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Fact or Fiction? What Science Says About These 4 Common Sleep Remedies

From the simplicity of warm milk and chamomile tea to the horrific side-effects of prescription medication, the sleep remedy spectrum is wide and varied. On the medical side of things, it can be hard to find a solution that doesn’t leave you feeling groggy (or engaging in bizarre mid-sleep behaviors). On the natural end of the scale, meanwhile, the problems tend to revolve around finding something that actually works. To help you sift through the plethora of options, we’ve turned to the latest sleep research to see what science has to say about four common remedies:

1. Warm Milk

Though a cup of warm milk is certainly soothing, its ability to help you sleep is unclear. Cow’s milk does contain alpha-lactalbumin, a protein that contains the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter that contributes to healthy sleep cycles. 

While this sounds promising, a single glass of milk won’t give you enough tryptophan to make a difference. If you do notice a sleep-inducing effect from warm milk, it’s likely the combo of low-dose tryptophan, casein hydrolysate (which seems to have anti-stress properties), and magnesium (which helps with restless legs).


The verdict: Considering the fact that more than 65% of adults are lactose intolerant, and considering how light the effects are, you’re probably better off taking a good quality magnesium supplement. 

2. Melatonin

Speaking to Time magazine, neurologist Dr. Daniel Barone confirmed that melatonin is the first safe line of defense he recommends to patients experiencing sleep issues. Melatonin is the hormone responsible for preparing your brain for sleep, and our modern light-infused lifestyles tend to interfere with it. To help boost your natural production, Barone recommends reducing your use of computers, smartphones, and TVs in the evening. If you can’t avoid working at night, consider installing a blue-light blocker like f.lux

The verdict: Over-the-counter melatonin is a great short-term solution to help you sleep while you make adjustments to get your natural production of the hormone back on track. Aim for the minimal effective dose, starting at 1 milligram 30 to 60 minutes before bed and only increasing the dose if you’re not seeing effects.

3. Lavender

This is one of those remedies most insomnia sufferers roll their eyes at. How could sniffing a flower help you sleep? Well, if you’ve turned your nose up at lavender, it seems you may have rejected a surprisingly powerful sleep remedy. In a 2016 study, scientists found that students who inhaled a lavender scent before bed reported not just better sleep, but more energy throughout the day than those who were given the placebo. 

The verdict: This seemingly mild treatment could make a world of difference. At the very least, your room will smell delightful!

4. Chamomile tea

Chamomile is perhaps the most famous natural sleep remedy. But does it really do anything? Research on chamomile is sparse, but a recent study found that parents of newborns experienced improved sleep and relief from symptoms of depression, simply by adding chamomile to their evening ritual.

The verdict: Though more research into the efficacy of chamomile is needed, its warming properties may help calm your mind.

Who would’ve thought the simplest remedies would end up being the most powerful? If you find lavender doesn’t work on its own, try combining it with a hot cup of chamomile and a good book before bed instead of smartphone scrolling.  

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