Do Sleep Supplements Really Work?

So, you’ve just finished a big project at work but you can’t seem to unwind even days after it’s over. It’s as if your body got used to all those late nights and early mornings and now you’re experiencing insomnia. You call your mom who recommends you take a little kava to relax. Thankfully, you do some research on Google before you head to the supplement store and you learn that European studies are showing a link between kava and liver toxicity.[1] It’s now considered unsafe. So, what’s the real deal with sleep supplements? Are they safe or are they dangerous and do they really work?

What are sleep supplements?

Sleep supplements are herbal in nature and are derived from plants or plant products. Some common supplements that aid in sleep are melatonin, valerian, tryptophan, GABA, catnip, passion flower, skullcap, and hops.[2] They are usually used as a substitute for prescription sleep aids.[3] People usually take them orally like in a tea or through a supplement capsule. There are some people who swear by these herbal supplements to help them fall asleep. But unfortunately, the clinical research is conflicting at best.

Do sleep supplements really work?

The problem with sleep supplements is that they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but the requirements for dietary supplements are far less strenuous than those of a medication or food.[4] So the supplements don’t have to prove that they are safe and effective in the same way that medications do. This can lead to less research and some questionable results for taking dietary supplements. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, “rigorous scientific data supporting a beneficial effect were not found for the majority of herbal supplements, dietary changes, and other nutritional supplements popularly used for treating insomnia symptoms.”[5] In another study published by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, melatonin as a supplement did prove to help “help some people with certain sleep disorders.

including jet lag, sleep problems related to shift work, and delayed sleep phase disorder (one in which people go to bed but can’t fall asleep until hours later), and insomnia.”[6] Though they still raised questions about the long-term effects of taking melatonin, as such scientific evidence hasn’t been closely studied.

So, what’s the bottom line? Before taking any sleep supplements, you should discuss all options with your healthcare provider who will review your medical history and make a proper judgment for your specific case. You should also focus on creating a proper sleep hygiene routine which can significantly increase your ability to fall asleep and have a better quality of sleep while you rest.

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