Natural Good Sleep: Tips on Melatonin, Valerian, and More
We’ve all been there — you’re too wired to drift to sleep. Or you wake up
in the middle of the night. Insomnia can be debilitating.
What’s your ploy for getting a decent night’s sleep? Doctors say it’s
important to look at your lifestyle — whether too much caffeine, too little
exercise, or too much late-night work or TV is the problem. If lifestyle
changes aren’t enough, medications can help. Supplements may also have a place
in providing a peaceful night’s sleep.
By Kate TorgovnickIt’s scientifically proven: The key isn’t just what you eat, it’s what you
If you’re anything like me, you have no idea how much food you inhale on a
day-to-day basis. Thanks to multitasking, grabbing grub on the go, parking
myself in front of the TV while munching, and various other weight-loss crimes,
I often barely register that I’m eating. Take last week: I was totally
oblivious that I was popping jelly beans into my mouth until my nephew
complained that I was…
For advice on sleep supplements, WebMD turned to Sharon Plank, MD, an
integrative medicine physician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School
Center for Integrative Medicine. We also spoke with Alon Avidan, MD, a sleep
researcher and professor of neurology at UCLA School of Medicine.
Supplements for Natural Good Sleep
First, they note that most over-the-counter sleep aids contain antihistamine
— and should only be taken short-term because they are not helpful for
long-term sleep problems.
So, what’s been proven to work? What’s safe?
Plank is a big advocate of chamomile tea, as well as valerian and melatonin.
“Both of those have good scientific evidence backing them up,” Plank tells
Start with low doses of any supplement, she advises. Always tell your health
provider what you’re doing, as some people should not take specific
supplements. There may be interactions with other medications you’re taking or
other serious side effects. Also, keep these sleep solutions short-term.
“Any sleep aid should not be taken for long periods,” Plank says. “You must
address lifestyle, too. Make sure something else is not interfering with
- Chamomile tea
For optimal nerve health (to help you relax), she also advises 100 to 400
milligrams of magnesium. “I don’t know of studies of magnesium for sleep, but
in my experience it helps,” she tells WebMD.
Chamomile Tea for Sleep
For thousands of years, people have used chamomile tea medicinally. The tea
and essential oil have been used for their calming effects and for insomnia
One Japanese study of sleep-disturbed rats found that chamomile extract
helped the rats drift off to sleep more quickly — just as quickly as rats that
got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication). Better research of
chamomile is needed, experts agree. The FDA considers chamomile to be safe with
usually no side effects.
“Chamomile is safe as a tea,” Plank says. “But the trick is to make sure you
are brewing it properly. Use two or three teabags. Then put a lid on the pot to
keep oils in the water — so you get the medicinal effects of the tea.”
A few cautions: If you have an allergy to ragweed, don’t use chamomile.
Also, don’t take chamomile tea if you are pregnant as chamomile may act as a
uterine stimulant. Plank also suggests you avoid chamomile when breastfeeding
because its effect on nursing babies hasn’t been well studied. And,
obviously, you shouldn’t use chamomile when driving as it may cause
In addition, chamomile may increase the risk of bleeding so people on blood
thinners should exercise caution. Chamomile may also increase blood