I am a writer, teacher, parent, and musician. I have fought insomnia and sleep issues for many years.
The Top 5 Sleep Aid Supplements
Sleep is one of the cornerstones of good health. Everything from sexual performance to car accidents has been linked in one way or another to getting the right amount of good sleep. In spite of this, few of us actually get the recommended amount of sleep every night. Our society’s sleeplessness has led to an entire industry that produces gadgets and supplements to help us get the rest we need.
This article discusses 5 of the most popular and best-reviewed supplements that you can take to help you sleep. These supplements have all undergone extensive testing and review and are considered safe, but as with all medications, you should consult with your health care provider before starting on a new supplement regimen.
As with all medications, you should consult with your health care provider before starting on a new supplement regimen.
The Best Sleep Supplements #5: Chamomile Tea
You might be surprised to see this well-known, definitely non-exotic tea on the list of best sleep aid supplements, but the fact is that chamomile tea has been used as an effective bedtime drink for nearly a thousand years. Chamomile is one of the oldest and most widely used herbs in human history, with evidence of its use across the globe. The bright yellow flowers of chamomile are among its most recognizable features. Chamomile has several bioactive “ingredients” present in its leaves, stems, and flowers. For a pretty, innocent-looking flower best known for making a soothing bedtime tea, chamomile possesses a spectacular array of bioactive ingredients. For the non-chemistry majors out there, a list of these compounds is dizzying:
“Both α-bisabolol, bisabolol oxides A and B and chamazulene or azulenesse, farnesene and spiro-ether quiterpene lactones, glycosides, hydroxycoumarins, flavanoids (apigenin, luteolin, patuletin, and quercetin), coumarins (herniarin and umbelliferone), terpenoids, and mucilage are considered to be the major bio-active ingredients.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/]
If you have trouble sleeping, it’s possible that part of your solution is as simple as a cup of tea, and as ancient as the hills. High-quality chamomile tea is inexpensive, safe, and time-tested for effectiveness.
Quality Chamomile Tea
The Best Sleep Supplements #4: Melatonin
The next supplement for sleep on our list is melatonin. Unlike chamomile, which is a plant found in nature, melatonin is a hormone that occurs in the human body. It’s an essential part of the human sleep-wake cycle, also known as our circadian cycle or circadian rhythm. “Your body [naturally] makes melatonin, which helps create the urge to fall asleep,” says Sanjeev Kothare, M.D., director of the pediatric sleep program at NYU Langone Medical Center. “We call it the hormone of the dark.” The level of melatonin in your body starts to rise as the sun goes down and keeps rising the later it gets. In other words, melatonin translates signals from your surroundings into a mental state in your mind. This is why melatonin is so important to your sleep habits – if you interfere with the process of hormone secretion and biochemical response, you’ll have trouble falling asleep. Your internal clock will fail, and the normal evolutionary connection between sunset and sleepiness is lost. After all, we have been designed by eons of evolution, and electric lights, stress, and so on have only been around for a couple of hundred years.
A high-quality melatonin supplement can help adjust your inner clock. When your melatonin level is adjusted, sleep comes more easily.
The Best Sleep Supplements #3: Valerian
Valerian root has been used as a sleep aid and anti-anxiety treatment for more than 2,000 years. The positive benefits of a high-quality valerian sleep aid are supported by several studies, which indicate the ability of this natural supplement to help people fall asleep faster. There is also evidence that a quality valerian root supplement can also improve the quality of sleep. Evidence suggests that Valerian root becomes more effective when taken for a long period of time, so if you decide to try it you should consider undertaking a longer course of treatment.
The active ingredient in Valerian root, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center website, is not entirely understood. Scientists do know that the supplement increases the amount of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This substance is known to regulate nerve cells and combat anxiety, similar to drugs like Xanax and Valium. Recent findings suggest that Valerian root has a similar effect, although it is considerably weaker.
The Best Sleep Supplements #2: Kava Tea for Sleep
Kava comes from a plant in the pepper family (Solanacaea). Tea and other kava-based supplements are a popular source of anti-anxiety and sleep-inducing support that have been used throughout the world. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, kava is safe in the short term for people with anxiety. However, if you drink alcohol or take medicines that are metabolized in your liver, you may be at risk of serious side effects. For this reason, you should be sure to consult with your doctor before you decide to start a regimen for insomnia using kava.
The Best Sleep Supplements #1: 5-HTP
This substance is derived from an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which you may recognize as a component of turkey meat—it’s supposedly one reason that we’re so drowsy after a big Thanksgiving dinner. This supplement also has been used to pick up your mood and decrease your appetite. The biological basis for 5-HTP is that it’s a precursor of serotonin, a transmitter that’s essential for healthy sleep. This supplement has good evidence that it’s an effective sleep supplement, but people on anti-depressant medications should be sure to consult with their physician before starting a 5-HTP regimen.
Accidents Caused by Lack of Sleep
Many studies connect lack of sleep to accidents. When you don’t sleep, you’re not alert, and that can contribute to all kinds of accidents, both minor and major. You may know from your own experience, as I do from mine, lack of sleep can make you as dangerous behind the wheel as a drunk driver. According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigue is a cause in as many as 100,000 auto crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths a year in the U.S.
As if that weren’t enough, major global disasters have had a lack of sleep as a contributing factor. According to studies cited on WebMD, human error was involved in everything from the Exxon Valdez disaster to the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl.
Sleep Loss and Intellectual Performance
As a teacher, I see some serious issues with sleep for some of my students. They're often over-scheduled and don't get to catch up on lost sleep during the weekend. Loss of sleep hurts your performance on tests, something that students trying to study all night before an exam might want to consider. According to studies published by the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is essential for doing well on cognitive tests. A lost night of sleep hurts your ability to focus, recall, and stamina.
Health Issues Caused by Lack of Sleep
Sleep deprivation can put you at risk for many serious health problems, including heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. There are also psychological implications of not sleeping enough: evidence from the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, suggests that chronic sleep deprivation may result in symptoms consistent with depression. Additionally, evidence from a 2005 Sleep in America poll showed that people diagnosed with depression or anxiety got less sleep than the average population.
Light, Sleep, and Melatonin
It’s worth thinking for a moment about the connection between light and sleep. Staying up past sunset is a relatively new idea, evolutionarily speaking, spurred by the spread of electricity and electric lights in the 20th century. In our day and age, the main culprit is the blue light emitted by TVs, computers, and phones. Staring at these screens before bed short-circuits your circadian rhythm and really messes up your chances for a good night’s sleep.
Fortunately, there’s a gadget that you can use to help your body adjust to light levels in your environment. The Drift Light is a light bulb that automatically dims at the same speed as a natural sunset. When you turn it on as you get ready for bed, the Drift Light fools your body into thinking that the sun is setting, bringing you into harmony with the natural process of falling asleep. The bulb also eliminates the disruptive influence of the blue light spectrum. Computer screens and TVs interfere with your body’s need for natural light by exposing you to the sunshine part of the spectrum. At night, this blue light makes your brain think that the sun is still shining, which makes natural sleep difficult. The Drift Light is rich in the amber spectrum, giving you the benefit of a non-blue light environment. Eliminating blue light is important to the natural sleep process.
Obesity and Lack of Sleep
According to a 2004 study, people who sleep less than six hours a day were much more likely to become obese than those who got the recommended amount of sleep. Evidence from a study by Dr. Allison T. Siebern at the Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Stanford University Sleep Medicine Center supports the causal link between sleep and weight gain. According to the study, spikes in the hormone that stimulates hunger are associated with shortened sleep time.
https://nccih.nih.gov/health/sleep/ataglance.htm National Inst Health NIH
Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1; 3(6): 895–901. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2010.377
Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future. Janmejai K Srivastava,1,2,* Eswar Shankar,1,2 and Sanjay Gupta1,2,3
University of Maryland Medical Center: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/valerian
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
promisem on September 22, 2017:
I have to admit I avoid tea late at night because I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Valerian doesn't seem to affect me.
Melatonin is my favorite choice because it produces a better quality sleep.
simplehappylife on February 01, 2017:
Very informative. I love celestial seasonings extra sleepy time tea. It contains chamomile and valerian, I don't get "sleepy", but it is relaxing.
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 30, 2017:
I've tried some but not all of these. Thanks for the list. I've also tried Ambien and related meds but experienced the infamous side effects of getting up in the middle of the night (and shopping online unbeknownst to me until my packages appeared!). The more natural options are a preferable option.