Sleep supplements, herbs, vitamins, and review of diet and foods for a good night's rest
July 16 2018
by Ray Sahelian, M.D., sign up to a free newsletter on the latest research regarding natural ways to sleep

A good night's sleep enhances energy, mood, motivation, vitality, relieves aches and pains, and reduces the risk for chronic medical conditions and reduces the risk to catch the common cold and other infections.  

One of the most important sleep tips is to take a walk in the morning to expose yourself to early morning light. This will help your circadian clock so that when night comes your body will naturally be ready to slow down. If you can't walk outside, try to be near a window in the morning or throughout the day with natural light.

Natural sleeping aids are available, here is a list of them that you can try:

5-HTP at a dose of 50 mg an hour to three hours before bed on an empty stomach or half an hour before dinner can be helpful.

Graviola herb, of high quality, works well for sleep. You can take two or three capsules two to three hours before bed on an empty stomach (half hour before a meal or at least three hours after a meal).

Melatonin at a dose of 0.3 to 2 mg one to three hours before bed, on an empty stomach, can help induce sleep. Limit melatonin use to once or twice a week. Sometimes a lower dose such as 0.3 mg taken earlier in the evening, about 6 or 7 PM works better than a higher dose taken later.

Theanine helps with relaxation at a dose of about 200 mg, but it is not a strong sleep agent, it's more of an anti-stress amino acid.

The herb hops in tea or pill can also help with sleep, so can passionflower herb. Hops is taken about an hour or two before bed. A Valerian root / Hops combination 500mg / 100mg may also work well.
I have not found chamomile tea to be helpful. In fact, chamomile tea sometimes makes me more alert.

Tryptophan is liked by some people at a dose of 500 mg.

Marijuana, or pot, edibles can help with sleep (using indica), at a dose of 5 to 15 mg of THC. However, it is best not to consume a marijuana edible more than twice a week. Marijuana edibles are legal in multiple states. Marijuana edibles, in the form of chocolate, cookie, brownie, etc., can be consumed about an hour to two hours before bed. After you take it watch something interesting on TV, such as a nature show, a travel show, or perhaps a comedy movie.

Some people find the mineral magnesium of help although I am not impressed with its effects. A study in seniors was optimistic.

Don't overly rely on sleeping pills, whether natural or by prescription
Check with your doctor before using herbal sleeping pills. Make sure the pills won't interact with other medications or with an existing medical condition. Frequent use of prescription sleep medications can lead to reliance, tolerance, and loss of memory. Occasional use of pharmaceutical insomnia drugs, such as three or four times a month, is acceptable.

Use the lowest dosage and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. The occasional use of prescription sleep pills should not be harmful. Regular use can lead to dependence on these sleeping pills and you could have rebound insomnia (not sleeping well) the night you stop take them.

Deeper sleep leads to less chronic aches and pains
Non-restorative sleep is the biggest risk factor for the development of widespread pain in older adults. Arthritis & Rheumatology, news release, Feb. 13, 2014.
While Americans search high and low for solutions to their chronic pain problems, one of the simplest fixes may be right under their noses: getting a good night's sleep.
Nerve connections in the brain strengthen during deep sleep.

Causes of disturbed sleep
Sleep problems can be caused by lack of exercise, overheated body or high temperature in the bedroom, noise, too much alcohol, certain medications, and a number of medical disorders including asthma, breathing problems, COPD or other types of lung disease, chronic pain, enlarged prostate gland leading to frequent nighttime bathroom visits, gastroesophageal reflux, heart failure, restless leg syndrome. Psychological conditions include depression and anxiety. Obstructive sleep apnea causes daytime fatigue. A cause of sleep disturbance in women who are in their 40s or early 50s is perimenopause. Lack of adequate sleep can increase the risk for chronic medical conditions such as
high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes and can reduce sex drive partly due to lower testosterone levels.

People who have a tough time getting a good night's sleep are more likely to become dissatisfied with their lives. People with insomnia or poor sleep quality may be less tolerant of pain.

Practical sleep tips

Exposure to sunlight
Early morning exposure to sunlight is ideal but any time of day is also good. The more a person is exposed to light during the day  -- does not necessarily mean being in direct sunlight, it could be being outdoors yet in shade -- the better they will sleep at night. The more activity a person does during the day that makes them tired, the better they will sleep at night. Artificial light exposure is helpful but the effects are minimal compared to being outdoors.

Daily exposure to high-intensity light early in the morning improves sexual satisfaction and boosts testosterone levels in men with reduced libido or erection difficulty.

If you have chronic insomnia and nothing seems to work and you are habituated to taking prescription sleep medications, consider, as a last resort, if you can afford to, and are physically able, to take a several day vacation where you go to a sunny area and are physically active all day, whether hiking, swimming, or biking. All day light exposure and fatigue through physical activity are bound to give you a good night's sleep and readjust your sleep / awake cycle. If you are not able to be very active physically, just taking long drives in the countryside and visiting tourist spots with short walks will expose you to enough light to make your sleep deeper.

Eating before bedtime, milk and honey?
Eat a light or medium sized snack or meal about 1 to 4 hours before sleep. If you drink too much liquid before sleep, you'll wake up repeatedly in the night for trips to the bathroom. A meal consisting of carbohydrates will make you fall asleep quicker but can cause weight gain if done regularly. It's a delicate balance between deeper sleep and weight gain.
   Foods for sleep: If you get the munchies, eat something that triggers serotonin, which makes you sleepy. Carbohydrates (whole grain bread, pasta with tomato sauce, potatoes, lentils, barley, fruits, or cereal) with small amount of foods containing the amino acid L-tryptophan (milk, tuna, or turkey) will do the trick. A fruit salad or smoothie (with mangoes, bananas) and vegetable soup are good options. Another idea is whole grain bread with tomatoes (or salsa) and melted cheese. A meal that really works to help you sleep is spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese about two to four hours before bedtime.
Dietary carbohydrate intake has been shown to increase the plasma concentration of tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin and sleep-inducing agent. A carbohydrate-based high-GI meal results in a significant shortening of onset to sleep compared with a low-GI meal.
   If you really want something effective to help you sleep -- but it is not healthy to do so regularly -- mix a teaspoon or more of honey, maple syrup or agave with milk or dehydrated goat's milk (dissolved in hot water) and gulp it down an hour or two before bed. To make it a little healthier you can add flax seeds or chia seeds as fiber.

    Q. One of the things you recommend is high-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals 4 hours before bedtime. As I understand it, a high GI indicates that the food results in a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and hence a spike in insulin response. Is that a good thing?
    A. It's not a healthy thing to do to eat carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, but it is better once in a while to do so and get a good night's rest than it is to toss and turn all night and feel lousy the next day with low energy. One has to balance the benefits versus the downside of every treatment decision.

In my experience as a family physician I recommend eating carbohydrate foods an hour or two before bedtime in order to induce sleep. Some of the suggestions that I tell my patients are to eat a fruit salad with maple syrup, whole grain cereal, potato, cheese and tomato sandwich, or pasta with tomato sauce. Carbohydrates stimulate insulin release which in turn helps the amino acid tryptophan more easily cross the blood brain barrier and in the brain tryptophan gets converted into serotonin and on to melatonin.

Avoid caffeine, nicotine, spices, and stimulants after lunch
Smokers experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and they have a harder time both falling asleep and waking up. Some people are so sensitive that even a cup of coffee drank at lunch can interfere with sleep. Caffeine is found in tea (including green tea), certain soft drinks, chocolate, cocoa, and of course coffee. Some herbal teas contain various substances that cause alertness. Caffeine is also found in certain herbs such as guarana and kola nut. If you have a sleep problem, stop eating chocolate and drinking teas until it is resolved.
   Avoid spices and herbs in large quantities after midday, and especially at dinner, since certain spices and herbs can influence sleep by making you too alert. Spicy foods may cause heartburn in some people.

Avoid high doses of certain dietary supplements
Keep in mind that taking too many supplements, herbs, and vitamins can sometimes cause sleep problems since many of them cause alertness. Diet pills that contain stimulants such as citrus aurantium can keep you awake. So can the nutrients phenylalanine amino acid, tyrosine, carnosine, certain hormones such as DHEA, progesterone, pregnenolone, testosterone, androstenedione, ginseng and other adaptogenic herbs, "adrenal gland stimulating herbs," tongkat ali, LJ100, muira puama, maca, horny goat weed, dodder seed or cuscuta, and the anti-depressants St. John's wort and SAM-e. High doses of B vitamins and certain nutrients, such as CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid, may act as stimulants. Take most of your supplements early in the day. Many herbs not mentioned above can cause alertness late into the night. If you have trouble sleeping, consider stopping all supplements, herbs and spices for a week to see if you sleep better. Even fish oils or krill oil ( more than several pills a day) use could be a cause of difficulty sleeping in some individuals.

Drugs, medications, that cause sleep problems
There are countless, I will mention a few. Any type of stimulant medication, for instance used for ADD.
Beta blockers
Stimulants used for ADHD.
The stimulant medications used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can keep some kids awake at night. The medications -- which include drugs like Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall -- already list sleep problems as a potential side effect.
Alpha blockers
SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac
Corticosteroids such as cortisone
ACE inhibitors
H1 antagonists that are not sedating
Cholinesterase inhibitors
Statins for cholesterol reduction

Avoid excess alcohol
Don't drink more than one ounce of alcohol before sleep. It may cause you to wake up repeatedly, snore and possibly develop sleep apnea. Alcohol can help induce sleep but it also disrupts sleep patterns. However, one ounce or so can be helpful for some people. Alcohol deepens sleep during the first half of the night but then disrupts it during the second half of the night.

If you're trying to sleep better, the best time to exercise is in the afternoon. Physical activity enhances the deep, refreshing stage of sleep. My best sleep nights have been after a full day of walking, hiking, or biking. Also, take a walk in the morning to expose yourself to morning light which will help you sleep better at night. The more sun exposure you have, the deeper your sleep will be that night. The combination of being outdoors all day while walking, hiking in the woods, biking, kayaking, skiing, etc, is certain to help almost anyone who has problems with insomnia.
Exercise also has anti-aging benefits.

Researchers in 2015 looked at data from a survey of more than 429,000 American adults. They found that activities such as walking, bicycling, running, weight lifting, aerobics/calisthenics, gardening, yoga/Pilates and golfing were all linked to better odds of a good night's slumber. But, people who got physical activity from household chores and child care had a greater risk of poor sleep, University of Pennsylvania, news release, June 4, 2015.

A slightly cool room is best for sleep
This mimics your internal temperature drop during sleep, so turn off the heat and save on fuel bills. Adjust your bedroom temperature to be slightly chilly.

Sleep only at night
Daytime naps steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to 20-minute, power naps. Don't take a nap after 2 PM. If you work nights, keep window coverings closed so that sunlight, which interferes with the body's internal clock, doesn't interrupt your sleep. If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking, leave the window covering open and let the sun's light wake you up.

Keep it quiet
Silence is more conducive to sleep. Turn off the radio and TV. Use earplugs, a fan, or some other source of constant, soothing, background noise to mask sound that you cannot control, such as a busy street, trains, airplanes or even a snoring partner. Double-pane windows and heavy curtains also muffle outside noise. The use of ear plugs cannot be emphasized enough for those who live in loud neighborhoods. You may be amazed on how much better you'll sleep and feel in the morning when you use ear plugs since you will be able to get a deeper sleep without frequent overnight interruptions from traffic noise, airplanes, dogs barking, roommates snoring, etc.

Use eye shades to block light
Keep your bedroom completely dark. Even the tiny light from a digital alarm clock can disrupt a sleep cycle. Dim the lights in the house at least an hour before bed.

Make your bed comfortable

Soak and sack out
Taking a hot shower or bath two to four hours before sleep can relax tense muscles and your body has time to cool from the hot water.

Use sleep relaxation techniques
Try one or more relaxation techniques. When you are in bed lying on your back, shake and loosen a leg and foot. Take a few, slow, deep breaths by expanding your belly. Proceed to shake and loosen the other leg and foot and then return to your abdomen for a few more relaxed breaths. Proceed with this relaxation to your arms, shoulders, and neck. Now relax your facial muscles--especially the muscles around the eyes and mouth. Remember to return to your breath after relaxing each muscle group. Before you know it you'll be drifting into your adventure-filled unconscious. Also helpful is mentally focusing on a serene and inviting place -- like the waves on a beach or a quiet lake surrounded by tall trees -- and slowly deep breathing.

Being woken up and exposed to bright light at night can throw off a person's biological clock for the next few days. What's more, the researchers found that being woken up at night at all--even in a dark room--also disrupts the body's timing, although to a lesser degree.

Aromatherapy may work for some people
The smell of jasmine in the bedroom has been found to help improve sleep in those who are sensitive to aromatherapy. Lavender may also help slightly.

Soft music
In a paper published in the February issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, a team from Taiwan’s Tzu Chi University said they studied the sleep patterns of 60 people aged between 60 and 83 who had difficulty sleeping. Half were given relaxing music to listen to for 45 minutes at bedtime and half were given no help to sleep. The team found that those who listened to a selection of soft, slow music experienced physical changes that aided restful sleep, such as lower heart and respiratory rates.

An hour or two before bedtime
Avoid doing any kind of work that takes alert thinking. If your mind is racing (you’re planning a trip, a move; you’re worried about a medical diagnosis), write down what’s on your mind.
Teenagers sleep less than in the past, trading shuteye to spend more time on their phones and tablets.

A low-carbohydrate diet leads to modest improvements in daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy.

The deep baby sleep.
Nothing seems to improve memory, mood, and overall mental health as well as regular, deep sleep. Sleep aids include natural supplements, sleeping pills, ear plugs, eye shades or sleep masks, and others.

Sleep apnea treatment
There is currently no proven drug therapy for sleep apnea. However, there are 4 basic approaches. Try to change the circumstances which may be causing sleep apnea or making it worse. This would include weight loss, avoidance of alcohol and sedative drugs, trying to sleep only on your side and stopping smoking. Losing weight makes a significant improvement. Use Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) in the upper airway to support and hold the airway open. One of the reasons for the upper airway to become narrowed at night is because the tongue falls backwards, especially in the supine position. Since the tongue is attached to mandible this can be a significant problem in people with retrognathia and/or a very large tongue. It is possible to use a dental splint at night that effectively prevents the jaw and tongue from moving back when someone lies down and goes to sleep. A surgical operation on the back of the throat to remove redundant soft tissue in an attempt to increase the size of the upper airway can be performed to reduce sleep apnea.
   Mouth devices that aid breathing during sleep can be used as the first-line treatment for people with chronic snoring or milder cases of obstructive sleep apnea. Oral appliances - similar to mouth guards used in sports - should be offered as an initial treatment to people with mild to moderate OSA. People with more severe cases, however, are advised to first try continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which has been shown to be more effective than oral devices.

Cutting calories improves sleep apnea and lowers blood pressure in obese adults.

Length of sleep
The amount of sleep that a person needs to function normally depends on several factors (e.g., age). Infants sleep most of the day (about 16 hours); teenagers usually need about 9 hours a day; and adults need an average of 7 to 8 hours a day. Although elderly adults require about as much sleep as young adults, they usually sleep for shorter periods and spend less time in deep stages of sleep. About 50% of adults over the age of 65 have some type of sleep disorder, although it is not clear whether this is a normal part of aging or a result of medications that older people commonly use, or a deficiency of melatonin, or lack of adequate exercise and exposure to sunshine.

Sleep disorder
There are a few dozen different sleep disorders that are generally classified into one of three categories:
Lack of sleep (e.g., insomnia, this is the most common and occurs more often in women and the elderly)
Disturbed sleep (e.g., obstructive sleep apnea, sleepwalking, night terrors, sleep walking, sleep talking, bed-wetting, restless legs syndrome), and
Excessive sleep (e.g., narcolepsy).

Types of sleep medications
There are several prescription options available, and I believe they are effective and safe when used infrequently. Some may cause bedwetting but this is not a frequent occurrence.
Ambien prescription medication
Lunesta has been approved for long term use, but I am always cautious about taking drugs for long periods of time.

Over the counter sleep medication or medicine
You can find over-the-counter sleep medications such as diphenhydramine and dimenhydrinate. I don't think they work well to give a better sleep, and these sleep medications can leave you drowsy the next day, but they do not appear to be addictive. Side effects of these sleep medications include dizziness, blurred vision, and dry mouth. Other commonly used over-the-counter sleep medications include Nytol, Sleep-Eez, and Sominex. When sleeplessness is caused by minor pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (Advil, Motrin) can sometimes be helpful. Antihistamines have a sedating effect and may be used as mild sleep inducers. They include chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). I personally prefer the natural sleep aids.

REM sleep
REM sleep is a stage of sleep characterized by a number of features including rapid, low-voltage brain waves detectable on the electroencephalographic (EEG) recording, irregular breathing and heart rate and involuntary muscle jerks. Dreams occur during REM sleep. We typically have 3 to 5 periods of REM sleep per night. They occur at intervals of 1-2 hours and are quite variable in length. An episode of REM sleep may last 5 minutes or over an hour. About 20% of sleep is REM sleep. If you sleep 7-8 hours a night, perhaps an hour and half of that time, 90 minutes, is REM sleep. By contrast, NREM (non-REM) sleep is dreamless sleep. During NREM, the brain waves on the EEG are typically slow and of high voltage, the breathing and heart rate are slow and regular, the blood pressure is low, and the sleeper is relatively still. NREM sleep is divided into 4 stages of increasing depth of sleep leading to REM sleep. About 80% of sleep is NREM sleep. If you sleep 7-8 hours a night, all but maybe an hour and a half is spent in dreamless NREM sleep.

Sleep and Memory
Skimping on sleep can slow certain types of learning, and the difficulty seems to arise from a lack of new brain neurons. Rodents that got half their normal amount of shut-eye had a harder time remembering how to navigate a maze than well-rested rats.

People who miss a night of sleep have a buildup in their brain of a substance called beta-amyloid. This substance is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep on it before you make a major decision
When faced with a major decision, such as buying a car or a house, it's best to do your homework, and then forget about it for a while and let your unconscious churn through the options. Unconscious deliberation may lead to a more satisfying choice than mere conscious deliberation alone, at least for major decisions. The human subconscious has a higher capacity to integrate more information, which can lead to better choices.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
Many teens and adults have delayed sleep phase syndrome. Some people have a lot of trouble getting to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning and they could have a condition known as delayed sleep phase syndrome. This is a disorder where people may think they have insomnia, but can actually sleep well as long as they sleep hours after others have gone to bed.  Delayed sleep phase syndrome affects between 7 percent and 16 percent of adolescents and young adults. It is less common among older adults. Among those affected by the disorder, the body's circadian rhythm allows them to stay awake long past what may be considered a normal bedtime. There is no cure for delayed sleep phase syndrome, but it can be treated by behavioral modification, such as restricting the consumption of caffeinated beverages, not exercising during or near bedtime hours and limiting light exposure from computer screens and television screens at night. Exposure to sunlight during the day and doing lots of exercise that leads to exhaustion can be helpful. The occasional use of melatonin or kava in the evening may provide temporary benefit.

Sleep natural treatment with herbs, vitamins and supplements emails
Right now I am taking 1000 mg of Valerian and 150 mg of Hops for insomnia. I had been taking a sleeping pill called Ambien and did not like the hung over feeling I had in the morning so I weaned myself off of Ambien - slowly; and then I slowly started to introduce Valerian and Hops. So far so good - but here are some nights that I simply do not sleep well. Can "tolerance" develop with these herbs? And, Dr Sahelian, thank you so much for your hard work, dedication, and pioneering spirit in nutritional medicine! I am indeed a fan.
   I appreciate the positive feedback. There are several herbs and nutrients that can help with insomnia, such as hops, valerian, kava, melatonin, 5-HTP, etc., unfortunately, tolerance can develop with most of them, and they are not as consistent as pharmaceutical medicines. I recommend to my patients to alternate various nutrients and herbs, and sometimes I will prescribe the occasional use of a prescription sleeping pill. It's also a good idea to take breaks and not use any pills for sleep for at least a couple of nights.

I have problems sleeping at night and staying awake in the day and I'm looking for natural a solution. For energy I found Acetyl-L-Cartinine and R-Alpha lipoic Acid, which are recomended to be taken together. For sleep I found Tryptophan and 5-HTP. Which of the 2 sleep aids would be most effective and safest to take long-term? Would it make sense to take a sleep aid and the energy boosters listed above? Would these products work against each other in some way?
   Both acetylcarnitine and lipoic acid, in a high dose, can cause sleep problems even if they are used in the morning. So, dosages should stay low enough to not interfere with sleep. It's difficult to predict which of the two serotonin precursors, 5-HTP or tryptophan, would be a better sleep aid. Different people respond differently.

I just saw an ad in a magazine for an all natural product called LipoRid PM for better sleep. I have had such a hard time with sleep since I lost my son six years ago, and since entering menopause. I would really like to know if you could tell me if I should consider taking LipoRid PM. It lists the ingredients as Gymnema sylvestre, Guggulipid, and N-Acetyl L-Carnitine, Sleep enhancers combined with Fat metabolizers and Amino Acids. 5-HTP, banaba Leaf and GABA. I take a generic prescription drug for low thyroid. Could I take LipoRid PM or should I just keep looking. I have taken melatonin and also valerian root, but nothing really works. Sometimes I lay in bed for hours before falling asleep.
   We have not heard of LipoRid PM, and do not know if it works or not for better sleep. Acetyl-l-carnitine actually causes alertness and we are not sure why this nutrient has been included in LipoRid PM sleep product.

I am a 64 year old woman who until the age of 55 never had a sleep problem, as soon as i started menopause i start having major difficulties, my doctor prescribe me 0.5mg Ativan and i have been taking it every night for about 2 years, then the 0.5mg stop working my doctor doubled the dose, after a while that also stop working. Should one stop Ativan while i am taking the melatonin, I decided to take a low dose 2 times a week.
   Natural sleep pills such as melatonin are not recommended to be taken the same night as a pharmaceutical sleep pill. It is best to take melatonin on a night that a person is not taking prescription sleep meds.

I am 6 years into the perimenopause change right now, and the most common symptom I find amongst all the women I meet is sleep problems. I find this sleep disturbance is rarely discussed anywhere, so I wonder if it is a newer phenomenon that sleep problems or wakefulness are so common in women going through the change. Given the tremendous lack of info on peri-menopause to begin with, and most doctors lack of understanding of it, it would be very helpful if this were mentioned there. Most women I meet have this problem, and many say their doctors say it’s from “stress” and either tell them to relax more or prescribe ant-depressants! So many women are relieved when I tell them this is a common problem, and that as they balance their hormones, it is reduced. Unfortunately for me and most of my friends, when we get overtired or at all out of balance (every so many months my body shifts and I have to readjust my supplements), we cannot get back until we have gotten enough rest. This usually requires a couple nights of sleeping pills, natural or prescription. I’m hoping Good Night Rx product will be a good alternative.

Do you have any idea why some people wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason?
    There are many reasons why people can wake up in the middle of the night, including nightmares, anxiety disorder, depression, use of medications or supplements and stimulants that cause alertness, certain medical conditions, noises in the house or outside, etc.

Products sold online
Q. What is your opinion of Natural Factors, Stress-Relax, Tranquil Sleep, 60 Chewable Tablets

Supplement Facts
Serving Size: 2 Tablets
Servings Per Container: 30
  Amount Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 15  
Total Carbohydrate 3.5 g 1%‡
Sugars 3 g **
Suntheanine L-Theanine 200 mg  
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) (from Griffonia simplicifolia) (seed) 30 mg **
Melatonin 3 mg **
‡ Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
** Daily Value not established.

A. The ingredients in it are helpful for sleep but I do not have any experience or feedback from patients on how well it works.