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Five things you can do right now to sleep better tonight – and every night.

I’ve been on a health kick lately, reading about the effects of different vitamins and nutritional supplements, and have come across some surprising information about both the impact of not getting enough sleep, and the vast array of things that impact your ability to get continuous, uninterrupted, restorative sleep – the kind where you wake up the next morning raring to go, feeling energetic and joyful.

All that information made me think of you, my readers. As it turns out, insomnia is one of the most pervasive and persistent of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Even if there weren’t other statistics to support that statement, I would be able to tell just from the volume of responses to my post on insomnia. From the comments it’s clear that many people have struggled for months, if not years, with the effects of not being able to fall asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, or simply waking up tired all the time.

Well, I have some good news for you. If you’ve been struggling with sleep issues, you’re not alone. (One in four people suffer from insomnia at some time in their lives, and the number is even higher for ex-smokers.) The good news is, there are some easy, inexpensive things you can do about it that will not only help you sleep, but will also improve your health in other ways.

The Impact of No Sleep

If you suffer from insomnia, I probably don’t have to tell you that it robs you of your joy and energy, and puts you at risk for returning to smoking. But did you know chronic insomnia is also associated with a whole host of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, anxiety, stroke, and potentially cancer? As an ex-smoker, the last thing you need is to increase your risk for any of those, right?

What’s NOT a Solution

You probably also instinctively shy away from sleep drugs like zolpidem (Ambien®), eszopiclone (Lunesta®), and temazepam (Restoril®). They may put you to sleep, but they result in poor sleep quality, which means you may be just about as tired as if you hadn’t slept – especially over the long term.

Or maybe you’ve resorted to them, desperate for a decent night’s sleep, but you know it’s not the best long-term solution.

So what can you do?

Here are five easy, inexpensive things to do right now to sleep better tonight. And they’re actually GOOD for you.

1. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that contributes to over 300 biochemical processes in your body. If you take a multivitamin, it probably has magnesium in it, but you still may not be getting enough. Magnesium deficiency is associated with all kinds of health issues including cardiovascular disease, muscle cramps, irregular heartbeat, depression, anxiety, and – you guessed it – insomnia. Magnesium deficiency is widespread, and if you drink carbonated beverages, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol, have a “sweet tooth,” or are over 55, you’re even more likely to be low in magnesium.

How to use it to help you sleep

You’ll want to take 400-500 mg of magnesium before you go to sleep. Ideally you want a chelated form (such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, or glycinate). You can take capsules or tablets, or for a noticeable immediate benefit, get a magnesium powder that dissolves in water, and take that right before bed. Here’s a very affordable version from vitacost.

2. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone made in the pineal gland in response to darkness. When things are working right, melatonin production rises at night, and is lower in the morning. Exposure to some kinds of light (e.g., light from a TV or computer screen) can interfere with melatonin production, so it’s best to stay away from those as part of your bedtime routine. Melatonin production also tends to decrease as we get older, so if you’ve been smoking for years, you may have a double-whammy related to insomnia: Your melatonin production has dropped as a natural result of aging, and you also have insomnia related to nicotine withdrawal.

Melatonin has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, improve sleep quality and alertness after sleep, and reduce the number of times you wake up in the night, so no matter what form your insomnia takes, melatonin may help.

How to use it to help you sleep

Use sublingual* melatonin tablets or drops just before bed. Just put a tablet under your tongue if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Within 10-15 minutes you should begin feeling relaxed and drowsy.  I don’t take melatonin routinely, but when I have trouble falling asleep, I use Source Naturals 2.5 mg peppermint sublingual tablets.

Here are some other options if you want to try a different dosage or flavor.  Whatever you choose, I definitely recommend using a sublingual version.  *Sublingual just means that instead of swallowing it, you put it under your tongue and let it melt. That allows it to be absorbed through your mucus membranes and enter your bloodstream directly, without going through your digestive tract. The benefit is that you feel the effects faster and it doesn’t matter if your belly is full or empty.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with an astonishing array of diseases and poor health outcomes ranging from bone problems to cancer, including sleep problems and restless leg syndrome. Deficiency is really common, as well, with some experts estimating that up to 80% of the US population has Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Smoking depletes Vitamin D, so if you’re an ex-smoker and you haven’t been supplementing with a significant dose, you’re almost certainly deficient. (If you’re taking a multivitamin with the RDA of 400-800 IUs of Vitamin D, you’re probably still deficient. You can ask your doc to test you if you want to find out for sure, but you can also safely supplement with around 2,000 to 5,000 IUs a day without much concern about getting too much.)

How to use it to help you sleep

You won’t get the immediate relaxation from Vitamin D that you get with magnesium or melatonin, so consider this a longer-term strategy for improving your sleep. The recommended form is Vitamin D3, and it’s inexpensive, widely available, and typically comes in small softgels that are easy to swallow. Since Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is better absorbed if you take it with a meal. Here are the ones I use the Vitamin Shoppe brand of 5000 IUs, but you can choose a different dosage if you prefer.

I recommend taking vitamin D regardless of what other sleep solutions you decide to try – it’s inexpensive, useful, and hard to accidentally get too much of, so just consider it cheap insurance.

4. Potassium

Potassium is another of the minerals that has an impact on sleep. In particular, if you tend to wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, low potassium might be the culprit. You can increase the amount of potassium in your diet by eating more potassium-rich foods such as beans, leafy greens, avocados, and bananas, or by adding a potassium supplement.

How to use it to help you sleep

If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, consider keeping bananas on hand to have for a midnight snack, or just eating one before bed.

5. Progesterone Cream

This suggestion isn’t for everyone, but particularly if you are a near-menopause or post-menopausal woman, you may find progesterone cream helpful. Progesterone is one of the hormones that declines with age, and supplementing with it can help you relax and sleep at night. (If you’re concerned about news of hormone replacement causing cancer and other diseases, rest assured: real progesterone cream is a bioidentical* hormone which is molecularly identical to the hormones made in your own body, not the patentable progestin and/or horse-urine-derived Premarin that were implicated in the disease outcomes detailed in the Women’s Health Initiative study.)

How to use it to help you sleep

Progesterone cream is available over the counter at many drug stores, or you can order it online. It’s simple to use – just rub the recommended amount (usually ¼ to ½ a teaspoon) into your skin about 30 minutes before bed. It works best when used routinely, but the effects are pretty immediate.

I’ve used a couple different versions, and find that the Source Naturals progesterone cream works well, and it also absorbs better than some of the others I’ve tried, which left me feeling sticky.

*For a detailed explanation of the difference between bioidentical hormones vs. non-bioidentical along with some of the effects of balancing hormones, read this.

 If you try one of these, or find something else that works well for you, please share your experiences in the comments below.

{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Gail September 16, 2014, 2:01 PM


    Thank you so much This is awesome advice. I can’t wait to purchase the 5 products and look forward to a good night’s sleep which will make my next day full of quality, optimism, and hope. I really appreciate your research in to natural products for sleep and not suggesting to put a bandage on insomnia as most doctor’s do by prescribing sleeping pills.

    • Deanna Sykes September 17, 2014, 7:09 AM

      Hi Gail, best of luck to you – let us all know how it goes, OK?

  • Enrique Pasion April 16, 2019, 7:26 AM

    I have been on the bend trying to quit smoking actually, and I have to agree, sleep is usually difficult when you haven’t had a puff for a long time. Thank you for your suggestions on how to help induce sleep the natural way. Really need to kick my bad habit, once and for all.

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