Nearly everyone has experienced an occasional sleepless night. But when does the inability to sleep turn into insomnia? To answer that question, we need to look at how insomnia is defined medically.

In many research papers, insomnia is described as a disorder with one or more of the following criteria: (1)

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Experiencing nonrestorative sleep
  • Daytime impairment or distress associated with lack of sleep
  • Sleep difficulty that takes place at least three times per week and has persisted for at least one month
woman in bed awake

Did you know that insomnia is one of the most common types of sleep disorders? Thankfully, there are several natural ways to help with insomnia.

Having any of these sleep issues can lead to a diagnosis of insomnia. There are two basic types of insomnia: acute (short-term/several weeks) or chronic (ongoing/several months).

What is insomnia?

Insomnia occurs when a lack of sleep takes place despite an adequate opportunity to sleep. Having insomnia can significantly and negatively impact the quality of life and overall health. Chronic insomnia (three nights per week lasting at least three months) is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic pain syndrome, obesity, asthma, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. (2)

Did you know?
It is estimated that approximately one-third of the general population in the United States has insomnia, making it the most common type of sleep disorder. (3)

Key insomnia symptoms include: (4)

  • Lying awake for a long time before being able to fall asleep
  • Sleeping for only a short period
  • Being awake for much of the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling rested or feeling as if you haven’t slept even when you have

What causes insomnia?

According to the national sleep foundation, there can be medical causes such as pain, mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and lifestyle factors like stress, long work hours or shift work. (5)

Treating insomnia can be complex. From a conventional standpoint, a pharmaceutical approach is often used with prescription benzodiazepines being the “go-to” medication. Antidepressants and diphenhydramine, an antihistamine, are also often recommended by conventionally-trained healthcare providers.

Because of safety concerns such as addiction, sleepiness, dizziness, impaired cognitive function, and increased risk of dementia these drugs should not be a first-line choice and should never be used chronically. (6)(7)

Did you know?
A 2012 study published in the journal BMJ Open found that sleeping pill use (less than 18 pills per year) significantly increased the risk of cancer and premature death. (8)

That’s why before reaching for an over-the-counter or prescription sleep drug it’s important to consider the many natural ways to help insomnia.

Natural insomnia treatments

People who have experienced or are experiencing insomnia often describe it as “frustrating,” “concerning” or even “maddening.” For these people, going to bed at night initiates a vicious cycle of worry and dread that can further exacerbate the existing exhaustion they are experiencing. Fortunately, natural insomnia treatments can help.


Topping the list of effective natural insomnia remedies is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that helps regulate a person’s sleep-wake cycle. It is often used by travelers who experience jet lag but for many people, it is also an effective insomnia treatment. Studies have shown that melatonin can help improve sleep quality, increase total sleep time, and effectively treat people who have been diagnosed with insomnia. (9)

Some other natural sleep supplements that have been confirmed in the scientific literature to help with insomnia include:


Oftentimes, one or more of these ingredients are combined in insomnia remedies. Also, research continues to grow regarding the use of cannabidiol (CBD) for sleep, especially anxiety associated insomnia. A large 2019 case series published in The Permanente Journal featuring 72 adults who received 25 mg of CBD per day in capsule form demonstrated a significant improvement in anxiety and sleep scores. (10)

Lavender essential oil in a bottle

Lavender EO helps with anxiety and can be especially beneficial for those who are experiencing anxiety-induced insomnia.

Essential oils

Essential oils have also been shown to help encourage improved sleep quantity and quality. Lavender, in particular, either taken orally or as aromatherapy, has been shown to help with anxiety and can be especially beneficial to people who are experiencing anxiety-induced insomnia. (11)

Sleep hygiene

Finally, when treating insomnia naturally, sleep hygiene should always be a focus. (12) Sleep hygiene includes different tips on what to do before bed to create the most sleep conducive atmosphere and routine as possible. This involves an adjustment to room temperature and darkness, as well as the nature of food and drink before bedtime. Creating a relaxing bedtime routine can go a long way in helping to ease insomnia.

The bottom line

Lack of sleep can reach epidemic levels, and in some cases, it can turn into full-blown chronic insomnia. This complex and difficult-to-treat condition responds well to a safe, comprehensive, integrative approach that includes natural insomnia remedies, as well as a sleep-inducing lifestyle.

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  1. Roth T. Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2007;3(5 Suppl): S7-S10.
  2. Kaur H, Bollu PC. Chronic insomnia. StatPearls. 2019; Feb 19.
  3. American Sleep Association. Sleep and sleep disorder statistics. Accessed online August 2019.
  4. US National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus: Insomnia. Accessed online August 2019.
  5. National Sleep Foundation. What causes insomnia? Accessed online August 2019.
  6. He Q, Chen X, Wu T, et al. Risk of dementia in long-term benzodiazepine users: evidence from a meta-analysis of observational studies. Journal of Clinical Neurology. 2019;15(1):9-19.
  7. Gray SL, Anderson ML, Dublin S, et al. Cumulative use of strong anticholinergics and incident dementia: a prospective cohort study. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015;175(3):401-407.
  8. Kripke DF, Langer RD, Kline LE. Hypnotics’ association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJ Open. 2012;2.
    Xie Z, Chen F, Li WA, et al. A review of sleep disorders and melatonin. Journal Neurological Research. 2017;39(6).
  9. Shannon S, Lewis N, Lee H, Hughes S. Cannabidiol in anxiety and sleep: a large case series. The Permanente Journal. 2019;23:18-041.
  10. Appleton J. Lavender oil for anxiety and depression: review of the literature on the safety and efficacy of lavender. Natural Medicine Journal. 2012;4(2).
  11. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep hygiene. Accessed online August 2019.