The 8 Best Natural Sleep Aids For When You Just Need Some ZZZs

We hear you: You've been rolling over for the past hour. You're sick of counting sheep and beyond done with replaying all the little mistakes you made during the day. You just want to be asleep and you want to be asleep now.
Luckily, there are quite a few tips, tricks, and supplements out there that don't require a prescription. Of course, "natural" isn't always better (or even safer), but it is often easier to get your hands on — and that's what matters most right now.
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However, these aren't necessarily long-term solutions. So if you find yourself repeatedly having difficulty nodding off, check with your doctor about other options. Ahead, a few of our favorite natural ways to make getting to sleep way easier.
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Melatonin

How it works: This naturally-occurring hormone plays a role in getting your body physically ready to fall asleep. Your body makes more of it when the sun goes down (usually starting around 9 p.m.). But some research shows that blue screen light can interfere with that process, keeping you up way past your bedtime. There's a fair amount of evidence suggesting that you can take melatonin as a supplement to help you fall asleep.

What you should know: Melatonin affects people in different ways, and some people have very strong — even allergic — reactions. Others find that it causes unpleasant side effects, such as dizziness, irritability, or feelings of depression. Also there's not much research about how it works in the long-term. So this is something that's best used only once in a while.
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Meditation

How it works: A guided meditation will help calm your mind and your body. Depending on the type of meditation you choose, this might be accomplished by bringing your attention to each part of your body and relaxing those muscles one by one. Or it may be more helpful to change the way you're feeling about your sleep issues. Learning to accept them (and that they're temporary) may ease any anxiety you feel about whether or not you'll be able to get to sleep, thus helping you actually get there.

What you should know: You can use an app, a YouTube video, our tutorials, or even go to a class. There are a ton of different types of meditation and every instructor is different. So feel free to experiment until you find one you like.
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Valerian Root

How it works: The root of the valerian plant is often used as an anxiety-reducing and sleep-inducing supplement. You can take it as a pill or, for extra relaxation points, drink it in a tea. It seems to work best when used consistently a few hours before bedtime each night for at least two weeks.

What you should know: We don't know enough about valerian root to have a perfect dose, so go slow and adjust as needed. The tea is also known to cause some interesting side effects, including weird dreams, headaches, and upset stomach. Valerian root can also interfere with and amplify the effects of other sedating drugs, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol. Plus, the tea has a, uh, pungent smell. So maybe warn your roommates before boiling up a batch.
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Therapy

How it works: More and more research is showing that insomnia may be best treated with counseling — not medication. Specifically, studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aimed at identifying and addressing any thoughts or behaviors keeping you awake can significantly improve your symptoms. Even one session can keep a mild case of insomnia from turning into a severe one.

What you should know: This isn't a one-and-done sort of treatment. CBT takes some serious work on your part. You'll need to be ready to critically examine your inner thoughts (with the help of a therapist, of course) and keep up a sleep diary. But the results may be totally worth it.
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5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan)

How it works: You know how the tryptophan in turkey makes you feel a bit calmer and ready to doze off? Well, that's because your body uses tryptophan to make the neurotransmitter serotonin. But, before that tryptophan turns into serotonin, it becomes 5-hydroxytryptophan, a.k.a. 5-HTP. There's not a ton of conclusive research out there about 5-HTP, but some studies do suggest that taking it at night can help you fall asleep faster.

What you should know: Because 5-HTP is messing with your serotonin levels, you need to be very careful about what other medications you take with it. It can interfere with antidepressants, migraine medications, and anything else that affects serotonin. If you get too much of the neurotransmitter, you can develop a serious condition called serotonin syndrome. So this is one supplement that you should definitely talk to your doctor about before trying. Less serious side effects include heartburn, nausea, and a lack of appetite.
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Hot Shower

How it works: I know, I know, this is the most basic advice ever. But there's some real science behind taking a hot bath or shower before bed: Essentially, your body temperature naturally cools down as you get ready to fall asleep. So heating yourself up a bit in the showerand then getting out causes a similar drop in temperature, basically tricking your body into thinking it's time to fall asleep. Plus, a hot shower can relieve muscle tension and help you simply feel more relaxed.

What you should know: Timing is key here. You want your head to hit the pillow when your body has had time to dry off and cool down, which means taking your shower about 90 minutes before bedtime.
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Yoga

How it works: Gentle stretching yoga can act almost like a meditation with the added benefit of reducing muscle tension. Opt for less strenuous forms of yoga (such as yin or restorative yoga) or just slowly cycle through a few of your favorite low-impact poses.

What you should know: Keeping up regular physical activity has consistently been shown to help people fall asleep. But the timing is a big deal here, too, because working out can make you feel energized rather than ready for bed. So, it's usually a good idea to give yourself a few hours between exercising and getting under the covers. If you're doing a calming yoga routine, though, you won't need such a buffer — it might be hard not to fall asleep on your mat!
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White Noise Apps

How it works: There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to ambient noise, but many people find that some kind of artificial noise helps block out more distracting (and loud) environmental noises. We'd suggest playing around with the options available on these white noise apps and machines to find your perfect sleepy-time soundscape.

What you should know: If you're having trouble finding a "white noise" option that works for you, expand your search to "pink" noise. This tends to have a more consistent frequency (e.g. rain falling or a crackling campfire) and research suggests it can help with both sleep and memory.
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