The time you spend awake at 2 a.m. might feel lonely and unproductive, but it’s actually much more serious than that. Insomnia is one of the most common American health issues—and it’s driving tremendous growth for the world of sleep aids. Natural sleeping supplements are often frowned upon as ineffective.
The industry surrounding sleep aids is flourishing, raking in a profit of $41 billion in 2015. That’s expected to swell to $52 billion by 2020. But where does this sleeplessness come from? It’s an age-old condition aggravated by the American lifestyle of working late and spending leisure hours with blue light-emitting electronic devices—plus other chemical considerations. The issue of sleeplessness is projected to affect 27% of Americans nightly and 68% weekly.
With a work week historically longer than any preceding it, Americans need to take deliberate, aggressive measures to achieve the levels of sleep necessary for their health and happiness. And sleeping pills are not the answer.
The risks of sleeping pills
Insomnia is a lot more serious than frustration at not being able to sleep. Of course, there’s the banal bliss that follows a night of deep, uninterrupted sleep. Missing out on that can be a disappointment, but the issues of sleep deprivation are far more hazardous. Most people require seven hours of sleep to properly function, but many subsist on far less. Insufficient sleep can lead to an increase in risk for obesity, diabetes, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease and accelerated signs of aging.
To overcome sleeplessness, more Americans than ever are turning to sleeping pills. These are more like Band-Aids than real solutions. Sleeping pills could fix your sleep issues in the short-term, but side effects abound. Minor side effects of sleeping pills include issues with memory, attention, heartburn and headaches. More complex, serious side effects include parasomnia or sleepwalking, addiction and dangerous interactions with other drugs. A class of sleeping pills classified as barbiturates can even prove fatal.
The best natural sleeping supplements for better sleep
With stories about sleeping pill interactions and addictions hitting the headlines every day, more Americans are turning to supplements to cure their sleep woes. Supplements are generally a safer, gentler and less costly alternative when compared to prescription medications.
If you’re searching for a safer way to get more sleep, start with these supplements.
Melatonin: This is by far the most common sleep supplement, and its popularity is only on the rise. Melatonin use in the U.S. actually doubled from 2007 to 2012, and now rests at 3%, or 3.1 million Americans. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body that regulates sleep. Young children produce the highest levels of melatonin; as time goes on, many factors in adult life lower the amount of melatonin in our bodies. Jet lag, caffeine, alcohol, poor vision, shift work, tobacco and blue light from electronic devices can all impede melatonin levels. To get your sleep back on track, melatonin can be ingested in certain whole foods, including tart cherries, oats, bananas, pineapples and walnuts. However, if you’re experiencing a prolonged lack of sleep, that may not be enough. Topical and oral forms of melatonin all provide dosed intakes of the supplement, with the maximum recommended dosage topping out at 5 milligrams.
Valerian: Valerian is natural sedative. This herb affects the brain and nervous system to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep by up to 20 minutes. While valerian may not reduce sleeplessness with the speed and intensity of sleeping pills, it’s commonly used for aid during sleeping pill withdrawal. The herb is particularly effective when used in conjunction with hops and lemon balm.
L-theanine: Large amounts of this calming chemical are found in green tea and are safe to absorb, typically through tablets and lozenges. L-theanine quickly penetrates the blood-brain barrier to lower amino acids that control serotonin, a hormone viewed as the precursor to melatonin.
5-HTTP: This hormone is considered the precursor to serotonin and is thought to help with depression as well as insomnia.
Magnesium: Magnesium’s calming effect is attributed to its decrease of cortisol and influence relaxing muscles. Magnesium can be ingested as a powder, tablet or in conjunction with other soothing herbs. It’s one of the world’s most common minerals, so if your sleep issues are only minor, you could also try getting magnesium through diet alone.
You might also be wondering about kava, a bitter drink from the Western Pacific Islands that has been likened to alcohol. The kavalactones present in the drink affect the brain to lower anxiety, but serious liver damage has resulted from the even short-term use of normal doses. Jaundice and fatigue are potential side effects, and the drink may worsen depression and Parkinson’s.
The potential risks of ingesting this drink orally resulted in a ban on kava in Europe and Canada, although the drink is legal in the U.S. We’d recommend staying away from this drink—and sleeping pills, for that matter—and opting for the supplements above instead.