Melatonin, Weighted Blankets, and Other Natural Sleep Remedies: Do They Work?

Many of us do not get the sleep we need. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults often fall short on getting enough shuteye. The reasons for the lack of sleep are varied. Everything from stress to lifestyle habits to work hours can make getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night challenging. (1)

Although prescription sleep medications are available, many people prefer to try natural sleep remedies. But how do you know what works and what doesn’t? Continue reading below to get the rundown on what natural sleep remedies might help you get better rest.

woman sleeping

5 Natural Sleep Remedies To Try

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally makes that plays a role in sleep. The production of melatonin is regulated in part by the time of the day. Levels fall in the morning and rise at night. Melatonin is also available as a supplement to help with sleep.

Some studies on melatonin as a natural sleep remedy suggest a modest improvement in sleep. For example, research published in the journal PloS One analyzed 19 studies, which involved 1683 participants in determining the effect of melatonin supplements for the treatment of sleep disorders. (2) The results of the meta-analysis indicated that melatonin supplements decreased sleep onset latency and increased total sleep time. The effects were modest. For instance, total sleep time was only increased by eight minutes. But every little bit may help.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, short-term use of melatonin supplements as a natural sleep remedy appears to be safe for most people. But long-term safety of melatonin is not fully known. So, like all supplements, it is best to talk with your doctor before using it. (3)

Weighted blanket on the bed

Weighted Blankets

Weighted blankets are another popular natural sleep remedy. Weighted blankets are usually between 5 and 30 pounds and provide a form of deep pressure stimulation which may have a calming effect. Think of deep pressure stimulation as a firm hug that can have a relaxing effect on the nervous system. The calming feeling may help promote sleep in some people.

Research is not extensive on the use of weighted blankets as natural sleep remedies. But some small studies appear to support the theory that the blankets may help improve sleep in people with autism, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety. 

One weighted blanket sleep study published in the journal Occupational Therapy in Mental Health involved 30 adults that were inpatients in a mental health facility. Vital signs were measured with and without the weighted blankets, including pulse rate, oxygen level, heart rate, and blood pressure. The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory-10 was used to measure anxiety reduction. The result indicated that 60 percent of patients self-reported a decrease in anxiety when using the weighted blanket. (4)

The right weight and size of the blanket vary depending on the user and the person’s needs. Although more research is needed to state the effectiveness of weighted blankets as natural sleep remedies, it may be worth a shot, especially if anxiety is playing a role in sleep problems.  

Man exercising by running up the stairs

Exercise

We know that getting regular exercise is beneficial for our overall well-being. Still, exercise may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about natural sleep remedies. But exercise does appear to help promote quality sleep, especially in older adults.

Research published in the journal Advances in Preventive Medicine included 34 studies that analyzed the effects of exercise on sleep. Of the 34 studies included, 29 studies indicated that exercise improved sleep duration or sleep quality. One study reported a negative impact, and four studies found no difference. (5)

The results were mixed for young adults, adolescents, and children. But middle-aged and elderly adults appeared to reap the most benefits from exercise in relation to sleep. Older adults increased sleep efficiency and duration regardless of the intensity of exercise. 

While exercise may not be a magic pill, it may help improve sleep. Plus, even if it does not have a major impact on your sleep, it has many other benefits that are great for your overall health.

Woman meditating

Meditation

Meditation promotes relaxation so it makes sense that a practice that helps decrease tension may improve sleep and act as a natural sleep remedy. Research in JAMA of Internal Medicine involved 49 middle-aged adults that had sleep problems. Half of the participants completed a program that taught meditation and mindfulness. The other half of the study participants completed a sleep education program that focused on improving sleep habits. (6)

The groups met once a week for two hours for six weeks. The group that learned meditation reported less fatigue and insomnia compared to the sleep education group. Meditation appears to have many benefits, and if better sleep is another one, it might be something to consider.

Herbs

When you think of natural sleep remedies, herbs may come to mind. Herbs, such as passionflower, valerian, and kava, are promoted by some as having a relaxing effect, which may help with sleep.

But research is mixed on herbal supplements. In addition, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. While they may have some merits, herbs can also interact with some medications. If you are considering using an herbal remedy for sleep, it’s best to talk with your doctor.

The bottom line is natural sleep remedies are likely not a miracle cure for sleep problems. But many remedies may help improve sleep even if it is a modest improvement.

Footnotes

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. (2016). https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html

2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Melatonin: What you need to know. (2019). https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin

3. Ferracioli-Oda, E., Qawasmi, A., & Bloch, M. H. (2013). Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PloS one, 8(5), e63773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063773. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656905/

4. Champagne, T., Mullen, B., Dickson, D., & Krishnamurty, S. (2015). Evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the weighted blanket with adults during an inpatient mental health hospitalization. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 31(3), 211-233. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0164212X.2015.1066220

5. Dolezal, B. A., Neufeld, E. V., Boland, D. M., Martin, J. L., & Cooper, C. B. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in preventive medicine, 2017, 1364387. doi:10.1155/2017/1364387. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385214/

6. Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine, 175(4), 494-501. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2110998

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