With family and career demands pulling at you from both ends, sleep usually presents itself as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Even then, trying to fall asleep (and stay asleep) can be an issue in and of itself.

Sticking to a sleep schedule and limiting blue light (emitted from mobile devices and computer screens) prior to bed are useful for improving sleep quality.

But when these lifestyle changes fall short, consider these four best natural supplements for sleep.

1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone that plays a role in sleep. It’s produced and released depending on the time of day, rising in the evening and falling in the morning.

Supplementing with melatonin can help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, but it doesn’t seem to improve sleep quality (1).

Compared with Ambien (zolpidem), a common pharmaceutical used to treat insomnia, melatonin is less effective in reducing the time it takes to fall asleep but it’s associated with less side-effects (2).

Melatonin supplementation does not cause your body to produce less of the hormone. It’s also not  associated with withdrawal nor dependence, and it has a strong safety profile (3).

An effective dose of melatonin is between 0.5 mg to 5 mg. Start with 0.5 mg, and if that isn’t effective, work up to 3-5 mg (4).

2. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb from the mint family.

Its leaves, which have a mild lemon aroma, have been used medicinally for centuries for its calming properties.

Lemon balm contains compounds which act to inhibit the breakdown of gamma-Aminobutryic acid (GABA). 

Low levels of GABA are known to lead to hyperactivity and are linked to anxiety and depression, among others (5).

Therefore, lemon balm may not necessarily trigger sleep itself, but it may help facilitate the sleeping process through its ability to promote calmness.

Lemon balm may be taken as:

  • A supplemental pill, 300 – 1500 mg, 3-5 times daily
  • Tinctures, 2-6 ml, 1-3 times daily.
  • Herbal tea, 1.5 – 4.5 g of comminuted substance, 1-3 times daily

3. Chamomile

Chamomile is one of the oldest, most widely used medicinal plants.

Today, it’s used as a dietary supplement for its calming effects (6).

Chamomile contains a compound called apigenin, which may ease anxiety and act as a sedative at high doses.

In one study, people who were diagnosed with mild to moderate anxiety were given a supplement containing chamomile or a placebo (7).

Compared with placebo, people who took chamomile showed a significantly greater reduction in anxiety.

Chamomile is not recommended for those who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or allergic to ragweed and related plants.

Currently, there is insufficient scientific information to determine an efficacious dose.

4. L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in black and green tea.

In fact, tea is the only dietary source of L-theanine.

In tea, L-theanine promotes relaxation and works synergistically with caffeine helping to ‘take the edge off (8).’

Similar to lemon balm, L-theanine doesn’t have a sedative effect. But due to its relaxation properties it may help with sleep.

An effective dose ranges between 100-200 mg in supplemental capsule form.

For comparison purposes, L-theanine constitutes between one and two percent of dry weight tea, corresponding to 25-60 mg per 200 ml.

The Bottom Line

Many people struggle to either stay or fall asleep. 

You can promote sleep by sticking to regular sleeping schedule or limiting blue light prior to bed. 

If these methods fall short, there are several natural supplements for sleep. These include melatonin, lemon balm, chamomile as well as L-theanine.