Over the last two decades, a variety of sleep supplements have popped onto shelves promising deeper sleep, rapid tiredness and more vivid dreams. Do they really offer the benefits they claim to and, if so, which ones are the best value for money?
In this chapter, we’ll look at a few of the most popular sleep supplements available today, such as melatonin, valerian and more. We’ll also look at some of the common prescription medications used to treat sleep problems, including benzodiazepines.
Valerian, melatonin and other sleep supplements
Walk into your local pharmacy and you’ll see a variety of supplements promising a better night’s sleep. Not all of these supplements work as advertised, although some do offer some light benefits that make falling asleep easier.
One of the most common sleep medicines is a herbal treatment called valerian. Used for thousands of years in Europe and Asia to treat insomnia, it’s a proven treatment for anxiety and insomnia that’s backed up by a variety of scientific studies.
Valerian is available over the counter from most major pharmacies and is relatively safe. Typical side effects include light headache, a “hangover” feeling after sleep and light drowsiness within two hours of consumption.
As one of the lightest sleep supplements available, valerian is a good first choice for beating insomnia and resetting your sleep patterns. Combine it with the sleep tips in this guide to make resetting a bad sleep routine simple.
Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by your body to regulate tiredness and sleep patters. It’s also available as a sleep-inducing medicine. In the UK, melatonin requires a prescription; in most other countries it’s available over the counter.
Most melatonin supplements include one to three milligrams of the hormone in each tablet. A single one milligram dosage produces a light feeling of tiredness that makes falling asleep slightly easier.
Not all people feel an effect from melatonin, and those who use it generally find its effects quite moderate. For best results, only consider melatonin after you’ve used the sleep optimisation tips above to increase your natural melatonin production.
The dangers of relying on sleep medication
In addition to the two over-the-counter sleep medicines listed above, a wide variety of prescription medications are used to treat sleep disorders. One of the most widely prescribed is diazepam, more commonly known by its brand name Valium.
Diazepam is a benzodiazepine and has a variety of side effects. Although it induces drowsiness and makes falling asleep easier, it suppresses REM sleep and makes the sleep that users get significantly less energising.
It’s also potentially addictive, and many people prescribed diazepam to make falling asleep easier after surgery find it difficult to fall asleep once they no longer have any access to the drug.
This is a common danger of relying on sleep medication, whether it’s a lighter sleep supplement like melatonin or a prescription drug like diazepam. While these drugs make short-term sleep easier, they can often worsen sleep issues in the long term.
If you struggle to fall asleep quickly or frequently wake up during the night, use the tactics in this guide – from lowering your caffeine consumption to soaking in a warm bath – before you consider using medication or supplements to improve your sleep.