Sleep Boosters and Supplements Guide
Sometimes even the best-laid plans and strategies don’t get you the rest you need. It happens to everyone and when it does—rather than tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling counting the cracks—it’s perfectly okay to occasionally escalate your get-to-sleep game.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural products that do pack a punch—and some have other bonus benefits, too. We enlisted Calibrate Sleep and Emotional Health Expert, Ellen Vora, MD, to help us curate a best-in-class list of sleep boosters to help you hit your bedtime goal when your body just won’t cooperate.
Note that we don’t recommend these as everyday interventions, since despite advertising claims to the contrary, there’s no magic bullet in terms of a sleep supplement. The habits and sleep behavior changes you’re learning through Calibrate have been shown to be more effective than any supplement for long-term improved sleep.
One other thing to keep in mind with supplements is that the FDA doesn’t regulate them in the same way they do medications. So the actual ingredients in a given supplement may not always match what appears on the label. Pure, Metagenics, and NOW are a few brands we trust.
- Nighttime teas can be helpful as part of your bedtime ritual. Herbs such as chamomile, lavender, peppermint, lemon balm, and passionflower have calming, relaxing properties. Yogi, Traditional Medicinals, Tulsi, and Good Earth are all reliable brands for when you want your tea to pack a bit more punch.
- Magnesium is a key mineral in the body and has been shown to act as a muscle relaxant. It also seems to have a soothing effect on the nervous system: Several studies show that the mineral can help lower anxiety. If soaking in magnesium from an Epsom salt bath isn’t doing the trick for relaxation, you can try taking about 400-800 mg of magnesium glycinate at bedtime. (Glycinate is an amino acid that works alongside magnesium to promote feelings of calm.) You can also get some extra dietary magnesium in by slicing up half a banana and eating it with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Magnesium can cause diarrhea, so if you notice that, it’s time to back off on the dose.
- Valerian root is another standby. It’s a clinically proven natural sedative that works by stimulating your body’s process of making melatonin, the hormone that drives sleepiness. A full 400-900 mg dose of Valerian can make you very tired, so if you’re in the market for more of a nudge than a shove, you can try valerian root tea like Tazo’s Dream Tea and squeeze a little lemon juice in for a shot of vitamin C—also good for your heart.
- For short-term insomnia or sleep challenges associated with jet lag, you can try pure melatonin, but limit your intake to less than one mg, not the five you see in some over-the-counter products. That much can make you groggy in the morning. Also, because melatonin blocks the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin, taking too much has been connected to depression. (Because darkness triggers melatonin production, this may be part of what underlies Seasonal Affective Disorder.)
- If you get "hangry" during the day, you probably get "hangry" overnight. But overnight hanger doesn't feel like irritability and running for the snack room, it feels like waking up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. Experiment with taking a spoonful of almond butter (or coconut oil or ghee) right before you brush your teeth at night. Keep the jar and a spoon on your bedside table and take another spoonful if you wake up in the middle of the night.
- We covered some of this in the Good Sleep 101 Guide, but it bears repeating (and elaborating on): Be aware that caffeine can have a long half-life- different people metabolize caffeine at different rates depending on their genetics. While typical ranges for caffeine metabolism are 5-7 hrs; in some people, it could be as short as 2 hours or as long as 10! This means that for some, caffeine is still buzzing around your brain while you're trying to sleep—even if you only had one small cup of coffee in the morning. You can test caffeine’s effect on you by gradually reducing the overall amount of caffeine you consume, and pushing the time you drink it to earlier in the day. Then, over a period of weeks, switch out half-caf for coffee, black tea for half-caf, green tea for black tea, and so on until you’re completely caffeine-free. If you don’t find this makes any difference, it’s OK to add a cup back into your regular routine.