Staying asleep all night has never been my problem. I . And I'm not talking about the tossing-and-turning-with-your-head-swimming-with-worries kind of wakefulness that we all deal with from time to time. I . There's something magical to me about the stillness of the late-night hours that makes me want to revel in them. It's luxuriously reflective at the time, but a huge, stinking drag the next morning.
I didn't really think my sleep issues called for prescription meds, so I decided to see if natural sleep aids might help me feel get to bed at a more reasonable hour. (Yes, I do know that would do this too, but you tell me—how realistic is that?) I went to my local health food store and asked the herbal pharmacist for some basic recommendations, herbal remedies that wouldn't be too expensive or so complicated I wouldn't be able to start taking right away. Here's what I found out after testing out her four suggestions over the course of a month.
Tart Cherry Juice
The of this beverage were discovered when researchers studying the effects of tart cherry juice on muscle soreness noticed that their study subjects reported that they were sleeping better, too. Drinking juice before bedtime seemed a simple enough way to start my experiment, so I poured a small glass at 10:00 p.m. and downed it. As far as I could tell, it didn't make me feel drowsy a minute earlier than normal (Although, to be fair, studies don't claim that the magic lies with maximized evening drowsiness. Researchers from Louisiana State University found that those who drank it increased their total sleep time by — a huge benefit for those who need it)
The verdict: In my case, this not only didn't make me go to sleep earlier, it proved to be a sleep disrupter when I woke up at 3:30 a.m. needing to pee. But I suspect this would be a smart swap for people who enjoy sipping on a glass of vino before turning in, since it's a red (or white) beverage scientifically shown to enhance sleep rather than .
A plant-based sleep aid that comes in tincture or capsule forms, valerian has been used to treat insomnia for centuries. Its effects have been studied extensively, and a comprehensive found that it may improve sleep quality without producing any side effects. That sounded promising, so I popped two capsules an hour before I wanted to hit the sheets.
The verdict: I didn't notice that this one made me feel tired any sooner either. But when my alarm went off the next morning, it woke me from experiencing at that hour. I doubt even dead people feel that tired. I shuffled around in a perma-grog state for at least three hours — and through three cups of coffee — before my brain started to sharpen and clarify. So much for no side effects, at least for me. But I could have easily slept for several more glorious hours if I just didn't have a job. I'm keeping this bottle in the medicine cabinet as a secret weapon for extending slumber on weekend nights and sick days.
A hormone produced naturally in the brain, melatonin is responsible for regulating your body's sleep-wake cycle. that supplements may be useful for adjusting the time you fall asleep, and it's known for being a when your circadian rhythms are totally out of whack. So unlike the other aids I tried, this one seemed like the ideal solution to my turning-in-on-time problem.
But here's the rub: The label on my bottle gave me no instructions on what time I should be taking it, and Googling it didn't help much either. Expert recommendations online said to pop it anywhere from a half an hour to three hours before your desired sleep time.
The verdict: When I tried it 30 minutes ahead of the time I wanted to turn in, it made zero difference. And when I took it the next night a couple of hours earlier than bedtime, I just fought through my mild drowsiness to continue scrolling through my Instagram feed. As for the morning grog? Nowhere near as dramatic as with valerian, but I woke up nowhere near as refreshed as when I didn't take the melatonin. I think nailing the dosage time is the key here, but it requires time and patience that I just don't have.
The happy and helpful girl at the health food store swore by this one — even though I couldn't find any published research that supported the idea that this marigold flower has any effect on sleep. But Western medical studies aren't everything, and she claimed that it knocked her out cold for five hours the last time she drank it one afternoon. I was a little horrified by the idea of being completely knocked out, yet still intrigued. She said to let it steep for 45 minutes before drinking it, but — since I wasn't sure that I wanted a sleep aid that works like a club to the head — I decided 15 minutes was long enough to let it brew.
At 10:30 p.m., I tentatively sipped on my mug while reading a bunch of blog posts that recommend using calendula tea topically to treat scrapes and rashes. This revelation made me decide that a half a mug was all I was willing to drink, and I headed for the bedroom — a full hour earlier than I normally would.
The verdict: I headed to bed early not so much because it made me tired, but drinking the tea felt like a head-to-bed ritual. And while I didn't lose consciousness immediately, my head felt peaceful on the pillow. I drifted off and went off. Maybe, sometimes, the scientifically untested methods are the most effective of all.
Pills and liquids aside, the best lesson of all I learned from my experiment is the power of placebo. If you expect by adopting new nighttime rituals, it just might go down that way. And it never hurts to try.