Natural sleep aids can come in the form of foods or certain chemicals or herbs that can help you get to sleep at night. While many of these are safe to use, especially when derived directly from foods, there is much research that suggests behavioral changes to promote better sleep are more effective than anything you might ingest. Moreover some of these natural sleep aids need to be taken with due caution. Simply because a product is marketed as natural doesn’t imply that it is always safe.
There are certain foods that may help promote better sleep. These include foods like bananas, poultry, dairy products and oatmeal. Most of these products contain chemicals called tryptophan, which can help your body produce calming brain chemicals like melatonin and serotonin. You should avoid spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine, but the glass of warm milk, a small bowl of oatmeal or a banana with peanut butter before bedtime may work as well as other natural sleep aids.
There are a number of herbal preparations that are sold as natural sleep aids. These include St. John’s Wort, valerian, and kava kava. These herbs may help promote sleep, though valerian can sometimes cause vivid dreaming. Some people should not take medications like St. John’s Wort because it can cause photosensitivity. If you’re planning to try any herbal preparations, beyond something as simple as chamomile tea, you should consult your doctor about potential side effects with medications you might take or any ongoing medical conditions you have.
Others turn to natural sleep aids like L- tryptophan or melatonin. Results on how well these things work are varied. L-tryptophan is made by tryptophan and some believe it promotes better sleep. Melatonin is a chemical that is produced by the body in high amounts during sleep times. Some people find this chemical helpful, especially if they’re trying to change sleep cycles dramatically. For instance, a person traveling across several time zones might be able to induce more natural sleep with melatonin and recover from jet lag sooner.
There are few studies on the safety of either L-tryptophan or melatonin, especially if used over long periods of time. L-tryptophan may create problems for those with cirrhosis of the liver, and melatonin is considered unsafe for pregnant women and for anyone with seizure disorders. Again, any type of natural sleep aids, aside from foods you usually eat, may pose problems with current medical conditions or with medications you take. Always check with your doctors if you want to try natural sleep aids or other products marketed as natural that are not subject to the same clinical testing as are most over the counter and prescription drugs.