Most of us struggle with our sleep at some point - stress being one of the biggest culprits that impacts your ability to get a good night's rest. But, there are a few natural approaches that can help improve your ability to sleep well. These natural remedies for better sleep include both practical actions you can take to improve your sleep quality as well as herbs and minerals that are traditionally used to encourage a good night's rest.
Get plenty of early morning light
Sleep is dependent on your body's own internal clock, or its circadian rhythm. And your body's natural rhythm of wakefulness and sleepiness is intricately linked to light. That's because prior to the advent of artificial lights, the human body depended on natural light sources (or lack of light) to determine night and day.
Artificial light can challenge your body's innate rhythm and sleep/wake cycle, so embracing natural light (especially early in the morning) may help to improve sleep. In a 2014 study, people exposed to more natural light experienced better markers of wellness and health including longer, and better sleep (1).
In Practice: Take a morning walk
Try to get as much natural light throughout your day as you can, starting with a morning walk. If that's not possible, try sipping your morning tea or coffee on your porch, where you're exposed to natural light.
Further, you might consider minimizing artificial light, especially in the evening close to bedtime.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is the practice of setting up your bedroom and nightly routines to support and encourage restful sleep. This includes minimizing distractions in your bedroom, minimizing artificial light close to bedtime, and engaging in gentle, relaxing habits in the evening that help prime your body and mind for sleep.
According to the Sleep Foundation, dimming the lights in the evening, turning off electronics (like your TV or smartphone), and settling into a bedtime routine about an hour before bed can improve sleep. Furthermore, sleeping in a dark, cool room with comfortable bedding are also practices that help support better sleep.
Further, minimizing alcohol and caffeine intake may help improve sleep for some people. Some people may also benefit from avoiding mid-day naps, reducing nighttime noise, and trying to keep to a regular wake/sleep schedule every day (2).
In Practice: Make your bedroom a sleep haven.
Try to make your bedroom a haven for good sleep, with light-blocking curtains, and a fan to drown out street noise if it's a problem in your neighborhood. Try setting your thermostat to an optimal temperature for sleep (typically between 60 and 67F), and remember to wind down beginning an hour before bed - setting your smartphone down or turning off the TV.
Look into herbs
Many herbs are traditionally used to promote good sleep. Some, such as Lemon Balm, work to ease feelings of worry while others, such as Calfornia poppy or Valerian, have a more direct impact on sleep.
Passionflower is one herb that has been traditionally used to support better mood and better sleep, and some current research supports this use (3); however, as with many studies on herbs and botanical medicine, information is lacking and conclusions warrant further research (4). Other herbs, such as spearmint, have shown the ability to support cognitive health and sleep, especially as we age (5).
Of course, if you're planning to incorporate herbs regularly into your routine, you might reach out to your health care provider. While most herbs are quite gentle, others may interact with medication or have side effects, especially when you take them in large doses.
In Practice: Sip on herbal tea
We make a tea for sleep in our household that contains rose, passionflower, California poppy, lemon balm, and other herbs traditionally used to encourage a good night's rest. It's easy to make and a single batch can last a long time.
If herbal tea doesn't work for you, you might consider taking sleep-supportive herbal tinctures in the evening.
For many people, aromatherapy, or the practice of diffusing essential oils can be a relaxing, pleasant experience. Not only can this practice be a pleasant addition to your bedtime routine, thus supporting sleep hygiene, but many essentials are thought to have a specific impact on sleep.
Researchers have found that essential oils may help to improve sleep (6, 7). Lavender essential oil has been one of the most studied botanical oils with regard to its effects on anxiety and sleep. A 2018 study concluded that lavender essential oil improves sleep quality (8). Lavender is often used in combination with mint (9) and chamomile (10) essential oils.
In Practice: Try diffusing essential oils.
If diffusing essential oils doesn't work for you, you can dilute them into a carrier oil, such as olive oil or almond oil, and add them to your evening bath.
Try some natural remedies
I also like to keep some simple natural remedies on hand in the medicine cabinet. They often include combinations of herbs, minerals, and vitamins. These are particularly nice when you don't have time to make your own remedies or for when you're tight on space and don't have room in your cupboards to stock multiple jars of herbs.
Look for remedies and preparations from reputable brands that not only contain high-quality ingredients but also avoid excipients where possible. Excipients are additional, non-therapeutic ingredients added to supplements which act as fillers.
In Practice: Try a few natural remedies.
We keep a bottle of Hilma's new Sleep Support in the cupboard. It contains herbs traditionally used to support sleep and relaxation such as passionflower and reishi mushroom, as well as magnesium which is a mineral that also promotes a sense of relaxation. It's also free from melatonin.
- Boubekri, Mohamed et al. “Impact of windows and daylight exposure on overall health and sleep quality of office workers: a case-control pilot study.” Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine vol. 10,6 603-11. 15 Jun. 2014
- Irish, Leah A et al. “The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence.” Sleep medicine reviews vol. 22 (2015): 23-36.
- Guerrero, Fructuoso Ayala, and Graciela Mexicano Medina. “Effect of a medicinal plant (Passiflora incarnata L) on sleep.” Sleep science (Sao Paulo, Brazil) vol. 10,3 (2017): 96-100.
- Kim, Mijin et al. “Role Identification of Passiflora Incarnata Linnaeus: A Mini Review.” Journal of menopausal medicine vol. 23,3 (2017): 156-159.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nHerrlinger, Kelli A et al. “Spearmint Extract Improves Working Memory in Men and Women with Age-Associated Memory Impairment.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 24,1 (2018): 37-47.
- Hwang, Eunhee, and Sujin Shin. “The effects of aromatherapy on sleep improvement: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 21,2 (2015): 61-8.
- Kim, Mi Eun et al. "Effects of aromatherapy on Sleep Quality." Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing vol. 49,6 (2019): 655-676.
- Karadag, Ezgi et al. “Effects of aromatherapy on sleep quality and anxiety of patients.” Nursing in critical care vol. 22,2 (2017): 105-112.
- Hamzeh, Sahar et al. “Effects of Aromatherapy with Lavender and Peppermint Essential Oils on the Sleep Quality of Cancer Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2020 7480204. 25 Mar. 2020,
- Rafii, Forough et al. “The effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender and chamomile oil on anxiety and sleep quality of patients with burns.” Burns : journal of the International Society for Burn Injuries vol. 46,1 (2020): 164-171.