14 Natural Remedies to Beat Insomnia

Plus Tips to Get a Better Night's Rest

Man sleeping in bed
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Although it's common to have the occasional sleepless night, insomnia is the inability to sleep or excessive wakening in the night that impairs daily functioning. A number of preliminary studies suggest that natural remedies may offer a variety of health benefits.  Since chronic lack of sleep may be linked to a number of health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure and depression), it's important to consult your physician and avoid self-treating with alternative medicine.

 Here are 14 natural remedies to consider:


Melatonin supplements are widely recommended for various sleep conditions. A naturally-occurring hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle in the brain, melatonin is produced from serotonin when exposure to light decreases at night. It is used in conditions where sleep is disordered due to low levels of melatonin at night such as aging, affective disorders (e.g. depression), delayed sleep-phase disorder, or jet lag

Melatonin supplements may improve sleep quality and morning alertness in older adults with insomnia, according to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research. In the double-blind study involving 170 adults with primary insomnia, timed-release melatonin was effective in reducing sleep latency (time to sleep) and improving sleep quality without withdrawal effects. Another study found that low doses (0.1-0.3mg nightly) appear to be as effective as higher doses (3-5mg nightly).

In most studies on melatonin for insomnia in older adults, melatonin was taken up to 2 hours before bedtime for up to 8 weeks. The timing is important - when melatonin is taken in the morning, it delays circadian rhythms but advances them when taken in the afternoon or early evening.

MORE: What You Need to Know About Melatonin


A regular meditation practice may help to promote sleep by slowing breathing and reducing stress hormone levels. Meditation is a technique that involves consciously directing one's attention to an object of focus, such as breathing or a sound or word, in order to increase awareness of the present, relaxing the body, and calming the mind. Some types of meditation include guided meditation, vipassana meditation, yoga nidra, or body scan. Also try:

  • Visualization: Involves actively imagining a relaxing scene. You can try it in bed for 20 minutes before falling asleep. Involve all your senses. If you're imagining yourself on a tropical island, think of the way the warm breeze feels against your skin. Imagine the sweet scent of the flowers, look at the water and listen to the waves. The more vivid the visualization and the more senses you involve, the more effective it will be.
  • Relaxation Response: A mind/body response that occurs after following specific instructions patterned closely after Transcendental Meditation. Learn how to elicit the Relaxation Response.
  • Mindfulness: A type of meditation that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present. Learn mindfulness.

Early evidence suggests that meditation techniques may improve sleep, however further research is needed. According to a study evaluating the effects of a weekly mindfulness-based stress reduction group in adolescents, the six-session group treatment resulted in longer sleep, fewer awakenings, and improved quality of sleep. 

MORE: Meditation for Better Sleep


Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestion. Although how it works is not understood, hypnosis may bring about physiological changes in the body such as decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and alpha wave brain patterns, similar to meditation and other types of deep relaxation. 

Several preliminary studies suggest that hypnosis may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep duration and sleep quality.  

MORE: Hypnosis for Sleep


The scent of the aromatherapy oil English lavender has long been used as a folk remedy to help people fall asleep. It is one of the most soothing essential oils. Preliminary research suggests that lavender essential oil may lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and help people feel refreshed in the morning. It appears to work better for women, possibly because women tend to have a more acute sense of smell.

Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow or place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief. Or add several drops of lavender oil to a bath -- the drop in body temperature after a warm bath also helps with sleep. Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are chamomile and ylang-ylang.

MORE: Aromatherapy for Sleep

Light Exposure

If you have trouble falling asleep at night or have delayed sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light in the morning. Light exposure plays a key role in telling the body when to go to sleep (by increasing melatonin production) and when to wake up. A walk outdoors first thing in the morning or light therapy for 30 minutes may help.  

On the other hand, if you find you're waking up too early in the morning or have advanced sleep-phase syndrome, you may need more light late afternoon and could try taking a walk outdoors or light therapy for 2 to 3 hours in the evening. Home light therapy units are available and may be recommended by your doctor or sleep specialist.

Food and Diet

  • Limit Your Intake Of Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine - Caffeine and nicotine can have a pronounced effect on sleep, causing insomnia and restlessness. In addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks, look for hidden sources of caffeine such as chocolate, cough and cold medicine, and other over-the-counter medicine. Alcohol consumption can result in nighttime wakefulness.
  • Cut Back on Sugar - Although sugar can give a burst of energy, it's short-lived and can cause uneven blood sugar levels. This can disrupt sleep in the middle of the night as blood sugar levels fall.
  • Eat Foods That Help You Sleep -  Tryptophan is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Eat carbohydrate snacks such as whole grain crackers before bedtime. Also include foods rich in vitamin B6, found in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, and bananas, which enhances the body's conversion of tryptophan. 
  • Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods -  The mineral magnesium is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, constipation, muscle tremors or cramps, anxiety, irritability, and pain. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast, and whole grains. In addition to including these whole foods in your diet, you can also try juicing dark leafy green vegetables.


A system of relaxation, breathing, exercise and healing with origins in Indian philosophy, yoga has been described as the union of mind, body, and spirit. According to a small pilot study that examined the use of kundalini yoga in the treatment of insomnia, there was a significant improvement in sleep efficiency, sleep time, number of awakenings, and quality of sleep after eight weekly 30-minute sessions. 

Vitex Agnus Castus

The herb vitex agnus castus (chaste tree) may help insomnia during menstrual periods or insomnia that is a side effect of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In one study, women with moderate to severe premenstrual syndrome were treated with either a vitex agnus castus extract or a placebo for three menstrual cycles. Participants were asked to document their symptoms with a PMS diary with a daily rating scale of 17 symptoms. All of the symptoms, except for lower abdominal cramping, improved with the symptoms of insomnia and negative affect showing notable improvement.

MORE: How Vitex Helps PMS


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herbal home remedy, brewed as a tea or taken as a supplement, that is commonly used to reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality and act as a sedative. 

Although further research is needed to explore this herb's effect on sleep, studies measuring sleep quality have found no difference between people taking valerian and those taking a placebo. A, however a sizable number of those in the studies anecdotally reported that their sleep quality improved with valerian.


Valerian is thought to affect levels of one of the calming neurotransmitters in the body, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also relieves muscle spasms and is thought to help alleviate menstrual period pain. 

Valerian is typically taken an hour before bed. A standard dose is 450 mg. If taken during the day, valerian may result in drowsiness - it is often taken in two to three 300 mg doses with meals. 

Find out more about using Valerian.

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) is a tea and herbal supplement that is said to relieve anxiety and calm the nerves. One study suggests that lemon balm may help with anxiety-related insomnia. A lemon balm extract (300mg at breakfast and 300mg at dinner) reduced insomnia largely due to the reduction in anxiety, and also decreased agitation, hyperexcitation, guilt, and fatigue. 

MORE: What You Need to Know About Lemon Balm.


Acupuncture may help with insomnia.

A University of Pittsburgh analysis concluded that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for insomnia. A preliminary study found that five weeks of acupuncture increase melatonin secretion in the evening and improved total sleep time.

Read more about acupuncture.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

In traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia often stems from kidney energy weakness.

This syndrome is not necessarily related to kidney disease in Western medicine. A few signs of kidney energy weakness are low back ache, tiredness and fatigue, and a burst of energy at about 11 pm in the evening. Women in menopause often experience this type of insomnia. People who are taking anti-estrogenic drugs such as tamoxifen also experience this type of insomnia, however, they should not take herbal combinations such as the herbal formula liu wei di huang that may increase estrogen levels.


In Ayurvedic medicine, insomnia is often associated with a vata imbalance. Vata regulates breathing and circulation. People with a vata imbalance often notice irritability, anxiety, and fear with insomnia. One Ayurvedic treatment is the application of oil on the head and feet. For the pitta type, room temperature coconut oil is used, for the vata type, warm sesame oil is applied, and for the kapha type, warm mustard oil is often applied.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is an herb that may help to reduce muscle tension, soothe digestion, and reduce anxiety which may help induce sleep.

Sip a cup of hot chamomile tea after dinner, but don't drink it too close to bed or you may have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Hopspassionflower, and ashwagandha are other herbs that are often used for insomnia. 

Other Natural Remedies

  • For hot flashes, a thin, flat foam pillow insert, called a Chillow, can help to cool the head throughout the night.
  • Gentle, slow music is another remedy that can help to improve sleep. Music therapy has been found to improve sleep quality, decrease nightly wakenings, lengthen sleep time, and increase satisfaction with sleep.
  • Although kava is sometimes recommended for anxiety-related insomnia, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory to consumers about the potential risk of severe liver injury resulting from the use of dietary supplements containing kava. To date, there have been more than 25 reports of serious adverse effects from kava use in other countries, including four patients who required liver transplants. For more about kava, read my article Kava: What You Need to Know.
  • Lack of exercise can contribute to poor sleep. Muscle tension and stress build in the body. Exercise can promote deep sleep that night. However, intense exercise too close to bed can increase adrenaline levels, leading to insomnia.

Improve Your Bedroom Feng Shui

Feng shui, which originates in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, instructs on how to arrange rooms, furniture, offices, houses, and other arrangements to maximize favorable energy flow throughout living spaces. Get my 6 feng shui tips for your bedroom.

Before starting any natural remedies, consult your doctor. Chronic insomnia can be a symptom of another condition, such as depression, heart disease, sleep apnea, lung disease, hot flashes, or diabetes, so it's important to see a doctor if you're having trouble sleeping.


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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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