Sleep is essential for our daily functioning. Due to the current lifestyle, stress, insufficient sleep and various other factors contribute to major health issues across the globe. According to a survey done in 2017-2018, 8.2 percent of the adults took medication to help fall or stay asleep four or more times. With increasing sleep issues, there is an increased demand for sleep supplements. These supplements are available in natural forms too (like herbs and plants). Some of the supplements available in the market are synthetically produced.
What are the common sleep supplements?
“Supplements like melatonin, magnesium, ashwagandha, lavender oil, etc., are commonly available in the market. Most of the supplements are a combination of two or more substances,” says Dr Vaibhav Suresh, preventive health specialist, Fortis Hospital, Chennai.
1. Melatonin: It is one of the most common sleep supplements available worldwide. “It is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. However, melatonin supplements should be prescribed by a doctor as it can interfere with other medications and cause side effects or severe drowsiness in some individuals,” said Dr Suresh.
2. Magnesium: Magnesium is a mineral present in our food. It helps in muscle relaxation and promotes sleep, added Dr Suresh.
3. Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a herb which has been widely used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is used for treating many health conditions, including insomnia. Many sleep supplements have ashwagandha as one of the ingredients. A study published in 2019 revealed that ashwagandha root extract has sleep-inducing potential and improves sleep quality. It also helps to improve sleep latency in people with insomnia.
4. Lavender: Lavender oil is one of the most commonly used sleep supplements. It is said to have a positive influence on the quality and duration of sleep as well as improved general and physical health without causing any side effects. Lavender oil (extracted from lavender flowers) is known to relieve pain along with promoting calmness and sleep. Lavender supplements can be consumed orally, through inhalation (aromatherapy) or through massages.
5. Valerian: Valerian is a herb and valerian root is a common sleep supplement in European countries. It can be consumed in multiple forms such as tea, capsules or tablets. A review study published in 2020 revealed that valerian could be a safe and effective herb to promote sleep and prevent associated disorders. Valerian root extracts were found to improve sleep latency and sleep quality.
6. Amino acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. A few of them have multiple functions which also include neurotransmission. Amino acids such as glycine, tryptophan and L-Theanine were found to promote better sleep.
- Glycine is a commonly available amino acid. Apart from promoting relaxation and sleep, it was also found to reduce the body temperature while sleeping.
- Tryptophan is another naturally occurring amino acid. It is the base molecule from which melatonin and serotonin are formed. These hormones are sleep-regulating hormones. The general saying that a warm cup of milk is good for sleep, is due to the presence of high amounts of tryptophan.
- L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves, promotes sleep by interacting with the brain and has a soothing effect on the central nervous system (CNS), helping us relax and sleep.
Sleep supplements versus sleeping pills
Sleep supplements and sleeping pills are both used for aiding sleep. However, they are different, and sleep supplements should not be confused with sleeping pills.
“Sleeping pills are artificially synthesised chemicals which generally act by suppressing the CNS and certain receptors in the brain. There is a risk of addiction and tolerance in case of sleeping pills. On the other hand, sleep supplements are made of naturally occurring substances and plant extracts. The risk for addiction and toxicity is very low. However, sleep supplements should not be consumed without doctors’ advice. Supplements like melatonin can interfere with other medication and cause serious side effects,” explains Dr Suresh.
Side effects of sleep supplements
Dr Suresh says that consuming sleep supplements can cause certain side effects which include:
- Difficulty in decision making
- Daytime drowsiness
Excessive or long-term usage can also cause:
- Sleep supplements are commonly used by people to help them fall asleep.
- Melatonin, magnesium, ashwagandha, etc., are some of the supplements which are commonly available in the market.
- Excessive or long-term consumption of sleep supplements can lead to various side effects like dizziness, nausea, headaches, etc.
- Sleep supplements should not be consumed without doctors’ advice.