Catherine Ulbricht, Pharm.D.

Catherine Ulbricht Pharm.D.

Natural Standard


Natural Options for Insomnia

How melatonin, music therapy, and tai chi can help.

Posted Apr 19, 2012

Picture this: you’ve had a long day at work. You come home and climb into bed, exhausted, longing to to sleep. But the hours tick by and still your eyes are open, you’re tossing and turning. Or maybe you doze off, only to wake up tossing and turning at 3 a.m. If this sounds familiar, you may have something that affects millions of people worldwide – insomnia.

Insomnia is difficulty falling or staying asleep, or waking up too early in the morning. It is a common health problem that can cause daytime sleepiness and lack of energy. Long-term insomnia can make you feel tired, depressed or irritable, have trouble paying attention, learning, and remembering, and not be able to perform fully on the job or at school. An estimated 30-50 percent of the general population of the United States has been affected at one time or another by acute insomnia, and 10 percent have chronic (long-term) insomnia.

Eating healthy (and not for at least two hours before bedtime), regular exercise, lowering alcohol and caffeine intake, and going to bed and getting up at the same time every day can help. But if those still aren’t giving you enough zzzzzzzzz’s…..

Luckily, there are many complementary and alternative therapies that have been studied to help prevent or treat insomnia. Below, you’ll find some natural options that have been given a Natural Standard report card letter grades based on how much scientific evidence supports their effectiveness. Remember to check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new therapies.


Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland. Melatonin plays an important part in your circadian rhythm and regulates many important body functions. It has a Natural Standard evidence grade of B, meaning that there is good scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness in treating insomnia. However, if you have a sleep disorder from working the night shift, melatonin may not be an effective option for you, as it has a Natural Standard evidence grade of D for this purpose.

Varying doses of melatonin have been studied. If you have insomnia, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find a dose that may be most safe and effective for you.

Music therapy

Music therapy has a Natural Standard evidence grade of B (good) in the treatment of insomnia. Music has been used as a tool of healing since ancient times, appearing in the writings of Pythagoras, Aristotle and Plato. Sessions may be designed for individuals or groups based on the specific needs of the participants. Proponents claim that infants, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, and even animals may all potentially benefit from music therapy. Studies have shown that music may significantly improve sleep quality and duration, as well as reduce the time needed to fall asleep, sleep disturbance, and daytime dysfunction. Compared to therapies taken by mouth there seems to be less risk of potential side effect or interactions. More cost effective too.

Tai chi

Tai chi is another alternative therapy with a Natural Standard evidence grade of B for insomnia. Tai chi is a system of movements and positions believed to have developed in 12th Century China. The gentle techniques aim to address the body and mind as an interconnected system and are traditionally believed to have mental and physical health benefits to improve posture, balance, flexibility, and strength. Some studies have found that engaging in tai chi may improve sleep quality in older adults.

Sleep is important to your health and your performance at work and in school. There’s no need to go about your day feeling tired when there are simple lifestyle changes and natural options that may help you get better sleep. These natural options may help you get that spring back in your step and less bags under your eyes. Please remember to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about these effective alternative therapies to see whether they may work for you and to be sure you use them safely.

Sleep well!