You’re stressed. You’re on edge. And as icing on the socially distant, candle-less cake, you’re beyond exhausted all the damn time. But…you want to change that. That’s the good news. The better news: There’s a variety of research-backed natural sleep aids on the market designed to improve your shuteye—you just may not know about them. Yet.
To help you get a leg up and the ZZZs down, we tapped sleep docs for the gadgets and gizmos they depend on to usher them into a restorative night’s sleep. See you in dreamland.
11 Natural Sleep Aids and Apps That’ll Knock You Out Cold
1. Flume DRIFT
Naturopath Taryn Forrelli, N.D., co-founded Flume, a line of plant-based supplements geared toward athletes and adventurers (the collection also includes preworkout and recovery blends). “Stress, or an overactive mind, is one of the most common causes of sleeplessness,” Forrelli says. “But an overactive body that results in muscle soreness can also stand in the way of a good night’s rest. DRIFT was uniquely formulated to soothe both the mind and body.” Each ingredient is backed by science to improve one of the various sleep-regulation pathways. Ashwagandha, for instance, “is an adaptogenic botanical that modulates the stress hormone, cortisol, which can interfere with the sleep cycle.” DRIFT also contains California poppy, hops, and ocean-sourced magnesium. “An increase in inflammation is associated with a deficiency in magnesium, so ensuring adequate intake is important to keep the body balanced,” she explains. “This is especially important for individuals with an active lifestyle as magnesium is lost in sweat during exercise.”
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2. Insight Timer
Abhinav Singh, M.D., medical director at Indiana Sleep Center and medical review panelist for Sleep Foundation always recommends Insight Timer to his patients, seeing as he uses it himself too. The free app lets you choose the duration of the audio meditations (five, 15, 25 minutes, whatever you want), and whether you prefer strictly voice, voice plus music, or audio with music. “The app supplement the concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness—two prominent, evidence-based techniques proven to improve sleep, especially as treatments for insomnia,” Singh says. To improve your sleep hygiene, create a wind-down routine: shower, journal, read, then breathe. “It’s based on classical conditioning, where you do a set of repetitive behaviors over and over again, which end in sleep onset,” Singh adds. “By the time the breathing meditation is done, you’re sleeping. It’s like when you see a glass of ice water and you know it’s going to be cold and refreshing.” Try using Insight Timer in the middle of the day too, for 10 or 15 minutes, to stay sharp if your focus is waning. Just don’t pick the sleep meditations…
[Free or premium for $60/year; insighttimer.com]
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3. Ebb CoolDrift
Psychiatrist and sleep doctor Eric Nofzinger, M.D., wasn’t satisfied with the natural sleep aids for patients suffering from disrupted sleep, a common side effect of some mental conditions and disorders. “Their minds won’t turn off when they try to go to sleep—and not getting a good night’s rest makes it very difficult to function the next day,” Nofzinger says. “The brain needs to settle down in order to get healthy, restorative sleep, especially in an area of the brain called the frontal cortex, which sits right behind the forehead.” This led him to create Ebb Therapeutics, a line of FDA-cleared cooling headbands that help quell racing thoughts: “The precise, controlled cooling of the forehead before and during sleep creates a distinct calming sensation. Brain imaging studies show this relaxes brain tissue in the very regions where individuals have the most problems,” he adds.
[From $249; ebbsleep.com]
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4. Hästens Restore
“Sleep and mindfulness apps are great for those who have problems clearing their mind before bed, and Hästens Restore is by far one of the more unique and revolutionary ones out there,” says Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., a.k.a. “The Sleep Doctor,” an American Board of Sleep Medicine diplomate and fellow at The American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Hästens worked with cardiologist-turned-mathematician Jussi Eerikäinen to transform his scientifically proven methods into an accessible, free app that combines frequency tones and music to help people improve concentration, gratitude, creativity, productivity, stress management, and relaxation in order to enhance sleep quality.”
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5. MUTE Snoring
“When I drink scotch my wife says, ‘Go put your nose thingy in!’ ” quips Breus. “That nose thingy she’s referring to is the MUTE internal nasal dilator. It may seem a bit weird, but the small device goes inside your nose (after 30 seconds you don’t feel it). It opens up your nasal passages to help reduce airspeed and snoring. It also comes in various sizes and each opening can be sized to each nostril (gross but important). “This may have saved my marriage, and sleep, on more than one occasion,” Breus says. Natural sleep aids like this will take getting used to, but it works.
[$27.95, 3-pack; mutesnoring.com]
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6. Calm app
Consistently ranked as one of the top apps for sleep, “Calm provides great sleep hygiene and meditation/mindfulness content for adults,” says Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., an assistant professor at New York University’s Langone Health Center. “It also uses acoustic science, such as the different color of sounds to induce sleep. The vast amount of content allows for customer personalization, and they also have an extremely robust educational framework,” he continues, noting there’s growing research that links Calm with improved sleep, anxiety, and stress.
[$69.99/year after 7-day free trial; calm.com]
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7. Dagsmejan Stay Cool Collection Sleep Shorts
Didn’t think a solid pair of PJs could do it for ya on the sleep-enhancement front? Think again. “As the body’s nighttime temperature is critical to achieving optimal sleep, changing your sleepwear can be a quick fix,” says Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., sleep researcher and co-author of Sleep for Success! (Disclaimer: She’s on the Dagsmejan Scientific Advisory Board.) While some materials are restrictive and can increase your body temperature, choosing highly breathable sleepwear with natural fibers, like Tencel from eucalyptus, can go a long way toward healthier sleep.” These shorts are approximately eight times more breathable than cotton.
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“L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea associated with the drink’s calming and mind-clearing qualities,” Forrelli says. “While not a sedative, science shows that L-theanine works quickly to boost alpha waves in the brain, which promotes relaxation and improves sleep quality. In a recent placebo-controlled study, when healthy adults took 200 mg of L-theanine, they fell asleep faster, had fewer sleep disturbances, and used less sleep medication,” she adds, noting most of the research has been done on a branded version of the ingredient called Suntheanine, which is widely available in various sleep products. Natural sleep aids like this are worth a try.
[$17.95, 60 liquid soft gels; amazon.com]
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9. EyeJust Blue Light Blocking Screen Protector for iPhone
Whether you’re doomscrolling or video chatting with a loved one, we’ve all been especially glued to tech devices as of late. Needless to say, that’s no good for counting sheep. “The light emitted by the displays might trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and bedtime isn’t close,” says Roy Raymann, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at SleepScore Labs. “Using EyeJust screen protectors will reduce your exposure to unneeded and unwanted blue light after sunset, which is easier on your eyes and limits the negative effects of screen illumination on sleep.” (FYI: The product is third-party tested at UC Irvine and ophthalmologist-approved.) A recent SleepScore study found 71 percent of participants using EyeJust slept better and 92 percent reported reduced eye strain. Not bad for a $35 investment. (Screen protectors for iPads and laptops cost a bit more.)
[From $35; eyejust.com]
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10. Moshi app
You know the drill: Kids up all night mean you don’t sleep either. Seixas knows that all too well in his role as a biomedical researcher and scientist. That’s why he partnered with Moshi, the audio-only (no screens!) sleeping app for children. “While downloads of popular adult mindfulness apps skyrocketed during the pandemic, one size does not fit all. Mindfulness and sleep apps made especially for kids like Moshi—using stories, sound, and music to capture and hold attention—are a must.” On Moshi, the stories are narrated in a calming voice and feature white, blue, and velvet noise (a special kind of random noise), all to serve as a sleep-promoting DJ of sorts. “From the mindful exercises that children can participate in during the day to the bedtime stories at night, an audio app like Moshi helps ground children and gives them a sense of calm. With Moshi, kids begin to look forward to bedtime, which is half the battle for parents,” says Seixas. NYU Grossman School of Medicine experimental findings indicate the app helped kids of all ages fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and improve parents’ sleep. “Kids fell asleep 28 minutes earlier on average and slept for 22 minutes longer with night wakings decreasing by 50 percent,” he adds.
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11. DrLullaby app
Another excellent option if you’re dealing with kiddos who can’t hit the hay is DrLullaby, an evidence-based digital sleep solution, created by Lisa Medalie, Psy.D., a board-certified adult and pediatric insomnia specialist. It takes a two-pronged approach by addressing the needs of both children (4 months to 18 years) and their guardians. With personalized nightly plans, a progress tracker, and one-on-one video coaching sessions from doctorate-level experts, your household vibe is about to get a lot dreamier.
[$9.99/month subscription plus $59 for first coaching session; apps.apple.com]
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