How to Fall Asleep Without Melatonin
From bananas to sleep masks, these are the simple swaps you should be making.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:46 AM
Yes, melatonin isn’t as extreme as Ambien, but did you know there are cleaner, just as effective alternatives to the standard melatonin? The fact is, melatonin works well, but it is actually a hormone and isn’t recommended for pregnant or nursing women—plus many report that taking it can give adverse reactions, like nightmares. For those looking for a less intense alternative (but are still tossing and turning), there are sleep inducers effective enough to help you catch those Zzzs.
“Taking melatonin is good in that it will have a quicker response, however it is essentially just replacing the body’s natural production of melatonin,” says Swisse Wellness product training manager, Dr. David Cannata, PhD. He adds that the body then relies on the additional melatonin and it doesn’t do anything to lower cortisol levels before sleep, therefore, it isn’t restoring the natural sleep cycle. Here, some melatonin stunt doubles, both ingestible and topical, which help you sleep without disrupting your natural rhythms.
Simpson says that magnesium is a mega stress reliever, aiding those whose insomnia is stress-induced. “Magnesium produces blockers to inhibit cortisol (stress hormones) production in our brain,” says Night Pillow co-founder Kalle Simpson. “This is key for allowing us to turn off and stay asleep throughout the night.” If you’re not into ingesting your magnesium, try soaking in a magnesium-infused bath with these Naturopathica Sweet Birch Magnesium Bath Flakes, $38.
Sleep sprays are a brilliant express ticket to Snoozeville. Deep Sleep Pillow Spray by This Works, $29, is a cult classic. Count on this to help you fall asleep faster, and wake feeling more refreshed. It contains an essential oil blend of lavender, vetivert, and chamomile to calm both mind and body, soothing you to sleep. And 97 percent of people that tried it in a closed study found they slept better using it.
Valerian has long been used in traditional Western herbal medicine to aid with sleep disorders based on nervous conditions and restlessness because it has calming properties. “Often sleep disorders are stress-related, which causes our stress hormone cortisol to remain high, making it hard for melatonin (our sleep hormone) to rise,” says Cannata. “Valerian may help to reduce cortisol levels to help our melatonin levels rise naturally, helping us to get into a sleep pattern.”
One to try: Swisse Ultiboost Sleep, $17.99, contains valerian, hops, and magnesium to lower cortisol, thus helping the body to naturally release melatonin to assist with falling asleep and staying asleep. Or, take a soak in a bath with Kneipp Sweet Dreams Bath Crystals, $20, which also contains valerian and hops.
Decaffeinated hot teas with herbs like chamomile and lavender are great and work two-fold. “Chamomile and lavender both have been shown to help relax the body by lowering heart rate and blood pressure,” says Simpson. Also, your body temperature will cool down to balance the heat from the hot drink and a lower body temperature can also induce sleepiness. “This is why warm milk is a popular night time beverage for kids who can’t sleep,” Simpson explains.
Something you keep in the kitchen may help you drift off to dreamland. “Bananas are actually a great sleep aid too because they contain tryptophan, which has sleep inducing properties,” says Simpson. Tryptophan works by releasing serotonin, which promotes positive feelings of wellbeing, fighting anxiety and depression that can otherwise keep you awake, she adds.
“Because bananas contain natural sugars, they are a great way to satiate that sweet tooth that would otherwise cause you to opt for blood sugar spiking desserts, which can wreak havoc on your sleep,” Simpson says. Tryptophan is also found in turkey—one of the reasons we get so tired post-Thanksgiving dinner.
The best alternative to taking a melatonin supplement may be encouraging your body’s own natural production. “Sleep masks are a simple way to do this: Melatonin production is disrupted by even small levels of light—hence why we shouldn’t be staring at screens at night,” says Simposon. Sleep masks can help us achieve optimal melatonin production by counteracting any chances of light disruption. This one from Slip, $45, is made of silk, so it won’t pull at skin while you sleep, nor will it disrupt your hair.
A lavender-spiked essential oil on your pulse points, like Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Body Oil, $71, will help you unwind at the end of the day. Along with lavender, it blends rosemary, black pepper, and ginger essential oils to de-stress after an intense workout or a long day at work. Rub it onto sore muscles or pour a little into your nighttime bath to reap the aromatherapeutic benefits.
This story was originally published in November 2017. It was updated in March 2018.
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