of falling.”(2)
And kicking the habit is no easy task either – many people who have taken sleeping pills for an extended period of time experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them, making quitting an arduous process.
So if you can avoid all that by managing your sleep disorder naturally, it’s definitely worth a shot. While the following remedies may not work for everyone, there is scientific proof that they can be effective – and safer than sleeping pills.
1. Nuts, Seeds And Other Magnesium-Containing Foods
Dietary magnesium supplementation can make a big difference in the sleep quality of people with insomnia, according to one double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial(3).
The study looked at magnesium supplementation in the elderly specifically, with the reasoning that “with aging, several changes occur that can place one at risk for insomnia, including age-related changes in various circadian rhythms, environmental and lifestyle changes, and decreased nutrients intake, absorption, retention and utilization.”
Their results were conclusive:
“Supplementation of magnesium appears to improve subjective measures of insomnia such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people.”
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of dietary magnesium.
2. Specific Herbal Teas
There are certain herbal teas that are well-known as mild sedatives, which can help even the most wakeful of us calm down. To start with, there’s valerian root – one of the most common remedies for insomnia(4). Then there’s the natural sedative chamomile(5), and the calming lavender(6).
But be careful with some of these teas – valerian root in particular can have interactions with certain medications(7). If you are taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety, or anti-convulsant medication, talk to your doctor before drinking valerian tea.
3. Kiwi Fruit
Although it might seem counter-intuitive – most of us try to avoid sugary foods like fruit before bed – it turns out that kiwi fruit can actually improve sleep duration and quality.
“Numerous studies have revealed that kiwifruit contains many medicinally useful compounds, among which antioxidants and serotonin may be beneficial in the treatment of sleep disorders,” one study reports(8).
Promoting Better Sleep Through Diet
Diet has a major role to play in how well we sleep.
One review explains that: “A number of studies have demonstrated that major insomnia risk factors in human beings are less functional foods in dietary[sic]. There are higher functional components in functional foods promoting sleep, including tryptophan, GABA, calcium, potassium, melatonin, pyridoxine, L-ornithine and hexadecanoic acid… The factors promoting sleep in human beings are the functional foods including barley grass powder, whole grains, maca, panax, Lingzhi, asparagus powder, lettus, cherry, kiwifruits, walnut, schisandra wine, and milk.”(10).
In short, it takes a healthy diet to promote healthy sleep patterns.