4 Supplements to Help Your Sleep

When you can’t sleep, the temptation to pop a sleeping pill is strong. But there’s a large body of research indicating that sleeping pills may contribute to as many as 500,000 deaths each year in the United States. Most sleeping pills are “sedative hypnotics”— a class of drugs used to treat anxiety. Examples include Xanax, Valium, Lunesta, and Ambien. Most of these drugs are highly addictive and come with a range of side effects, such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination.

Here are four natural products that can help improve sleep quality—without the deleterious side effects.


The most popular natural aid for sleep is melatonin. Supplementation with melatonin has been shown in several studies to be very effective in helping induce and maintain sleep in both children and adults, and in both people with normal sleep patterns and those with insomnia. However, the sleep-promoting effects of melatonin are most apparent if melatonin levels in the body are low. In other words, using melatonin is not like taking a sleeping pill. It has a sedative effect only when one’s melatonin levels are low.

Melatonin supplementation appears to be most effective in treating insomnia in the elderly, in whom low melatonin levels are quite common. A dose of 3 mg at bedtime is usually enough, because doses as low as 0.1–0.3 mg have been shown to produce a sedative effect when melatonin levels are low.

Melatonin appears to have no serious side effects as long as one takes the recommended dosage.

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)

5-HTP is converted in the brain to serotonin—an important initiator of sleep. It is one step closer to serotonin than L-tryptophan, and has shown more consistent results in promoting and maintaining sleep, even though used at lower dosages.

One of the key benefits of 5-HTP is its ability to increase REM sleep (typically by about 25%), while increasing deep sleep stages 3 and 4 without lengthening total sleep time. The sleep stages that are reduced to compensate for the increases are non-REM stages 1 and 2—the least important stages. To take advantage of the sleep-promoting effects of 5-HTP, the recommended dosage is 50–150 mg, 30–45 minutes before retiring. Start with the lower dose for at least three days before increasing it if necessary.


L-theanine is a unique amino acid found almost exclusively in tea plants (Camellia sinensis). Clinical studies have demonstrated that L-theanine reduces stress, improves the quality of sleep, diminishes the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), heightens mental acuity, and reduces the negative side effects of caffeine. At typical dosages, e.g., 100–200 mg, L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. It is an excellent support agent to melatonin and 5-HTP.

When taken together, the above three ingredients exert synergistic effects to promote restful sleep. NOTE: At higher single dosages, e.g., 600 mg, L-theanine does exert a sedative effect.


In terms of herbal medicine, there is no question that valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular remedy for insomnia. Recent scientific studies have substantiated valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. In a large double-blind study involving 128 subjects, it was shown that an aqueous extract of valerian root improved the subjective ratings for sleep quality and sleep latency (the time required to get to sleep), but left no “hangover” the next morning.

In a follow-up study, valerian extract was shown to significantly reduce sleep latency and improve sleep quality in sufferers of insomnia and was suggested to be as effective in reducing sleep latency as small doses of benzodiazepines (Valium).

The difference, however, arises from the fact that these drugs also result in increased morning sleepiness. Valerian, on the other hand, actually reduces morning sleepiness. As a mild sedative, valerian may be taken at the following dose 30–45 minutes before retiring: dried root (or as tea): 1–2 g; tincture (1:5): 4–6 ml (1–1.5 tsp); fluid extract (1:1): 1–2 ml (0.5–1 tsp); or valerian extract (0.8% valeric acid): 150–300 mg.

If morning sleepiness does occur, reduce the dosage. If the dosage was not effective, be sure to eliminate those factors that disrupt sleep, such as caffeine and alcohol, before increasing the dosage.

* * * * *

Adapted from the new book, Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia! What the Drug Companies Won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know.

Michael T. Murray ND is a naturopathic physician regarded as one of the world’s top authorities on natural medicine. An educator, lecturer, researcher, and health food industry consultant, he is the author of more than 30 books, including his newest with coauthor Joseph Pizzorno ND, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Atria, 2012). Learn more at www.DrMurray.com. If you subscribe to Dr. Murray’s Fast Facts newsletter online, and you will receive a free copy of his book Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia.

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Tom Rose
Thomas Rose5 years ago

Try reading a dull and pretentious dispatch from John Boehner! It works wonders.

Marie A. Hernandes
Past Member 5 years ago

Hate sleeping pills. The best way to fall asleep for me is to go to bed while watching a movie...this never fails.

Dick Reed
Dick Reed5 years ago

Melatonin has just recently been exposed as a poor and somewhat dangerous sleep aide by Dr. Oz. The best sleep aide is a clear conscience, a glass of pure (probably distilled) water, a thankful prayer to Jesus for ourselves and all those that are needful and in pain, not only humans but all life forms. Who can not feel compassion for a little wolf puppy or a little veal calf that man has chosen to torment in the name of greed and the almighty dollar. Clean up your life and you will sleep like a baby without the chemical pills.

Teresa Garcia
Teresa GarcĂ­a5 years ago

Nice!. I will try some of them. Thanks!!!

Jenny Tham
Jenny Tham5 years ago

Try Stemtech. You will sleep like a baby

Vicky P.
Vicky P5 years ago

thanks for this, it was useful, I think I'll try 5-htp

Linda W.
Linda W5 years ago

I suffer from quite severe insomnia and have to take low dose sedating anti-depressants and benzodiazepines to sleep. I would avoid both if I could. I find 1.5 mg melatonin helps get me off to sleep and I use valerian if I wake in the night, but it only works for a couple of days.


I haven't tried L-theanine, and don't know if I can, given the other medication I am on.

I have found the following helpful:
Chamomile tea
Marjoram essential oil
Lavender es. oil
Frankinsense es. oil,
Magnesium (over 150 mg)
Lecithin 2,400mg before bed or when waking as well as a couple of times during the day
Listening to Delta sleep CD as I go to sleep
Listening to Audiobooks in bed if I cannot drift off.

Bethany Sheldahl
Bethany Sheldahl5 years ago

Chamomile tea is good too.

Lynda Duke
Lynda Duke5 years ago

There's two I've not heard of, may try, but the melatonin and valerian both made me sick to my stomach. GERD is no fun. I may give those two others a try though.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago