Sleep is not optional. In fact, it is one of the most important components to overall health.
The presence of or lack of healthy habits — proper nutrition, exercise, etc. — can have quite an impact on sleep health; for better or worse.
Your body craves sleep. It gives the body time to rejuvenate, rebuild, and readjust.
In fact, it works hard as you sleep: Cells are restored and repaired, new information gets stored, and energy is conserved to help you tackle the next sunrise. Poor sleep can derail these important functions and lead to serious health issues.
Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, has been the go to supplement to help catch the elusive zzz’s. But, it doesn’t work for everyone. Fear not, there are alternatives.
Health Effects of Poor Sleep
Numerous sleep studies have proven the impact that poor sleep has on our health.
The associated health effects of sleep deficiency are concerning:
Poor sleep may affect metabolic health and function as it can influence metabolism, increasing risk factors for metabolic problems.
Poor sleep can also disrupt normal immune function. For example, immune response chemical messengers called cytokines are released during sleep. Sleep deficiency can directly impact this function.
Weight, Memory, and Mood
Sleep studies have also made a correlation between higher body mass index (BMI) and the lack of sleep. BMI can be an indicator of high body fat — a health concern in its own right. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to poor mental clarity and memory — brain fog.
These are just a few of the potential health concerns surrounding poor sleep health.
Melatonin is widely understood as a sleep hormone. Its use as a natural sleep aid is quite prevalent. In short, melatonin is produced by the brain in response to darkness. It’s role is to help the body adjust to circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle) and aid in sleep.
The side effects of melatonin are relatively few when used in the short-term. Other concerns have to do with interactions with medications and the potential for allergic reactions.
6 Alternatives to Melatonin
Melatonin is not the only fish in the sea of natural sleep aids. In fact, there are a number of alternatives to melatonin.
Safr’Inside is an award-winning Persian saffron extract. Collected from the Crocus sativus flower, saffron is commonly dried and used as a seasoning and a coloring agent for food.
Because it’s so difficult to obtain strands of saffron from the Crocus sativus plant, saffron is known as one of the most expensive spices in the world. But there is so much more to saffron than its impressive crimson hue and its ability to liven up a paella.
Saffron has been used in medicine for over 3000 years by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, and Persians for everything from ophthalmological support and immune support to PMS relief and memory enhancement.
Safr’Inside for Sleep
Anxiety is often connected to insomnia; excess worry can cause sleep problems, while sleep problems can cause excess worry. This bidirectional effect can significantly impact your quality of life, but supplements using Safr’Inside have been shown to improve the emotional well-being of healthy adults in recent studies.
While the exact mechanisms of Safr’Inside are still being identified, a randomized, double-blind clinical trial found that Safr’Inside had similar results to pharmacological depression treatments. This may be due to its effect on neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin-receptor agonists and dopaminergic system activation. Both serotonin and dopamine are essential neurotransmitters for sleep because they’re needed to produce and release melatonin.
By helping to reduce feelings of anxiety in healthy adults and supporting normal neurotransmitter function, Safr’Inside can help support a good night’s sleep.
Magnesium supplements are perhaps one of the most popular melatonin alternatives; for good reason. Magnesium is an essential trace mineral found in various amounts in many foods. As a dietary mineral, its key role is in enzyme reactions.
It is known for being an important player in muscle and bone health, heart health, and metabolic health. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to poor mental health, due to its role and interaction with stress glands.
Magnesium for Sleep
In addition to its other health benefits, magnesium has also shown to be a natural supplement for promoting better sleep; fostering relaxation, especially in those with dietary magnesium deficiencies.
Research suggests that magnesium helps regulate GABA — an important neurotransmitter and amino acid. GABA has an important job in sleep health as it helps slow down communication between the brain and central nervous system — allowing the brain to relax and transition into sleep.
Magnesium promotes this calming effect by helping to maintain healthy levels of GABA.
Have you ever yawned after a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day? You can thank tryptophan for that. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that comes primarily through diet. Amino acids have a pivotal role to play in the production of proteins and hormones.
Tryptophan is instrumental in synthesizing two very important hormones needed for sleep health: Serotonin and melatonin. Once tryptophan is absorbed, it is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) — which is used for serotonin and melatonin production.
L-tryptophan and Sleep
The role of naturally occurring melatonin has already been discussed. The greater interest is in 5-HTP's role in serotonin production. It is often called the “happiness hormone” as it plays an important role in mood as a natural mood stabilizer.
It is also responsible for stimulating certain parts of the brain that regulate sleep. Serotonin receptors are important for the sleep cycle and low levels of tryptophan can disrupt normal hormone production.
Supplemental tryptophan may help improve sleep health by stimulating the natural production of serotonin and melatonin
The passionflower, known as passiflora incarnata, has been around for a long time. Native to North and South America it has a long tract record for medicinal use; being a popular herbal remedy for sleep problems and anxiety.
Studies have been conducted on its medicinal effect on sleep, some results were quite surprising. One study in particular looked at its sleep effects among those with sleep quality.
Passionflower and Sleep
Participants were given passionflower extract for two weeks and certain parameters were put into place. Concluding results showed a marked improvement in total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and wake after sleep onset as opposed to the placebo group.
Further studies need to be conducted, but the passionflower, as an extract in particular, may improve sleep quality and overall sleep health in some people.
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is a lemon scented herb. It is in the same species family as mint. Historically, it was used as a modulator of mood and cognitive function. It is known for helping soothe symptoms associated with stress and declining mental health.
However, lemon balm extract has also been studied for its potential sleep-inducing effects.
Lemon Balm Extract and Sleep
In one recent study, researchers found that lemon balm extract supported the production of an important neurotransmitter, mentioned now for the second time — GABA. Once again, GABA’s role in pre-sleep relaxation cannot be overstated.
Furthermore, another study found evidence of lemon balm’s ability to help relieve stress and sleep disturbances.
Participants receiving 300 mg of lemon balm extract twice a day for two weeks reported a 49 percent reduction in stress and a 39 percent decrease in sleeping symptoms.
Chamomile is another excellent alternative to melatonin, whether taken as an herbal tea in blend or as an extract. It too has been used for natural medicinal purposes for hundreds of years.
Chamomile and Sleep
The main reason for its sleep-inducing effects is its chemical structure. Chamomile contains a powerful antioxidant called apigenin. This antioxidant helps induce sleep by binding to benzodiazepine and GABA receptors in the brain.
Find Your Alternative
The importance of sleep health, though underrated, cannot be ignored. It is vital to our overall wellness and quality of life. Natural sleep aids can be helpful in the hunt for deep, restful sleep; but melatonin is not the only option. As we saw, there are other alternatives.
Here are a few sleep tips:
- Avoid caffeine (at least before bed). We know it’s hard, but let coffee be your friend in the mornings. Excess caffeine at night will ensure your sleep escapes you.
- Wear a sleep mask. Sleep masks help block out unnecessary light exposure, reminding your brain it’s time to shut ‘er down.
- Avoid stressors. Easier said than done. External and internal stressors make sleep time unbearable sometimes, as the mind races through all the stress of the day. Mindfulness is key.
- Don’t overlook the supplements. The Complete Calm System contains de-stress gummies and sleep gummies, packed with a number of the melatonin alternatives mentioned above.
Calm your mind and go catch some zzz’s.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.