The Best Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids

May 11, 2010Updated 1 month ago

Natural Sleep Aids
With the pervasive voice of pharmaceutical sleep medication commercials, it's easy to forget that there are many potent alternatives in the natural health world. Patrick Holford and Dr. Hyla Cass acknowledge a number of such natural sleep aids and their particular benefits.

Melatonin as a Sleep Aid

Melatonin, the metabolite of serotonin, regulates a person's circadian rhythm and decreases with age, dropping significantly over age 50. In one study of people 68 to 80, melatonin was reported to cut the time they took to fall asleep in half, and also conferred more restful sleep.

Holford and Dr. Cass recommend starting with a dose of one milligram and staying with that dose if effective; if not, one may increase the dose by increments of one milligram each day up to five milligrams. Waking up groggy or experiencing overstimulating dreams are good reasons to reduce one's dose, and possibly eliminate melatonin altogether.

5-HTP and St. John's Wort for Natural Sleep

5-HTP works to enhance serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for emotional calmness and baseline sense of well-being; serotonin (and melatonin) deficiency have been linked to sleep disorders. As an aid to sleep, try 50 milligrams of 5-HTP up to a maximum of 200 milligrams about one hour before bedtime.

St. John's Wort effects both serotonin and melatonin, making it an effective sleep aid. Holford and Dr. Cass recommend a daily regimen of 300-900 milligrams daily, depending on personal needs, of an extract of 0.3 percent hypericin.

Other Natural Sleep Aids: Valerian, Hops, Passionflower

Valerian, hops and passionflower are all long-known plants, available over-the-counter, with healthful sedative and relaxing properties. Often found in combination herbal supplements, individual doses are as follows: 150-300 milligrams of valerian about 45 minutes before bedtime; 200 milligrams of hops; and 100-200 milligrams of passionflower.

For more information on their stress reducing potential, see Relieve Stress Naturally with Valerian Hops and Passionflower, Hops, and Passionflower.

Kava-Kava as a Sleep Supplement

Kava-kava, the preferred intoxicant of the South Pacific, is a pleasant sedative without the nauseating or uninhibiting qualities of alcohol. Though the taste is anything but appealing, pill forms are available in addition to liquid form. Kava-kava compounds the effects of alcohol, and they should not be taken together.

Holford and Dr. Cass recommend a dose of 60-250 milligrams a day. If Kava-kava and Valerian are both used, lower the dose of each. For more reading on Kava, please see Kava-kava for mental well-being.

Other Best Practices for Aiding Sleep

Aside from over-the-counter sleeping aids, certain basic practices often have dramatic benefits in the realm of restful sleep. These practices include:

  • Avoid stressful media before bed – try relaxing music or silence instead.
  • Evening exercise helps relieve stress accumulated over the day, but don't do so within two hours of sleep.
  • Waking up early in the morning (3 or 4 AM) can be a sign of high cortisol (stress hormone) levels. A light protein snack before bed may aid with blood-sugar levels.
  • Light sleep in the morning may be a sign of serotonin deficiency; 5-HTP before bedtime is helpful in this regard.
Setting regular sleep and wake-up times is another commonsense sleep support, and eliminating stimulants in the evening, as well as reducing or eliminating them during the day, is also a helpful step toward restful sleep.


Cass, M.D., Hyla, and Patrick Holford. Natural Highs: Feel Good All the Time. New York: Avery, 2002. Print.


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