January 2022

Getting a Better Night’s Sleep in the New Year

Insomnia and other sleep disorders affect over 35% of people in the US and Canada. Poor sleep quality can impact many aspects of overall health, including immune function. It’s important for providers to help their patients get proper rest.

Melatonin is one of the most well-studied natural medicines for sleep. It’s commonly found in OTC sleep aids and might help some people with insomnia when used short-term, but it seems to be most helpful in older adults, in children with neurodevelopmental disorders and in those with certain sleep disorders, such as jet lag and non-24-hour sleep wake disorder. Different formulations are available – immediate-release melatonin seems to be best for people with difficulty falling asleep, while sustained-release melatonin might be more helpful for people having trouble staying asleep. There also aren’t any major safety concerns if patients want to give it a try.

Valerian is also very popular, and it seems to improve sleep quality in adults. But it needs to be used daily for up to 4 weeks before it really helps. Valerian is likely safe for most people when used short-term. But be aware that it has benzodiazepine-like effects, so long-term use can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Tell patients to taper doses slowly after extended use. Also, remind patients to only use products verified by a third-party certifier, such as USP or NSF.

Ashwagandha, one of the top-selling herbs of 2020, is another one to consider. A recent study shows that taking ashwagandha by mouth seems to improve overall sleep quality in people with insomnia. As with valerian and melatonin, it’s usually well-tolerated when used short-term.

In addition to natural medicines, some alternative therapies might be helpful. Light therapy, mindfulness, and music therapy have all shown evidence of benefit. There’s little downside to giving them a try, and they might also be helpful for other aspects of mental health in both adults and children. Encourage patients to focus on healthy lifestyle changes, like limiting screen time in the evening, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and avoiding large meals late at night. And talk to patients about other natural medicines they might be taking. Many natural medicines contain caffeine and have stimulant effects, potentially contributing to sleeping problems.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2023 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.