Natural Ways to Sleep Better

Try these simple steps for better sleep.
A cup of chamomile tea. The mug says "peace and quiet."

We all know getting a full night's rest is important. It can seem hard, but if we understand what affects our sleep, solving insomnia gets easier.

Questions About Sleep Deprivation

  • How Many Americans Suffer from Insomnia?

    Whether the reason is anxiety, depression, pain, or some other factor, about 50 to 70 million Americans experience some form of insomnia, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • What Can Interfere with Sleep Patterns?

    Even something as simple as changing the clocks for daylight-saving time can interfere with sleep patterns. It can make you fall short of the eight hours necessary to be creative and energetic—and to keep your immune system functioning properly.

  • Why is Getting Enough Sleep Important?

    Why do you need at least seven to eight hours of sleep? REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which takes place throughout the night, occurs for the longest periods at the end of the sleep cycle.

    According to Hyla Cass, MD, that’s when “the brain replenishes its supply of neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline and serotonin, which are crucial for new learning and retention as well as for mood.”

  • How Does Sleep Effect Cognitive Decline?

    Many of us already understand the importance of quality sleep for our brain health. That said, sleep is just one of many critical ways to keep our brains sharp as we age.

    To help folks understand this and be prepared, The NCOA created a guide on how to keep your brain fit. This piece explains:

    • Cognition, cognitive decline, and how aging affects the brain
    • How our physical health affects cognitive health
    • Lifestyle changes to optimize brain function

How to Sleep Better

If you’re sleep deprived, try these simple steps for snoozing.

  • Stick to a Routine

    It’s important to establish a sleep routine and stick to it.

    • Choose a regular bedtime and preface it with a warm bath.

      Add a few drops of lavender oil to a carrier oil like almond oil and mix into the water.

    • Avoid stressful stimulation from the evening news or violent movies, and listen to soothing music instead.
    • If you have to get up during the night, don’t turn on the lights. Doing so throws off your internal clock.
    • Never try to sleep with cold feet.
  • Avoid Stimulants

    • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, as well as foods that are spicy or high in fat or salt, particularly in the afternoon and evening.
    • Cold medications and tobacco should also be eliminated.
    • Stick with foods rich in nutrients, but don’t eat anything for at least two hours before bedtime unless you need a protein snack to deal with a low blood–sugar problem.
  • Eat Foods that Induce Sleep

    • There’s a reason everyone wants to take a nap after that big Thanksgiving meal. Turkey is loaded with the amino acid tryptophan that manufactures serotonin, which is crucial for sleep.
    • Tryptophan is also abundant in fish, dairy, eggs, bananas, figs, pineapples, nut butter, tuna, and whole-grain crackers—all good foods to eat in the evening.
  • Consider Vitamins

    Increase your intake of edibles high in vitamin B complex (nutritional yeast, egg yolks, fish, wheat germ, legumes, and whole grains) and vitamin C (dark, leafy greens and tart fruits).

    These vitamins help in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin, so a good B complex supplement along with at least 200 mg of vitamin C is sleep insurance.

    A calcium/magnesium supplement can also be effective for relaxing tense muscles.

  • Try Helpful Herbs

    • A cup of German chamomile tea is a soothing way to end the day.
    • Used for more than 1,000 years, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has a tranquilizing effect, induces sleep, and improves sleep quality.
    • Hops (Humulus lupulus) has a calming, sedating effect, and St. John’s wort enhances both serotonin and melatonin, helping you stay in deep sleep longer.
    • Passionflower is also mildly sedating.
    • One meta-analysis found ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), an adaptogen herb known for reducing stress and anxiety, can also help people get about 30 minutes more sleep a night. The effects on sleep were more pronounced on people diagnosed with insomnia. 
  • Expend Energy

    Besides toning your body, exercise is good for your mind.

    • A walk, a run, a workout at the gym—they all produce endorphins, which help ease depression and improve sleep.
    • Observe the "two-hour rule" by stopping physical activity at least two hours before bedtime.
    • A recent study published in the journal Sleep Health found that when people increased their moderate-to-vigorous daytime activity levels, they enjoyed less troubled and better quality sleep compared with how they were sleeping at the start of the study.
Click to See Our Sources

“Brain basics: Understanding sleep,” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,, rev. 3/17/23

“Comparative efficacy of exercise regimens on sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and network meta-analysis” by F. Hasan et al., Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10/22

"Effect of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis" by K.L. Cheah et al., PLoS ONE, 9/24/21

"Good sleep eluding you? More exercise may help," Massachusetts General Hospital, 5/24

“Nutraceuticals for sleep disorders” by R. Ali et al., Combinatorial Chemistry & High Throughput Screening,1/21/21

“Sleep statistics” by E. Suni and K. Truong, Sleep Foundation,, 5/18/23


Annie Graves

Annie Graves is a travel, home, and feature writer with deep roots in New England, and a love of the well-packed travel bag.

As Home & Garden editor, and a regular contributor to Yankee magazine, a New England icon with a readership of close to two million, she's always looking for the poetry, even as she embraces our rugged landscape and weathered shingles.