More than one-third of seniors in the US struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. Though there are myths that seniors do not require the same amount of sleep as younger adults, the truth is that adults of all ages need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. This is why natural sleep aid supplements for seniors can be very useful.
Seniors suffer from sleep issues for various reasons:
- Sleep apnea which impacts close to 22 million Americans each year
- Health issues such as heart conditions and restless legs syndrome
- Anxiety or depression
If you have issues with sleeping through the night, it is best to contact your doctor first to rule out any serious health issues.
Ensuring you have enough sleep is essential to staying healthy regardless of your age. And if you are not getting enough, restful sleep, you are more susceptible to health issues such as:
- Lowered immune system
- Depression or other mood changes
- Memory issues
- Lack of concentration
- High blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Lack of balance and coordination
Many of the above issues are already common health concerns for seniors, so adding inadequate sleep will only increase the risk or may worsen already existing conditions.
There are several reliable supplements available on the market today, many of which are natural and are easily found at your local pharmacy. However, it is vital to note that natural is not synonymous with safe. Just because a supplement is natural does not mean that it is without risk, especially when considering drug interaction with other medications.
You must consult your doctor before starting any supplements to ensure it is safe to take with your other medications and will not worsen any existing medical conditions. This is true for other types of supplements too, like supplements to help improve memory and brain function.
Below we have provided a list of the top sleep supplements, including alternate forms, possible side-effects, drug interactions, and cautions.
Note: Some of the drug interactions may enhance the potency of the supplement or other medication, increase side effects of the supplement or other drug, or decrease the effectiveness of either medication.
Top 7 Natural Supplements
- Valerian Root
- Alternate Forms: None
- Possible Common Side Effects: Headache, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness
- Possible Drug Interactions: Anticoagulants and anti-platelet drugs, anticonvulsants, blood pressure medicine, CNS depressants, diabetes medicine, contraceptives, Valium, CYP1A2, CPY2C19, Fluvoxamine, Immunosuppressants, Seizure threshold lowering drugs
- Cautions: Not recommended for those with autoimmune diseases. Also, since melatonin causes drowsiness, it is best not to drive after taking it.
- Other Benefits: None
A naturally produced hormone in our bodies, melatonin, has a significant impact on how we sleep. This hormone, released in our brains, changes with the light; it increases with darkness and decreases when it gets light.
However, as we age, our natural melatonin production decreases, which is why it is helpful to take a melatonin supplement to help us sleep and stay asleep. There are three significant benefits of using melatonin over other sleep aids:
- It does not cause dependency
- Users do not develop a tolerance to it
- It does not cause drowsiness the next morning
Melatonin is known to aid the regulation of our natural circadian rhythms in those who suffer from medical conditions impacting this. Plus, melatonin helps reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, even in those who have insomnia. And finally, melatonin aids in improving the quality and quantity of sleep.
Fun fact: Drinking tart cherry juice can increase one’s natural melatonin levels.
- Alternate Forms: Aromatherapy, topical, and tea
- Possible Side Effects: Headache, constipation, and increased appetite
- Potential Drug Interactions: Chloral Hydrate, barbiturates, and CNS depressants
- Cautions: Though using lavender in combination with other supplements can aid in overall effectiveness, it is best to start with one at a time to see how your body responds.
Lavender, most commonly thought of as a fragrance or flower, has long been used for healing for a variety of ailments, including acting as a mood stabilizer, improving cognition, helping people to relax, being an anxiolytic and an analgesic, aiding with acute and chronic pain management, and being an anticonvulsive.:
While lavender research is not as extensive as other supplements it is beginning to gain ground in the scientific community, due to the flower’s popularity. A study published in 2013 by the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), indicates that lavender has significant benefits for those who have insomnia. When taken orally, lavender can help improve one’s quality and length of sleep.
The study conducted by the NCBI also indicated that seniors who had to stop taking the benzodiazepine, had adverse side effects impacting their sleep. But, when these same patients started using lavender oil, it offset their sleep deprivation caused by the discontinued use of the benzodiazepine.
One of the several benefits of using lavender as a sleep aid is that you can use it in a variety of methods at the same time. For example, you can take a lavender supplement as well as using it through aromatherapy, which can increase its overall effects.
- Alternate Forms: Powder, liquid, pill, tea, and oil
- Possible Side Effects: Mild headache, stomach upset, abnormal heartbeats, and insomnia
- Potential Drug Interactions: Xanax, benzodiazepines, CNS depressants, and cytochrome P450 3A4
- Cautions: It is best not to consume alcohol when taking valerian root, which can enhance the sleepiness effects of valerian root.
Valerian root has long been used to aid in resolving a variety of health issues such as:
- Stomach cramps
- Menstrual cramps
But valerian root is most commonly used as a sleep aid. It is known to help induce sleep as well as improve the quality and quantity of seniors who suffer from different sleep conditions, like insomnia.
One of the drawbacks of using valerian root for sleep is that it can take 2-4 weeks to see its maximum effect on those who have severe insomnia. The good news is that valerian root works well in combination with other sleep aid supplements such as lavender, chamomile, lemon balm extract, passion flowers, and kava.
Valerian root can take 30 minutes to two hours to take effect but will become more potent when combined with the above supplements.
- Alternate Forms: Powder
- Possible Side Effects: Heartburn, stomach pain, bloating and gas, nausea, dry mouth, visual blurring, muscle weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, headache, lightheadedness, and drowsiness
- Potential Drug Interactions: Antidepressant drugs, Robitussin DM, sedative medications, Demerol, benzodiazepines, Ultram, Talwin
- Cautions: None
L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in plants and animals but is not naturally produced in our bodies. It is better known as just tryptophan and is the amino acid found in turkey that is blamed for our tiredness after a big Thanksgiving dinner.
L-tryptophan converts into serotonin in our bodies. Serotonin is vital to keep our minds and moods balanced. L-tryptophan is believed to aid in falling asleep faster, but unfortunately, research results vary.
Still, for those who drink a warm glass of milk as a sleep aid, it is likely the tryptophan that is going to work in your body to help feel more relaxed.
- Alternate Forms: Tea and oil
- Possible Side Effects: Allergies (it is in the same plant family as daisies, marigolds, and ragweed)
- Potential Drug Interactions: Anticoagulants and antiplatelets, sedatives, blood pressure medications, diabetes medications, hormone therapy, Seldane, birth control pills, and antifungal medications
- Cautions: Women who have any of the following hormone-sensitive conditions: uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids should avoid taking German Chamomile as it can act like estrogen.
There are several chamomile varieties. However, German and Roman chamomile are the two most often associated with combating insomnia. In addition to helping seniors sleep better German chamomile is also used for:
- Chest colds
- Mouth sores
German chamomile has been used for centuries to help induce a good night’s sleep, and though it is most commonly used in teas, German chamomile supplements can have the same effect.
Additionally, chamomile is often used in conjunction with other herbal sleep remedies. So you may find sleep aids that use a combination of chamomile with lavender or valerian root.
- Alternate Forms: Topical
- Possible Side Effects: Gastrointestinal side effects such as soft stools, vomiting, nausea, and stomach upset.
- Potential Drug Interactions: Clozaril
- Cautions: None
Glycine is an amino acid found in high protein foods such as meat, eggs, and legumes. It can also be created for supplements to help promote better health.
Shockingly, glycine is not well known since our bodies need it to function properly. It supports healthy muscles and bones, aids in healing, helps to promote healthy metabolism, and keeps our brains working properly.
Glycine is unique in that it acts as both an excitatory and an inhibitory, meaning it can stimulate or calm our minds. Seniors who are already familiar with glycine may already use it to help with memory enhancement.
Another use for glycine is to help with sleep. Glycine can:
- Help you fall asleep faster
- Reduce insomnia related symptoms
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Allow for a more restful night’s sleep
Other benefits to glycine include lowering the body’s temperature by increased blood flow. Those who wake throughout the night due to body temperature fluctuations would benefit from using glycine supplements to ensure an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Plus, it is believed that glycine supplements can help people fall asleep faster and into a deeper sleep, allowing for more time in REM sleep. Additionally, it is proven that an uninterrupted night’s sleep dramatically impacts your sleep efficiency.
- Alternate Forms: Tea and topical
- Possible Side Effects: Sleepiness, dizziness, and confusion
- Potential Drug Interactions: CNS depressants
- Cautions: Though passionflower is commonly used before surgery to help alleviate anxiety, be sure to consult your doctor first as it can impact the effects of anesthesia.
Passionflower, also is known as Maypop, is most generally used as a sleep aid or anti-anxiety supplement. But it is also used to help:
- Heart problems
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Liver problems
- Stomach issues
The use of passionflower for its medicinal properties originated in Peru, where it was once used as a sedative. Passionflower impacts the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid in your brain, resulting in a calming effect allowing you to sleep better.
Passionflower also aids in reducing sleep irregularities allowing for a more restful night. Plus, purple passionflower helps to manage anxiety, allowing seniors to feel more relaxed and fall asleep faster. And if you have issues falling asleep due to stomach problems, passionflower may relieve GI upset in addition to quieting your mind.