Natural Sleep Remedies

Natural Sleep Remedies

I’m a sleep-a-holic. I sleep at least 8 hours every night and on weekends I turn in for around 10. I am a total crank pot when I don’t get a good night of sleep, and I have an absolute fear of insomnia. So you can imagine that finding natural sleep remedies for my family has been a passion. I’ve additionally covered the topic of sleep in two previous posts, 5 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep, and 5 Reasons to Give up Coffee. Caffeine is my personal anti-Christ when it comes to sleeping, and I avoid it religiously.

I have instigated a culture of sleep in our house, and it seems to be sticking. We all brag about how early we go to bed, and how late we sleep in the morning. Sleep is worshiped here by the entire family!

I’ve taken many practical steps to ensure that we sleep well. First, all of the bedrooms have analog alarm clocks rather than digital, i.e., electronic alarm clocks. Did you know that the glow from an electronic clock can fool your body into thinking it’s daytime, disrupt circadian rhythms, and interfere with a woman’s menstrual cycle by tricking the body into thinking it’s always a full moon?! To prevent this I have purchased “old fashioned alarm clocks.”

phones in desk

Additionally all of our bedrooms have floor to ceiling black out curtains covering the windows. I prefer curtains to shades, as shades can let light through around the edges.

My cell phone policy is another cornerstone of our sleeping regimen. The boys and I do not bring our cell phones into our bedrooms after dark, as cell phone screens disrupt sleep  with their blue light. Some people use f.lux, on their phones, an app that blocks out blue light, however I have found that any light inhibits deep sleep, so have instituted the no phone policy.

I have created a cell phone charging station at our mail desk, so that I can easily see that phones are plugged in at bedtime. I park my phone in my cubby in our mudroom.

As the boys have gotten older and their stress has increased from the intensity of academics and the competitiveness of sports, so have their pressure levels. When one is under pressure the adrenals fire more. When the adrenals fire more, sleep can be elusive, and insomnia can set in. That’s why I have a shelf in my pantry devoted to natural sleeping remedies.

The following supplements are the natural sleep remedies I keep on hand and take along with us when we travel.

I use the Pure Encapsulations brand of l-Theanine, so that is what I know best. This product contains 200 mg of l-Theanine, an amino acid (a building block for proteins) found in green tea. In green tea, l-Theanine neutralizes the stimulating effects of caffeine. l-Theanine is used for for treating anxiety as well as high blood pressure and has a chemical structure that is quite similar to glutamate. Glutamate, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body that helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain, can also be quite stimulating. Oddly, some of the effects of l-Theanine appear to be similar to glutamate, and some of its effects seem to block glutamate, which would explain why l-Theanine has a neuro-inhibitory effect, thereby helping with relaxation and sleep.

One of the GABA products we use is pharmaGABA from Thorne, which contains 250mg of GABA, however, I believe other brands may be effective as well. GABA, a chemical made in the brain, is one of four main neurotransmitters (the other three consist of dopamine, acetylcholine, and serotonin). According to Dr. Eric Braverman, if your brain is a car, GABA would be the brakes. While GABA is fantastic for sleeping, I often take it during the day if I find myself in a stressful situation. In addition to the PharmaGABA product, which is a capsule, we also use the Quicksilver product which is a sub-lingual product dispensed in a base of sunflower oil.

The only company I’ve found that makes Kavinace is Neuroscience. According to its manufacturer, kavinace is a proprietary blend of taurine, 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid, and Vitamin B-6 and is a precursor to GABA. Of all of the physicians I’ve spoken to regarding Kavinace, none were completely certain as to how it functions. Kavinace is the strongest of the three main sleeping remedies we use. If I do take it, I have one pill at 6pm, as it stays in my system for 19 hours –I can tell because I feel groggy for this time period after consuming it.

I find the above sleep remedies to be the most effective for my family. I also keep the following combination formula sleep remedies on hand:

Best Rest Formula
The Best Rest Formula by Pure Encapsulations is a combination formula, meaning it contains a number of ingredients that support sleep and restfulness, and aid in the reduction of anxiety. The primary ingredient in the Best Rest Formula is GABA, it contains 300mg in its blend.  This potent formula also contains 1 mg of melatonin, plus l-Theanine, valerian (a potent herb from which Valium was derived), lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and chamomile. While this is a very nice and potent blend, I find that more often we use the single formula products mentioned above and take those in combination to pack a very powerful punch. Still, I keep the Best Rest Formula on hand in case we don’t want to use the other products (i.e., just in case any of us were to build up a tolerance to them, which has not happened as of yet).

Herbal Sleep
Herbal Sleep is formulated by Nature’s Sunshine. This proprietary herbal blend contains valerian, passion flower, and hops. I don’t take it for sleeping, I actually use it when I get a headache.

When the boys were younger, they would ask me to give them their sleeping supplements. Now that they are in high school I believe it is important for them to learn self-care, so I keep these supplements on a shelf in our pantry and they take them as needed and use different doses of the above products during different times of the week. On weekends we all tend to sleep more and take more of these supplements. Not so during the week as we know if we need to wake up bright and early for school or work a smaller dose is more optimal.

Sleep is critical, in fact it is the most critical component of my healing plan. I highly recommend seeing a doctor and looking into getting a medical prescription if none of the natural sleep remedies above work for you. Human growth hormone is released, and heals our bodies while we sleep. If we can’t sleep we can’t produce this incredible substance and we can’t heal. If you aren’t sleeping, you simply aren’t healing, and getting well.

Numerous emerging studies demonstrate a link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s in the elderly. For the young, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that teenagers sleep 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night and that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30am. Unfortunately, less than 20% of schools in the US begin at 8:30 or later.

There are many resources you can use to get a better night of sleep. What are your favorite methods, natural or otherwise, for sleeping? Leave a comment and let us know so we can all get to sleep!


  1. Amy G. says

    This is my favorite post ever as sleep is elusive for me. I have ordered l-theanine and GABA and am anxious to try them. I would love to read more such lifestyle topics from you like —

    -do you still take fish oil/cod liver oil? They both have been somewhat controversial lately.
    -other supplements you take and consider essential, as there is an unending list of “good” supplements out there – but I can’t take everything.
    -seasonal allergies are a huge problem for me – do you have remedies that you use and that work for allergies?
    -more on this sleep topic and supplementation. Do you take a combo of these EVERY night? How would you sleep without them? It seems like you mostly take l-theanine and GABA together. Do they work best together? Will they work indefinitely? Do they work separately?

    Thank you for all you do!

    • Elana says

      Hi Amy, thanks for your kind words! Here are some quick answers to your questions: Yes, I love fish oil. Yes, I take other supplements, loads of them. I will write further on that in the future :-) For seasonal allergies I really like quercetin and a diet with no sugar (even natural sweeteners). For the sleeping, we take differing combos of the above, in differing amounts on different nights depending on our needs. I think the best thing is to start slow and try each one separately, then after you see which ones your body likes and reacts well to, start combining. Happy sleeping :-)

  2. Sarah says

    Elana, did you use any of the above for your boys when they were younger? My 7 year old has gotten stuck in a crippling cycle of bad dreams, wakefulness for an hour or two at a time, and an incredibly active imagination that revs up at night. I already diffuse lavender essential oils and use them topically, but the sleeplessness and fear is more than the oils can handle, it seems! And so, he wakes me up for help. I lose hours of sleep responding to him. We pray, we talk for a moment, but it doesn’t seem to help. My kids aren’t allowed in my bed, and I feel that would do them a disservice in the long run anyway, but I would be open to trying some of these supplements if it would help us break the cycle. He fears nighttime, and thus it seems, it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only supplement you mentioned that I have personal experience with is Thorne’s pharmaGABA, and its effects on my body chemistry were such that I’m not sure about giving it to a child. It left me with a detached, groggy feeling. Thank you–I know you don’t have stores of extra time to respond to individual comments! By the way, we have a “no screens after 6:30pm” policy, so they are not in front of the computer or TV, being exposed to stimulating light and images before bed.

    • Sarah says

      To top it off, I’m 6 months pregnant with our 4th–I will be in the zombie-like state of waking with a newborn at night soon enough–I need the “big kids” to be self-sufficient sleepers before this next one arrives!

    • Elana says

      Hi Sarah, sorry to hear about this. I did give the boys l-Theanine when they were younger and did not see any adverse effects. Our family doctor suggested that we do so. Everyone is different though, and I would recommend seeing your family doc or pediatrician for exact suggestions and dosages of sleep remedies for your little guy. Good luck and thinking of you and yours xoxox

  3. Hélène says

    My problem is anything I use only works a few week to 2 mos. Then my body just laughs at it and insomnia rules again. I get some restful sleep even, for those small time periods, yes. But it just even more drives home how lacking I am with the nightly insomnia for the last 12 yrs, including 2 pregnancies. Can you imagine being pregnant and not allowed to sleep?? It’s tortuous.

    • Elana says

      Hélène, that sounds awful. For a situation where the body and/or brain build up a tolerance to a supplement I personally use a rotation strategy to prevent that situation from persisting. Hope this helps :-)

  4. Hélène says

    This is a helpful start also for ppl who are insomniacs and for whom Rxs do not work. We are forced to find other sleep aids as the big guns are like sugar pills. They might even put a person to sleep, but most insomniacs are so EXHAUSTED we can pass out on our own ok. It’s the sleeping more than 2-4 hrs at one time that’s the problem :( :( :(

    • Amy G. says

      Helene –

      I have no help to offer you, but I can just say that I am in the same boat as you and understand how you feel. I wake up many times a night, (and I have to get up and use the restroom with each waking.) I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in many years.

  5. Cristina says

    I do find a direct link between lack of restful sleep and poor food choices. I have experienced it myself because I suffer from an extreme form of jaw joint dysfunction and my sleep is very compromised due to the pain. My clients also report struggling with overeating when they lack proper sleep and/or when they travel and their circadian rhythms are disrupted. It is hard to commit to the right food picks in the face of unbearable cravings, but it is doable. Be ready. Expect disruptions and preempt them by having nutritious food with you. When that moment of tiredness hits you, you’ll be prepared to face it with something other than sugar and caffeine.

  6. Nancy says

    I find playing Delta sleep music on my mp3 player connected to small speakers at my bedside very helpful. A therapist suggested this some years back & it works on it’s own or with some of the products Elana mentioned.

  7. Stacy says

    Herbatonin, which is plant Melatonin, has worked wonders for me! I have an auto immune disease, so have struggled with severe insomnia for years, and have tried everything under the sun. I 3mg capsule works better for me than the much higher doses of synthetic melatonin.. It is far more potent and effective. You can get it on Amazon. Hope this helps someone!

  8. Susan says


    I read your post on sleep remedies with great interest as I am up 2-3 times a night. I have ordered the l-Theanine and Gaba products and would like to know what dosage of each you take. I realize dosages vary with individuals; however, I have tried a single capsule of each product at separate times and they were no help. Generally, is more than one pill recommended?

    • Elana says

      Hi Susan, great question, and challenging to answer as not only is everybody different, but in our family we often change up our dosing from night to night. Different combos we use are 3 L-theanine and 1 or 2 GABA, other nights that amount of L-theanine with 1 kavinace. Please stop back by and keep me posted on your progress :-)

  9. Donna duffy says

    Hi Ellana and friends,
    I was so happy to read your information with sleep last week . This summer I have had a lot of difficulty with my sleep and think I might have a system in place- 500 mg of magnesium at night. , l-Theanine 100mg am /pm, warm shower before bedtime, 20drops o valerian tincture at bedtime, lavender oil on the soles of my feet, and if I wake up in the middle of the night I take 20 drops of Passion flower. I will be checking into the other ides from you and your readers!

    Thank-youx so much for your research and insight!

  10. Kelly says

    Tryptophan tryptophan tryptophan!!! I took Ambien for 3 years before I met my husband. He convinced me that tryptophan would work. I was VERY hesitant as I had tried some other things before that didn’t work for me. Thankfully tryptophan works for both of us. I take 4 grams of it as I am getting in bed for the night. We order it from Amazon but Vitamin Shoppe also carries it (but it’s more expensive). I prefer the 500 mg TABLETS, not the capsules. They do also make 1 gram tablets but I find them a bit hard to swallow.

  11. Heidi says

    I don’t take melatonin because it gives me nightmares, and valerian does the same. Kava kava I reserve for sacred use only.

  12. Anna Habetler says

    I had been taking Kavinace and my new Dr., John Humiston MD in San Diego told me to stop it as it is as addictive as benzodiazepines. He is an expert in addictions. It had been helping me but I stopped it and he had me start taking GABA to repair the damage to the brain.

  13. Elizabeth Gibbs says

    On the ( thankfully) rare occasions that I have difficulty falling asleep, I use a guided relaxation technique called Yoga Nidra. I either use a CD of a voice I like (including my own): If you are interested, you can copy and paste the following link in your browser and download Track #1 for FREE:

    OR I self-guide and by the time I’ve finished going going up on side of my body and halfway down the other side – it’s morning!!!!

  14. kelly says

    Elana, do you know anything about any of these being safe while pregnant/breastfeeding? I looked them all up & of course it just says “consult your physician” or “not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding.” But yet, Doctors will keep patients on some drugs that have the worst side effects ever! Any feedback? Thank you!

    • Elana Amsterdam says

      Hi Kelly, I did not take these formulas while I was pregnant or breastfeeding so cannot report on any personal experience with that. Unfortunately, the only thing I can recommend in this situation would be to chat with your medical practitioner. Please stop back by and leave a comment to let us know how that goes –I’ll bet others are interested in a variety of opinions on that topic as well!

  15. Laura says

    Rescue Sleep is very helpful for me. It’s a combination of Bach flower essences and is available at many mainstream stores, as well as health food stores and online. Thanks for the tips, Elana!

  16. Robyn says

    I take Valerian Root and something called “200 mg of Zen.” I have a history of waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. The Valerian and Zen work for me. Finally.

  17. Debbie says

    About electronic alarm clocks – I have about six settings of increasingly dimmer lighting on mine, including off. I turn it off every night.

    About teeth grinding – a good dentist or orthodontist, or a specialist can make a custom night guard. I’ve been wearing them for thirty years. My son just got one. It is not usually covered by insurance, but worth every penny.

  18. Adele says

    Hi Elana,
    A note on “Kavinace”. It is not itself an “amino acid” as you describe in your lovely article on sleep aids. It’s a formulation of various things, one of which is a derivative of GABA (but not exactly GABA). I’m really into the amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins) and I think it’s an important distinction.

    • Elana Amsterdam says

      Hi Adele, thanks so much for pointing that out. I’ve updated the description of Kavinace to state exactly what the manufacturer notes is in it, and removed my statement that it is an amino acid.. Appreciate your feedback very much :-)

  19. Cindy says

    I use the yoga legs up the wall pose for 10-15 minutes in the evening and/or Dr. Weil’s breathing exercises.

  20. janet says

    Do you take all of those every night? i have not heard of any of them, i have been using benadryl and melatonin, but sometimes those leave me feeling groggy. my daughter gave me a fitbit to track my sleep habits, and on average it’s about 5 hours 20 some odd minutes, with sometimes 3 times awake and 14 times restless! I feel so deprived most days.

    • Elana Amsterdam says

      Hi Janet, I test out these supplements on myself, family, and house guests that say they don’t sleep well.. From this research I can say that a good place to start is with 1 each of l-Theanine and GABA. If that’s not enough, bump up to 2 of each. If that still doesn’t work, try adding in 1 Kavinace. There is no exact formula for dosing and everyone I know changes the amount they take on various nights according to when they take these supplements and when they need to get up. If you try these sleep remedies please stop back by and let us know what works for you :-)

  21. Terresa says

    Hi Elana,
    Where did you get your black-out curtains? I can’t seem to find any that are free of chemicals.
    Thanks for your time,

    • Elana Amsterdam says

      Hi Terresa, I had our black out curtains made by a local company in Boulder called Cloth Constructions. We chose the fabric and they measured and made them.

  22. Elana Amsterdam says

    Hi guys! So sorry for the issue of truncated comments. We put in a new spam filter that started to filter out non-spam, and random words in your comments too. Everything is working well now and I look forward to hearing more from you regarding your favorite sleep strategies! :-)

  23. Lesli says

    When I travel or really need to guarantee restful sleep I rub undiluted lavender oil on the soles of my feet. It works like a drug to me but no side effects. A hot Epsom salt bath at bedtime also really makes me sleep well. I don’t work out in the evenings either because that makes me alert at bedtime. Definitely the best sleep aid has been meditation. I have been practicing regularly for over three years and have taught all my children to meditate at bedtime. I have eradicated anxiety completely through this method, which has translated into fantastic sleeping for me. I feel so strongly about meditation that I talk to anyone I can about its benefits. I even started my own company with online meditations to teach children and teens to meditate. That is how significant I believe it is for everyone.

  24. Rubyros says

    I discovered that gluten as well as sugar have contributed to insomnia and have eliminated them and I am sleeping As I have aged there r some digestive issues caused by certain foods that when eliminated also have I have my big meal at lunch time and eating a small easy to digest food at supper time has made a big Weil’s breathing exercises, and lavender oil are also helpful

  25. Maria says

    Hello, I have a lifelong problem with night teeth Has anyone ever come across a natural remedy for this? We use lavender, mint or Rosemary oil before I also use the breathing techniques previously I take a bath almost every night to relax my Stop all technology half hour before sleep and try to get to bed at the same time each Ear Room darkening as well as white Sleep is highly important to me as Having gone through several years of waking at night with young ones we cherish a good nights

    • Vikki Evers says

      My husband had a problem with grinding his teeth at night at the end of each of our B&B seasons from drinking coffee during the season. We always switched to green tea during the off-season and his sleep returned to normal. He noticed this after reading it in a book called ‘Caffeine Blues’ by Stephen Cherniske, a book he found very useful in his annual coffee purge.

  26. Carter says

    My gut is wrecked from celiac disease and some other pesky autoimmune And I was never a great absorber of foods and vitamins to begin with!
    So, it helps me that I’ve found I can get GABA in a cream form from my compounding pharmacist and buy magnesium oil OTC from supplement or bodywork Using these two really helps my body shift into rest-and-digest mode, as does a warm water workout midafternoon or early I also take a blend of herbs in tincture format similar to the hers in the Best Rest formula by Putting it into hot water makes it a sort of “tea” and also helps to evaporate the alcohol, since sometimes I’m sensitive to that (alcohol= sugar = and I know this is antithetical to what works for Elena, I have to mention my Ooops! sleep remedy: unable to sleep one night and getting desperate, I put about a of whiskey into a small glass of it knocked me right out! I’m not sure it would ever happen again, and I certainly wouldn’t make a habit of it, but I think somewhere in the back of my head I remembered it as a backwoods sort of remedy or I haven’t been able to adjust is my sleep It is just a Any ideas for getting restful sleep, once you’ve established good sleep hygiene and can fall asleep most nights?

  27. Cheryl says

    I use a magnesium supplement in addition to the It is called Calm and also assists in A good nights sleep makes a world of

  28. Annie says

    We love using pure essential oils in our diffusers for I used to use melatonin, now I fall asleep easily with the diffuser going as well as my girls too :)

  29. Jenny says

    This is a wonderful post! Thank Each bedroom in our home has blackout shades and either no clock, or clocks that have a display that can turn My children are younger and cannot swallow Although they usually fall asleep without much trouble, occasionally they get a bit more amped On those occasions I like to use essential oils, such as lavender or Roman There are also proprietary “calming blends” that are really One caution about essential oils- lavender and melaleuca can supposedly mess with hormones in The studies I have read show that it takes a LOT of these oils to cause an We are only using one drop of lavender for sleep at any given time, and only once a week or Typically lavender can balance cortisol levels, in turn balancing all other

  30. Sue Wilson says

    I use Vitamin It really helps My Mom has started using it It helps us to fall asleep faster and to get a deeper nights

  31. abigale says

    I’ll have to try those supplements! I have a lot of problems getting enough sleep between school and One of my favorite ways to get some rest is an Epsom Salt bath before Up to 2 lbs of salts and soak for 30 minutes – puts me to sleep every time!

  32. Iris says

    Diffusing lavender essential oil is helpful, as is sleeping on an accupressure mat (to release endorphins) or earthing sheet or

  33. Frances says

    There is lot of stuff on the market that is Do not put anything in your body until you’ve researched the side effects (and everything has at least one side effect — for instance, chamomile tea can’t be ingested often during the All you need is to get up in the morning an open the drapes and let the light Exercise during the day (it only has to be once, and not very rigorous — walking will A warm bath or shower about 90 minutes before Chamomile Breathing Seep like a I just want to make it clear: the different types of breathing do not come They seem like work at They ARE work at But, then, once they are learned — you can put yourself to ‘nite nite’ every single

  34. Lynnette says

    Thank you Elana
    If anyone has any natural remedies other than side sleeping for sleep apnea I’d love to hear

    • Elle says

      Have you looked at the size of the uvula to see if it blocks the throat. If it is huge I know that some have it reduced using laser.

    • Victoria says

      I also have sleep apena and do not use a cpap but a dental device called SUAD. It works well as it is noninvasive. I take my magnesium at night with some other herbs with my progesterone. I ordered sleep herbs from Dr Wu they do seem to help. I drink bedtime tea also.

  35. Rob says

    Chamomile tea gives a good, dream-free sleep without feeling drugged the next day : add a dash of peppermint tea(bag) to help the flavour!

  36. Anita says

    Thank you Elena, I am currently struggling to put my CRPS in remission. Part of this requires healing my neurotransmitters that send continuous signals for pain to my hand. Your information on sleep and how it effects the neurotransmitters has been beneficial. I have not been able to sleep since 6/99. I use Benadryl regularly and find that Magnesium helps as well. But I have been wanting to quit the Benadryl for years and can’t seem to find anything that works as well. I will be trying your regime.

    • Donna L says

      My husband’s doctor told him the benedryl in his PM formula was very bad for him and to stop taking it My husband was exhibiting dementia symptoms after 3+ years of taking a PM sleeping aid containing is a month later since he stopped taking this product and he seems to be doing better

    • ad1210 says

      Diphenhydramine, the medicine in Benadryl, actually works by suppressing histamine which also suppresses serotonin. They sit on the same brain receptor site. Suppressing serotonin can lead to mood issues and a lowered tolerance to pain. Interesting! I would get him off the Benadryl STAT.

      These remedies are tried-and-trie for my 8yo and me as well! Thank you for the post, Elana!!!!! :)

  37. Mrs D says

    Thanks for this information, Elana. Your sleep hygiene is amazing and I love that you’re teaching your boys great habits for health. I also want to add how grateful I am to you for your AMAZING recipes. We are fortunate enough not to have any food intolerances or allergies, but I always want to put my best nutirious foot forward for my family, so being able to have our occasional treats using your no-fail recipes has been the best. Thank you so much!

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