sleepy person with a pillow over their head, great sleeping pill

Q. My husband and I are in our late 50s. Recently we’ve both had trouble sleeping and have tried melatonin. We take half of a 3 mg pill. Is it a problem to take this regularly? Are there other good natural sleep aids?

A. Melatonin is a popular supplement to help people get to sleep. In one small study, melatonin helped patients in an intensive care unit sleep better (Critical Care, online April 18, 2008). Unfortunately, there is very little research on the pros and cons of regular use of melatonin.

A number of other dietary supplements may be used as natural sleep aids. One reader wrote: “I used to toss and turn, going over the day’s events in my mind. I finally found a product that works for me. It contains valerian, passionflower and magnesium. It’s natural and non-addictive.”

We discuss a number of natural approaches to overcoming insomnia in our Guide to Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, including melatonin, valerian and magnesium.

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  1. K.N.

    I can’t find the answer for this anywhere–help!! Is it as effective for weight loss to take vinegar tablets as it is to drink vinegar?

  2. HH

    It’s essential to ward off evil thoughts before sleeping. Just think of something enjoyable and pleasant that happened to you.

  3. Jim H.

    When I was 55 and running a high-stress business, I could only get about 6 hrs sleep then popped awake. With my first 3mg melatonin pill, I slept 10 hrs!, on a Saturday morn fortunately. Awakened in same position I retired in. This remained true for many years, but only 8 hrs after sleep deficit was made up. I read, and have found it true, that taken daily, it raises serotonin levels, hurting sleep. It’s less effective now at age 65, perhaps because I’ve fiddled widely with the dose. Life Extension Foundation says best dose varies with the indivisual from 1/2 mg to 10 mg, take 30 mins before bed.
    It’s a very potent anti-oxidant also (see

  4. James J. D.

    I took the advice of a nutritionist who said eating some protein before bedtime would prevent the blood sugar level from falling too low and interrupting sleep.
    It worked for me and I’m diabetic!

  5. laya

    I have fibromyalgia and as a result have sleep problems. My dr put me on ambien, and although it worked, I realized that the side effects of long-term usage were not good. I have tried Bach Sleep Recue and have had wonderful results. It has gotten me off an addictive drug and I get restful sleep. Hope it works for others.

  6. Brent B.

    Magnesium is very effective, and I’ve also used kava in the past. As long as you stick with the appropriate dosage, it’s a great stress reducer as well. And buy a reputable brand — Willner Chemists (NY) is a great source of nutriceutical information, to steer you in the right direction.

  7. Robin

    I’ve had good results from melatonin. I need to take only 1 mg. However, it does not work all the time, so I take it awhile and then switch to Calms Forte or Kali Phos (homeopathics). Additional or alternative things are: Flower essences like Bach’s White Chestnut, FES’ Dill and Lavender, plus others (no more than 5 at a time) according to mental/emotional state are helpful if needed. A cup of relaxing tea containing chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, hops can be taken before bedtime. Tinctures of relaxing herbs such as valerian (but be careful–some people have opposite reaction to valerian) or skullcap, or California poppy will promote sleep. Also, essential oil of lavender is soothing; put a drop on tissue or put a sachet of lavender flowers under your pillow at night. Finally, turning off TV and computer after 9:00 or earlier and listening to quiet music, meditating, doing gentle stretching, taking warm bath, are all conducive to better sleep in my experience.

  8. sc

    I have taken 3mg. melatonin for over a year and so far, no side effects noted. (I must add, it doesn’t always

  9. N.P.

    I have had very good results by taking 1200 mg calcium and 60 mg magnesium about 1 hr. before bedtime. I have increased the time I sleep by about 1 1/2 hrs. Any additional time sleeping feels great to me.

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