Are So Called Natural Sleep Aids Effective?

You spend the first part of the night trying to get to sleep, but can’t. Or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. You toss and turn and agonize over not sleeping, making the whole thing worse. You’re in the company of thousands of us who suffer from insomnia.

alarm clock

There are many causes for insomnia. Anxiety or depression are two. Physical ailments like restless leg syndrome can contribute to sleeplessness too. In many cases we don’t care what’s causing it (although we should). We just want to get to sleep.

You doctor may prescribe medicine to help you sleep but many, like benzodiazepines, can be habit forming. Tranquilizers (e.g., Xanax) can and do work for some, but as with benzodiazepines a tolerance can build over time, requiring higher doses.

Over the counter sleeping pills like diphenhydramine are not recommended for extended use and again here too, tolerances can build over time.

To be sure, some of us don’t care. We just covet our sleep. But are there natural alternatives? Yes. Your results may vary but here’s what we’ve tried. And we’re dealing with daily insomnia and all the stressors you can imagine. No restless leg syndrome, but a lot of worry and a lot of worry now about how we’ll sleep. Disclaimer: We’re not recommending you use any of these or at the doses we did. Some professionals warn against overuse of even these natural “remedies” and we’ve seen some experts contradict others as to whether these are safe or effective.

Our doctor actually did recommend valerian root and melatonin together as an alternative to prescription drugs so with that advice we tried these two.

Our goal was to try to avoid prescription medications if possible or over the counter pills which seem to leave a sleep hangover (grogginess throughout the next day). But, we wanted to sleep.


Some teas such as Yogi or Sleepytime ® can provide a feeling of relaxation and sleepiness. Taken a couple hours before bed, these have seemed to work (Yogi). Downside? Waking up to pee in the middle of the night. We stopped drinking teas for this reason and because we still woke up in the middle of the night.

Valerian Root (pill form)

This ancient root has been used for millenia to help calm nerves and promote sleep. Some take it in a tea or tincture. Others may grind the root themselves or brew a tea from them. We used the pill form. Doses vary but for us we used the recommended dosage of 4 pills of about 500mg each. Experts say it takes about a month for the root to be effective. It does seem to contribute to falling asleep. We’ve used in combination with melatonin.


It’s a hormone produced by the body when it gets dark. Some people may not produce enough naturally and may want to take a supplement. It comes in varying dosages and some experts and regular folks say to start with minute amounts and work up to larger ones if needed. We didn’t. We merely bought a bottle of melatonin at the supermarket. Turns out it the does was 10mg. Some say to start with 1mg or less, but we jumped right in! Our experience was that despite the higher dose (and in combination with the valerian root) we woke up in the middle of the night. The melatonin does seem to have a short half life.

We got some 5mg gelcaps of melatonin and had similar experiences. Taking one 5mg pill to help fall asleep (along with the valerian) and one more just before actually falling asleep seemed to help sleep longer. Time release melatonin is available and some swear by it, but we haven’t tried it yet.

As of this writing we’ve approached 7 hours sleep total and 6 consecutive hours of sleep which is a lot better than 3 or 4 hours. It’s been inconsistent though and we’ll continue to monitor how the valerian/melatonin combination works. On some nights we have had to resort to a small dose of the benzodiazepines. Working on the stressors is an issue, but in general these “natural” sleep aids did seem to work to some extent. They may work for you, but it’s best to talk to your doctor first.