Sleep is simple, right? While the act of falling asleep might not be too psychologically challenging for some, the biological process of sleeping is actually quite complex. In fact, there’s a flurry of activity going on in your body when you sleep. Nearly every part of your body is influenced when you sleep, including your brain, heart, hormones, immune system, and glucose levels.i That’s why getting enough sleep is so important. And yet, according to the Sleep Foundation, almost half of all Americans report feeling sleepy during the day three to seven days per week.ii
What’s the answer? Before reaching for an over-the-counter or prescription medication, you may want to try one or more of these top eight all-natural sleep-enhancing ingredients beginning with one of the most studied, melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain that is important to the sleep-wake cycle and the body’s circadian rhythm.iii Your pineal gland secretes high levels of this hormone at night, and minimal amounts during the day. A 2021 review of 23 different randomized clinical trials found that melatonin consistently improved sleep quality.iv
Valerian is an herb that has also been studied extensively for its ability to encourage sound sleep. A 2020 review of 60 different studies showed that valerian not only helped improve sleep quality, it also helped reduce anxiety.v Valerian is also sometimes combined with hops, another herb for sleep. A 2005 randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial showed that the combination of valerian and hops not only increased sleep quantity but also had a positive impact on the overall quality of life.vi
Chamomile, Lemon Balm & Passion Flower
Chamomile, lemon balm, and passionflower are also herbs that can positively influence sleep. A 2019 analysis of 12 different randomized clinical trials showed that chamomile not only improved sleep quality, it also helped reduce anxiety.vii A 2018 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that lemon balm had a similar effect to chamomile in that it not only improved sleep quality, but it also helped ease anxiety as well.viii A 2019 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study showed that passionflower significantly increased total sleep time compared to the group taking the fake pill (placebo).ix
GABA & L-tryptophan
From a nutrient standpoint, both gamma-aminobutyric acid (aka GABA) and L-tryptophan have been shown to enhance sleep. A 2018 randomized, double-blind trial featuring people with sleep difficulty found that GABA helped people fall asleep faster and increased total sleep time.x A 2022 analysis of 18 different studies found that L-tryptophan helped with both sleep quantity and quality.xi
All of these effective herbs can also be used in combination to gain a synergistic effect.
If you are looking for an all-natural solution to your sleep issues, consider one or more of these eight sleep-enhancing nutrients and herbs.
i Suni E. How sleep works. Sleep Foundation. 2022;April 13. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works
ii Suni E. Sleep statistics. Sleep Foundation. 2022;May 13. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics
iii National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Melatonin: what you need to know. 2022;July https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin-what-you-need-to-know
iv Fatemeh G, Sajjad M, Niloufar R, et al. Effect of melatonin supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Neurology. 2021;269:205-216. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00415-020-10381-w
v Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2020;25:2515690X20967323. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7585905/
vi Morin CM, Koetter U, Bastien C, et al. Valerian-hopps combination and diphenhydramine for treating insomnia: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Sleep. 2005;28(11):1465-1471. https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/28/11/1465/2707996
vii Hieu T, Dibas M, Dila K, et al. Therapeutic efficacy and safety of chamomile for state anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and sleep quality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials and quasi-randomized trials. Phytother Res. 2019;33(6):1604-1615. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31006899/
viii Haybar H, Javid A, Haghighizadeh M, et al. The effects of Melissa officinalis supplementation on depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with chronic stable angina. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. 2018;26:47-52. https://clinicalnutritionespen.com/article/S2405-4577(17)30514-4/fulltext
ix Lee J, Jung H, Lee S, et al. Effects of Passiflora incarnata Linnaeus on polysomnographic sleep parameters in subjects with insomnia disorder :a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study. International Clinical Psychoparmacology. 2020;35(1):29-35. https://journals.lww.com/intclinpsychopharm/Abstract/2020/01000/Effects_of_Passiflora_incarnata_Linnaeus_on.4.aspx
x Byun JI, Shin YY, Chung SE, Shin WC. Safety and Efficacy of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid from Fermented Rice Germ in Patients with Insomnia Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial. J Clin Neurol. 2018;14(3):291-295. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6031986/
xi Sutanto CN, Loh WW, Kim JE. The impact of tryptophan supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. Nutr Rev. 2022;80(2):306-316. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33942088/