Many of us struggle to get the high-quality sleep that is essential for good health. In fact, some experts estimate that at least half of all adults will deal with insomnia at some point in their lives. It’s no wonder, then, that Americans spend $52 billion annually on sleep aids and remedies.
Over-the-counter (OTC) sleep supplements often come with fewer side effects than prescription medications, and they can help to break an unhealthy sleep cycle or make up for a shortfall of sleep. However, they should never be used as a replacement for a healthy diet and other lifestyle factors that promote sleep.
There is also a growing interest in natural sleep supplements. While most of these supplements are safe for use in small doses, they’re not universally effective and may have different effects on different people. They also don’t undergo the same rigorous testing and review that prescription sleep medicines do.
Several new sleep supplements are gaining popularity, including melatonin, l-theanine, valerian root, and 5-HTP. These are all derived from amino acids, and research suggests that they may work together to help improve sleep quality.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps control the body’s clock and is naturally produced by the brain during sleep. It’s available as a pill or liquid, and research shows that it can help to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. It can also increase the duration of REM sleep, which is important for memory and learning.
The amino acid l-theanine is found in green tea and has been shown to promote relaxation without making you feel sleepy or tired, which can improve mood and cognitive function. It acts on GABA receptors to inhibit the excitability of neurons, promoting calmness. You can take l-theanine as an herbal supplement, with doses starting around 100mg.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an aromatic herb that’s considered a nervine, meaning it calms the nervous system. It’s available as an herbal tea to drink before bed, or in a supplement with a standardized extract of rosmarinic acid. Valerian root is another nervine, but it’s more potent than lemon balm and can have diuretic properties. You can find it in an herbal tea or as a supplement, with dosages starting at 100mg.
Another amino acid, taurine, is similar to l-theanine and works on GABA receptors to enhance calming. It may also help to regulate melatonin production. Taurine supplements are relatively new, but early research indicates that they can be helpful to induce sleep. It’s recommended to start with a low dose and increase gradually, as too much can cause headaches.