10 natural cures for insomnia to help end sleepless nights

Nip sleep disturbance in the bud with these expert-approved natural cures for insomnia

illustration of women with insomnia
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Ready to nip sleepless nights in the bud? Thankfully, there are 10 natural cures for insomnia that will help you regain control of your sleep.  

While having the best pillow and finding the right sleeping position are great first steps to a good night’s sleep, many of us still suffer from insomnia, finding it hard to drift off or stay asleep at night. Research shows 10% to 30% of the world's population suffers from insomnia and so it's no surprise many of us are in need of a helping hand to tackle sleep disturbance.

The sleeping disorder can present itself in the form of difficulty falling asleep initially and/or prolonged or frequent night wakings, according to sleep coach Rebecca Nazzal. “It can also include not feeling rested after a full night’s sleep and having excessive daytime drowsiness.”

However, it’s important not to panic. Difficulty sleeping is actually much more common than you might think, and stressing out about your lack of sleep could lead to even more disruption come bedtime or cause sleep anxiety

“Stress can cause sleep initiation insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), sleep maintenance insomnia (waking up during the middle of the night), or even both,” says Dr. Anita Shelgikar, a neurologist at the Michigan Medicine Sleep Disorders Centers. “The relationship between stress and sleep is cyclical; stress can lead to sleep disturbance, which can then make it harder to respond to stress, which further affects sleep.”

It can be a tiring cycle, caused by a number of factors including health issues such as certain medication and lifestyle challenges. If you’re struggling with insomnia for a long period of time you should speak to your doctor for further advice. However, if you’re currently experiencing a period of sleep disruption, here the experts share 10 natural cures for insomnia to help you sleep better

Natural cures for insomnia

1. Make sure you’re getting magnesium  

Magnesium and sleep are a dream combo and magnesium is one of the best natural cures for insomnia. Not only does it enhance your rest by helping you fall sleep faster, but it also makes you more likely to stay asleep. “Magnesium aids relaxation and the normal functioning of the nervous system,” says nutritional advisor Liz Cooper. “Nuts, wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage all contain this valuable nutrient, so try to incorporate a few of these into your diet, daily.” 

2. Take a morning stroll

Whether you're a night owl or a morning lark, experts agree that exercising first thing is one of the best natural cures for insomnia. Whether that's a walking workout, an at-home workout video or a gym class. “Early morning exercise can kick start your circadian rhythm (your internal 24-hour clock),” says sleep expert Sammy Margo. “Just 20 to 30 minutes of walking in the morning will help tell your brain it’s time to sleep 16 to 18 hours later.”

white alarm clock on bed

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3. Set your alarm for the same time every day

Melatonin is a natural sleep hormone and when the sun goes down and darkness falls, the body releases it into your bloodstream, sending the signals that it’s time to get some shut-eye. “Going to bed at a regular hour and getting up at the same time seven days a week, is something that great sleepers do,” says Dr. Lindsay Browning, the author of Navigating Sleeplessness: How to Sleep Deeper and Better For Longer. If you’re struggling to go to bed at the same time every night, reassess your bedtime routine and set yourself a goal of relaxing at a certain time with the aim of being in bed at your desired bedtime. You can use a sleep app to track your sleep and learn more about your sleep patterns. It's one of the simplest natural cures for insomnia but it could really help. 

4. Ditch the caffeine and sugar

“Try to reduce your intake of sugars, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates to prevent highs prior to bed,” says Liz. “The brain needs to be entering a state of relaxation to help avoid sleep problems, such as insomnia.” Instead, try whipping up golden milk to send you off to the land of nod. “One of the best Ayurvedic recipes that promote restful sleep is golden milk with ashwagandha,” says herbal medicine practitioner, Jenya Di Pierro. “Whisk milk or non-dairy milk, and a pinch of cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, pepper, and then 1 tsp of ashwagandha, in a small saucepan, and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Alternatively, use a milk frother to whisk the milk and then mix the powder into it.” 

Fermented food

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5. Eat gut-friendly foods

“There is growing evidence of a link between your microbiome (the bacteria within your gut), and your brain,” says Liz. “If you look after your gut health, it helps produce sleep-promoting hormones such as serotonin, which is turned into melatonin. So as well as eating a diet rich in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and live yogurt, a multi-strain live bacteria supplement could be beneficial too.” 

6. Include tryptophan in your dinner 

“Adding tryptophan-containing foods to your last meal of the day is a great way to aid sleep, as tryptophan is needed to make melatonin,” explains Liz. Add foods like turkey, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, eggs, chicken and fish to your diet to boost your tryptophan intake. "These are also all sources of protein, and sufficient protein also supports folate and vitamin B12," Liz adds.

7. Take a St Johns wort supplement 

Natural supplements for sleep are becoming increasingly popular are some of the best natural cures for insomnia. “There are several herbs that will be included in most sleep support formulas and one of those is St John's wort,” says Jenya. “This herb supports sleep by elevating serotonin levels in the brain, this facilitates the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which aids deeper and better quality rest.” While you can buy St John's wort from a pharmacy without a prescription, it’s best to seek advice from your doctor in the first instance, as it’s not suitable for everyone, especially those taking any medication. 

herbs for sleep teas

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8. Make yourself a cup of chamomile tea

Known as a sleep inducer, chamomile is the key to some of the best sleep teas. It owes its calming effects to an antioxidant called apigenin. “Apigenin is thought to decrease anxiety and help to initiate sleep,” explains Jenya. Evidence of its ability to cure insomnia is limited, but it’s a much better option compared to a glass of wine. “Aim to make yourself a cup around 45 minutes before bedtime, to give your body a chance to metabolize the tea.”

9. Consider taking valerian 

Another herb that is heralded for its sleep-friendly benefits is valerian and could be a great addition to your diet. “Valerian contains a number of elements that can help insomnia,” says tea expert Dr. Tim Bond. “Research shows that valerian compounds work with the brain to induce calmness and sleep." You can buy valerian in the form of capsules which you take a few hours before bed, or in the form of herbal tea. 

10. Spritz lavender before bed 

Lavender is another plant often used for its sedative benefits and is one of the best natural cures for insomnia, Dr. Bond explains. “Lavender contains an ingredient called linalool, which increases sedation and reduces anxiety. Inhalation of essential lavender oil and linalool promotes relaxation and improves your sleep.” Treat yourself to a sleep-inducing lavender pillow spray, or some lavender bath oil for a soak before bed. 

If you are experiencing a prolonged period of sleep disturbance or your sleep troubles are negatively impacting your life, you should contact your doctor for further advice 

“You can express your desire to work on your sleep issues naturally, or request a prescription for sleep medication,” says Rebecca. Always make sure you ask if there could be any possible medical causes, such as medication side effects, and check with your doctor if any herbal remedies or sleep supplements could impact any other medication you are currently taking. 

Stacey Carter

Stacey Carter is a health and wellbeing writer, who works across UK health titles including Natural Health Woman and Health & Wellbeing Magazine. In her spare time, she freelances for other lifestyle brands, including Womanandhome.com.