Sleep problems are common. So common that 25 percent of all Americans deal with insomnia every year—but only 75 percent of them naturally recover. One-fourth of those who battle sleep issues will face recurring problems.
Without sleep, the entire body suffers. Mental alertness declines, stress levels go up, health goes down. The immune system can be suppressed and mental health takes a hit. Even thyroid health and overall metabolism can slow, resulting in weight gain that is hard to lose. Without sleep, it’s nearly impossible to be a healthy or happy person.
Prescription sleep aids account for a very small slice of medications being used by adults to treat insomnia—less than 2 percent among adults ages 20 to 39, and increasing to just 7 percent in adults over age 80. This could partially be due to the fact that there are other ways to address trouble falling asleep, depending on what’s causing it, and partly because pharmaceutical sleep aids often come with potent side effects.
Sleep disorders are common, but the underlying reasons can be highly individual. Hormone imbalance, thyroid problems, stress, anxiety, depression, or other physical disorders can all interfere with sleep.
Neurotransmitters and stress hormones can also disturb the internal body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, which can result in being unable to fall asleep at night, yet being too tired during the day. Not all sleep aids can solve these underlying issues, and at best, they mask symptoms and don’t address root causes.
In order to get to the bottom of someone’s sleep patterns, underlying causes need to be identified. Once that has happened, there are numerous natural remedies that can help people with insomnia and address the specific triggers for sleep disorders. Anxiety and depression, for example, can lead to racing thoughts or a restless mind that makes it hard to fall asleep. Thyroid disorders can lead to chronic tiredness and plenty of sleep that doesn’t produce restful feelings. Hormone imbalances or changes, like PMS or menopause, can result in frequent wake-ups because of how the liver is involved in hormone metabolism.
Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all sleeping pill, look to address the individual triggers for sleep issues.
Sometimes the solution to a sleep disorder isn’t taking something to force sleep, but rather, using a remedy to resolve the aspects of health that are preventing sleep in the first place.
While calcium gets most of the mineral attention in the body, magnesium is just as vital and is required for hundreds of chemical reactions throughout the body. While it is abundantly found in food sources, most still fall short in this critical nutrient. Without enough magnesium, muscles may be tense and the mind may be restless, resulting in problems relaxing or staying asleep.
Magnesium can release muscle tension, so if restless legs are a reason why you can’t fall or stay asleep, it may be a helpful remedy. Magnesium also promotes the rise of natural melatonin in the body, a hormone that controls the wake-sleep cycle in the brain. While many supplement directly with melatonin, it can cause side effects like nightmares, restless sleep, or anxiety—but magnesium doesn’t have these side effects.
Research links low levels of magnesium with insomnia, so fixing your sleep woes might be as simple as boosting this beneficial nutrient. The RDA for magnesium is 310 to 420 milligrams for adults, depending on age and sex. Supplementing with a highly absorbable form, like magnesium citrate or magnesium malate, will provide the fastest relief. Supplement doses can range from 100 to 300 milligrams, but always ask your doctor for the optimal dosage for you.
If anxiety or a restless brain are preventing a good night’s sleep, consider CBD oil. Short for cannabidiol, CBD oil is the non-psychoactive components of cannabis. It is not habit-forming, causes no hallucinogenic symptoms, and is well-reputed for its ability to calm anxious thoughts.
CBD oil also may be great for addressing physical pain, which can be another factor that triggers insomnia or restless nights. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, CBD oil can dull how pain signals are sent to the brain, providing relief, especially from chronic disorders like multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
Perhaps falling asleep is your biggest problem and you just want something to knock you out. Valerian root is an herb that has sedative properties but isn’t habit-forming. It is also used to address anxiety and depression.
While larger studies are needed to confirm valerian root’s benefits, self-reported sleep quality improved in study subjects. Valerian is an herbal sleep remedy that has been used for thousands of years and has few negative side effects, with dizziness upon waking being the primary one. It’s not safe to take valerian with other prescriptions and should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Stress can affect sleep in more ways than we’re often aware, and B vitamins are critical nutrients for calming the nervous system. The catch? They’re not meant to be taken before bed. In fact, to harness the stress-busting effects of B12 and the other B vitamins, they should be taken with breakfast or lunch.
If chronic stress is the reason you can’t sleep at night, balancing your daily B levels will help produce an overall calmer effect on the nervous system, reducing those tense feelings that keep the brain racing just as you want to shut down for the day. B vitamins work best synergistically, when taken together, so find a high-quality methylated B complex. As much as 60 percent of the population has a genetic mutation that makes activating B vitamins difficult, so by taking a methylated version, they are pre-activated and will get to work more quickly in the body to improve sleep.