Whoever coined the phrase “sleeping like a baby” must have been childless. No parent who has ever walked the floor for hours with a fussy infant or gotten up for numerous nighttime feedings would imagine that babies sleep well.
At the other end of the life span, sleep problems are just as common. Older people frequently have trouble getting to sleep. Another common complaint is that they wake up far too early. Some have to get up to visit the bathroom and then have difficulty falling back to sleep. Others find that they are wide-awake at 3:00 a.m. and toss and turn until morning. Up to half of all elderly people report trouble with insomnia.
Babies and senior citizens are not the only ones who suffer. The number of people who have intermittent or chronic sleep problems is enormous, perhaps as many as 70 million.672 That means that one in five of us is all too familiar with sleeplessness.
Perhaps people slept better in past centuries. Back before Thomas Edison invented the electric lightbulb, even adults slept an average of 10 hours a night. But average sleep time has been dropping ever since. A poll in 2002 showed that the average American gets fewer than 7 hours of shut-eye on weeknights. And the deficit can’t all be made up on weekends or holidays.
Think about a sleep debt as you would a financial debt. The more it grows, the harder it is to pay off. Eventually your body rebels. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, reduced immunity, daytime drowsiness, poor performance, traffic accidents, falls, memory problems, and cognitive impairment. But lying awake in bed worrying about these possible consequences won’t help.
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for good health. We never cease to be amazed that health-conscious people who exercise, eat carefully, and take their vitamins often skimp on sleep. We hope you will make getting adequate sleep an important health priority. If you can find a psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep disorders, this approach may be the safest and produce the longest-lasting benefits.
Here is an overview of our other recommendations.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Keep the bedroom dark, and do not watch TV in the bedroom.
  • Exercise during the day (not in the evening) and take a hot bath about an hour before bedtime.
  • A high-carb snack before bedtime may raise serotonin levels, helping you fall asleep. Relax with soothing music or a relaxation CD.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most cost-effective approaches to insomnia. Finding a practitioner with experience will be your biggest challenge.
  • Try magnesium supplements before bed. As long as your kidneys are healthy, 250 to 500 milligrams may help. If you develop diarrhea, reduce the dose.
  • Aromatherapy may be helpful. The scents of jasmine or lavender can be relaxing and facilitate sleep.
  • If a nondrug herbal approach appeals to you, valerian is our first choice. We would recommend a standardized extract of 300 to 600 milligrams before bed. Several days to 2 weeks may be needed to see results.
  • If a sleeping pill is your last resort, we suggest zolpidem. Because it is available as a generic, it will be the most cost-effective.

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  1. DL

    Melatonin and Suntheanine supplementation had a disastrous effect on me, following my first-ever use of either product. I could not sleep after consuming the two together because within 25 minutes one side of my face went numb and a shoulder blade felt like someone poured cold oil on my back — a sensation that persisted the rest of the night. I was frightened, wondering if I might suffer a stroke. Since then, I have found that Magnesium supplementation, Holy Basil, 5-HTP, Hops and GABA, B6 and Valerian, are better options.
    Ambien and an SSRI did not work for me — paradoxically I experienced more insomnia while attempting to use prescription solutions — but natural solutions do. I take a magnesium supplement called Natural Calm at dinner, dissolved into a glass of 100 percent pure cherry juice (which I understand to contain naturally occurring melatonin, which doesn’t bother me like the supplement form did). When turning in for the night, I take True Calm. If I awaken later I take Hops. If I awaken yet again, I take Holy Basil. Holy Basil and True Calm are my mainstays, and probably could be taken together but I am cautious and spread them out.

  2. Liz

    What works well for me is to take two supplements together, Melatonin and 5-HTP. I take 3 mg. of Melatonin but different folks need different amounts. Some can have success with only 1 mg. As for the 5- HTP, I take one tablet of 100 mg. The brand I take (Vitacost) includes 20 mg of Vit B6. If I awaken too early, like 5:00 or 6:00 AM, I then just pop a Valerian pill, the wonderful but stinky herb that tranquillizes. Works every time.

  3. Liz

    This is an interesting concept. You don’t think the stress of trying to learn a foreign language would upset sleep?

  4. Raj

    Is there any home remedy to get a 1-yr old to sleep through the night? He’s constantly waking-up, almost hourly and nothing seems to calm him down.

    • DisneyGranny
      Ft Worth, TX

      I can tell you what worked for my kids, grandkids, and many friends kids. When the little ones get up, even as young as 6 months, only give them a drink of water. Don’t talk to them, or kiss them goodnight again, lay them back down, cover them up and quietly walk out of the room. Don’t give them milk or treats. They soon realize that it isn’t worth getting up for, and start sleeping thru the night.
      It worked well for us. The main thing to remember though is consistency, of course that’s true with everything you do raising your kids!!
      Good luck!!


    Sleep without drugs or side effects. Purchase a foreign language dictionary and a short novel or story in that language. When one reads an unfamiliar language and of necessity looks up words all otherwise disturbing sleep disturbing worries or problems are substituted. The act of looking up words is fatiguing and sleep soon is realized.
    If sleep is interrupted, the same translation effort can be repeated with the same sleep inducing results.
    Cost effective with no side effects except the cost of the dictionary.

  6. HDV

    I’ve had chronic insomnia for 15 years, tho I usually wake up after fewer than your husband’s hours, so I’ve made a study of treatments. For over-the-counter drugs, I’ve been taking 25mg diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl, at Safeway, eg, it’s just called Allergy Relief) and 3 mg melatonin. It still takes an hour to take effect. I tried the Ambien CR and found it too powerful (besides that my ins. didn’t cover it) and it made me dizzy and nauseated.
    The Zolpidem 5mg (generic Ambien) works fine if I wake up and only need 5 more hours because that’s all it allows me; but like the other commenter, I feel groggy the next day. I even spent 2 months w/1x/week going to an acupuncturist, and it was close to being effective, but didn’t quite make it. Now my new doctor says that since my body has forgotten how to sleep through the night, she has given me Lorazepam 1mg, which the once or twice I’ve tried it when I woke, was effective w/half a tab.
    I’m taking it on a two-month trip to Italy, beginning w/needing to sleep on the plane, and will be moving from different people’s homes every few nights. Since it is addictive, I’m to only use this one month supply (or 2 if I use only half a dose). If you reply, I’ll remember to tell you how it worked when I return.

  7. zolpidemisweird

    I took ambien cr 12.5 and it didn’t keep me from waking up early and it was awful to have to deal with its after effects!

  8. MJS

    My husband goes to bed at the same time every night. He falls asleep easily but then wakes up at between 4/5am and cannot get back to sleep. I have given him Chamomile Tea but it doesn’t seem to help. Any suggestions will be gratefully received.

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