10 Natural Sleep Aids That Aren’t Melatonin Gummies

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that we all feel better when we get a good night’s sleep, and we feel crummy when we don’t. In today’s busy world, with omnipresent blue-light screens and endless options for nighttime shows, our sleep quality has suffered and many are reaching for melatonin gummies to counteract that.

By Anna Hugoboom4 min read
Pexels/Mikhail Nilov

However, consistently supplementing melatonin may not be such a good idea, as we’ll see. Plus, taking nighttime gummies – literally candy – just shoots straight sugar into your system right before sleep, which could disrupt your blood sugar and metabolism, especially since melatonin itself can impact blood sugar and raise glucose levels. 

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What Is Melatonin?

Technically considered a dietary supplement, melatonin is not a medicative drug but an over-the-counter sleep aid. Naturally, melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness to prepare for sleep, and light suppresses melatonin production. The synthetic version in your gummies is made in a lab, and it can be an effective sleep aid option. Taking melatonin can help you fall asleep and sleep deeply, and can be a helpful remedy for insomnia and jet lag. However, although it’s a guarantee to drift off into dreamland, there are some side effects and concerns to be aware of when taking melatonin. 

Possible side effects include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, vivid dreams and/or nightmares, and nausea. Less common side effects may include reduced alertness, irritability, abdominal cramps, mild anxiety, short-lived feelings of depression, confusion, or disorientation. You should not use melatonin if you have an autoimmune disorder, and you should not drive/use machinery for four or five hours after taking melatonin.

Since many medical figures are still unsure about the longstanding effects of taking melatonin, they argue you should avoid it while pregnant or trying to conceive since there is still uncertainty about melatonin’s effects on pregnancy. Others cite research that shows that melatonin lowers insulin and improves egg quality in women with PCOS.

There have also been concerns about developing a dependency on melatonin supplements. Medical doctor Eric Berg points out that supplementing consistently and for a long-term period can make your brain build up a tolerance. The pineal gland becomes lazy and stops producing enough of its own natural melatonin hormone, says Dr. Berg, eventually depending on the synthetic melatonin for sleepiness, so you have to continue taking it.

This is not to say that melatonin is physically addictive, and there’s a difference between your body depending on it and being dependent on it, but you may encounter more difficulty in falling asleep, let alone get any quality rest, without supplementation, and the pineal gland could suffer imbalance and weakness in proper hormone production. A hormone gland produces the hormone the body needs, and whenever you start supplementing a hormone, then your body will stop producing it. Dr. Berg says he doesn’t prescribe melatonin for sleep support for this very reason. 

However, this doesn’t apply to those who have a diagnosed sleep disorder and were prescribed melatonin supplementation by their doctor. Studies have shown it significantly improves sleep in the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion, and another study showed it could greatly benefit victims of PTSD by reducing anxiety and promoting deeper sleep. Sometimes you may even need to take melatonin to get irregular sleep habits back on track (like if you have a demanding job with random sleep hours like a pilot or receptionist), then you can switch it out for other natural sleep aids when possible.

Sleep Quality – or Lack Thereof

Why is insomnia such a widespread issue? With higher levels of stress, busy schedules, and traffic, people’s nervous systems are more consistently burdened, becoming tense and high-strung. Being exposed to light at night, especially artificial light, blocks your natural melatonin production.

People are stimulated so much more nowadays with tech and TV screens, and more struggle with sleep conditions than ever before, especially if you live in a city with bright lights and traffic noise. Also, most working adults are inside for most of the day, which greatly limits their exposure to sunlight, and use artificial lights after dark – both of which interfere with natural melatonin production. Therefore, good sleep hygiene is the first step in naturally stimulating your body’s melatonin production.

Get 10-15 minutes of sunlight outdoors first thing in the morning, even if that just means taking your coffee to your front porch. One to two hours before bedtime, dim or turn off your inside lights (candles set a cute ambiance) and refrain from using screens as much as possible. Try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on the weekends). While this may sound intense, all of these practices promote healthy melatonin production and better sleep, and if that's something you're struggling with, improving your sleep hygiene is the first step. 

Foods rich in calcium and tryptophan also help stimulate natural melatonin production. These foods include milk, cheese, and yogurt, eggs, turkey, chicken, canned tuna, nuts and seeds, oats and dark chocolate. In addition to dairy products, foods high in calcium include canned salmon and beans, dark leafy greens, figs, papayas, and oranges. Many cultures finish dinner with yogurt and fruit or cheese and chocolate with bread for dessert as a digestive, and now we know this also helps to kick you into sleepy mode!

10 Natural Sleep Aids

Natural sleep aids will calm your nervous system so you can more easily enter a drowsy state. Avoid stimulation, screens, and bright lights as much as possible before bed, so your natural melatonin can do the rest! Here are some natural remedies without side effects that you can take to help your brain wind down for sleep, and lots of them can be taken in tea or supplement form. 

  1. Passionflower was used by the Algonquin Indians as a tea to soothe nerves. It helps calm the nervous system and promotes a good night’s sleep.

  2. Lobelia acts like a calmative in large doses and inhibits the reuptake of dopamine, relaxing the nervous system. You can take lobelia in combination with passionflower and ashwagandha. 

  3. Valerian root helps to quicken sleep onset, improve sleep quality, and reduce mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Used for many centuries as a relaxant against anxiety and insomnia, it’s considered an effective yet safe and gentle sedative and is a remedy for sleep disorders. You can take this valerian root in combination with passionflower or just take this Herbal Sleep

  4. Ashwagandha root is a natural compound with sleep inducing potential. It improves sleep and acts on the brain’s GABA receptors, which are key in the sleep-wake circuit. You can buy this one from Garden of Life or this one from Nature’s Way, or you can buy ashwagandha tea like this from Yogi with elderberry and lemon balm. 

  5. Lemon balm is a natural sedative. It was used as far back as the Middle Ages for sleepiness and as a calmative for stress and anxiety. You can take it as an herbal tea (like Yogi) or use the essential oil as a roll-on or diffused for aromatherapy. 

  6. Magnesium relaxes the muscles and nervous system and supports restful sleep. You can supplement with vitamins or try this delicious powder form from Moon Juice. 

  7. L-theanine is a natural sleep aid derived from tea leaves. Boosting GABA levels and other brain calming chemicals, l-theanine promotes relaxation and enhances sleep quality. This is why l-theanine is often an ingredient in melatonin sleep gummies.

  8. Chamomile is a popular relaxant that supports quality sleep and helps your brain slow down so you can get drowsy. Cozy up in your PJs before bedtime and drink some chamomile tea to get the yawns rolling! The Bedtime Tea from Yogi also includes chamomile in a combination of relaxing, sleep-inducing ingredients.

  9. Lavender is another popular calmative, and for good reason. It’s considered one of the most effective natural sleep aids because it greatly relaxes the brain and nervous system. The essential oil is effective for relaxing aromatherapy; use in a roll-on or pillow spray, or diffuse into the air.

  10. Kava kava is made from the root of a shrub plant in the Pacific Islands, and it helps promote sleep and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. It’s also a relaxant and has been shown to contain pain-relieving properties. Yogi has a Kava Stress Relief tea that can be used to relax the nervous system and induce a good night’s sleep.

Closing Thoughts

Yes, maybe sometimes you might just really need to pop a melatonin gummy or two to get some good shuteye. In general, however, try the many other options for the same deep, quality sleep without side effects or developing a dependency. Be wise with supplementation amounts and follow the serving guides – whether with melatonin when you really need it or with alternative sleep aids – because you can have too much of a good thing, even if it’s “natural.”

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