No matter your age, sleep quality is critical to your overall health. A good night’s sleep facilitates physical healing, hormone regulation, memory consolidation, and immune system function. On the other hand, a lack of sleep has been linked to ill effects such as decreased insulin sensitivity, impaired immune function, cognitive difficulties, and an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get the rest you need. In fact, research surveys have found that about half of older adults have trouble sleeping. If you’ve ever struggled with ongoing restless nights, you’ve probably thought about trying sleep supplements. But with so many supplements that claim to help with sleep difficulties, how do you know which ones actually work?
In this blog post, we’ll explore several popular natural sleep aids and explain how they work, how to take them, and any potential side effects they can cause.
But bear in mind: some supplements are not advised for people with certain medical conditions. They also may interact with medications you are taking. So before trying any of the supplements mentioned here, consult your healthcare provider to ensure they are safe for your health.
Magnesium, an essential mineral involved in numerous bodily processes, also plays a vital role in sleep regulation. This mighty mineral helps calm the nervous system and promotes muscle relaxation, paving the way for a peaceful slumber. In at least three different studies of older adults, magnesium supplementation was found to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, researchers have found that approximately half of the U.S. population doesn’t get enough of this body-boosting nutrient, and older adults are at greatest risk for deficiency. If you suffer from sleeping problems, getting more magnesium into your diet through foods or supplements could be just what you need.
If you choose to supplement magnesium, most doctors recommend 200-300 mg taken nightly. Magnesium can have a mild laxative effect, so starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing it may be beneficial.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by the pineal gland in response to darkness, signaling the body to prepare for sleep. But melatonin production may decline as we age, disrupting our sleep patterns. With that in mind, melatonin supplements are an effective sleep aid for many older adults.
The effective amount of supplemental melatonin varies from person to person, but most experts advise taking between 0.5 to 2 milligrams about an hour before bedtime. Taking more than 2 milligrams of melatonin will not help you fall asleep faster but may increase the severity of side effects such as daytime sleepiness, headache, dizziness, and nausea.
Valerian is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia. The roots of this plant have been used as a folk remedy for sleep issues for hundreds of years. Research on valerian’s effectiveness as a sleep aid has had mixed results, but it is thought to work by increasing the brain’s production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and relaxation.
Valerian root supplements are available in several forms, including capsules, tablets, and herbal tea bags. The optimal dosage may vary but starting with around 300-600 mg is a common suggestion. While valerian root is generally well-tolerated, it may cause mild side effects such as dizziness, headache, or gastrointestinal disturbances in some people and should not be used with certain medications including antihistamines.
Our bodies use 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) to synthesize serotonin – a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and sleep. Supplementing with 5-HTP may help promote a sense of calmness and support better sleep quality because you’re giving your body more of the building blocks it needs to create serotonin. Some studies suggest 5-HTP may increase the amount of REM sleep in people by as much as 25%.
To help with sleep, the recommended dose of 5-HTP ranges from 50-150 mg about 30 minutes before bed. While 5-HTP is generally considered safe, it may interact with certain medications, particularly those affecting serotonin levels or for the treatment of depression.
Aromatherapy with lavender oil shortly before bedtime has been shown in multiple studies to improve sleep quality in people – even those without reported sleep issues. Another study of older adults with dementia suggests that lavender aromatherapy effectively improves sleep disturbance symptoms in that cohort.
To experience the benefits of lavender oil, add a few drops to a diffuser, use in a pillow spray, or apply topically after diluting with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil. Be sure to test for potential skin irritation or allergic reaction by applying to the skin in a small area first and discontinue use if any adverse reactions occur.