We often take a good night's rest for granted. That is until we have a bad night and find ourselves having trouble sleeping. Just one night of disrupted sleep can leave you feeling "out of it." You may feel weak, easily confused, have brain fog, a headache, nauseous, racing heart, etc. A few more nights of this, and it just gets worse! The greater our sleep debt, the worse these symptoms become. Sleep disorders like insomnia can result in diabetes, heart conditions, and depression. It's not just a nicety; a good night's rest is essential for our health and wellness. There are many options to try and combat sleep disturbances and disorders. A solid sleep routine and bedtime, a comfortable pillow and bedding, a soothing environment, and sleep supplements can make a world of difference. When looking at sleep supplements, you will see there are natural options and those that are man-made. Although they both aim to help you sleep, there are significant differences between the two. If you are looking at ways to improve your quality of sleep and considering sleep supplements – keep reading!
Importance of sleep
Sleep is crucial for our wellbeing. When we sleep, our body recharges and repairs our mind and body. When we don't get the rest we need, our body can't repair itself, and there are some serious consequences. When you consider just the mental aspect alone, those who are sleep deprived often suffer from cognitive delays, slower reactions, mood instability, depression, and decreased attention span. The physical body also suffers and puts individuals at a higher risk for disease and serious health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep you need depends on your age. Generally, we require less sleep as we get older with the average adult requiring 7-9 hours.
So, if our bodies require sleep and need it this badly, why do we have trouble sleeping? This is the most perplexing thing about sleep and what science and medicine are continuously looking at. There are several possibilities to explain why an individual is having trouble sleeping. It can result from stress, jetlag, illness, sleep disorders, an uncomfortable bed or poor sleep hygiene. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about one-third of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, with about 6-10% suffering from insomnia.
Hopefully, you haven't personally experienced insomnia, but if you have, you know how troubling this condition can be. Insomnia is the inability to sleep, which has a negative impact on your life and can result in severe health conditions. Sleep specialists believe insomnia to not be a single issue but rather a symptom of an underlying issue. In some cases, sleep supplements may be recommended to help these individuals get the rest they need to ease any conditions.
What are sleep supplements and sleep aids?
Life is stressful in 2020. The demands of work and life are hectic. We are constantly under pressure; our cellphones are literally attached to us (hello, apple watch!). We are constantly receiving stimulus and updates - you didn't walk enough steps, call your mother, pay those bills, meet those work deadlines, etc. The list of pressures goes on and on. By the time you get to bed, it may feel like your head is spinning, and it's hard to decompress and sleep. When this happens, many people can become stressed at the thought of not sleeping. You look at the clock and think, "Oh no! I only have 6 hours of sleep left!! I need to fall asleep now!". This just creates more stress, so you stay wired until you look at the clock again and see you now only have 4 hours left until the alarm goes on. It can feel cyclical, and after a few restless nights, you start to dread bedtime. A vicious cycle that leaves you more exhausted and sleep deprived. This is when sleep aids or sleep supplements can help. Sleep supplements can be a great solution to sleep difficulties. When using sleep supplements, you should continue to look at underlying issues that prevent you from sleeping. There are two main types; natural sleep supplements and man-made sleep aids or medications.
Natural vs. Man-Made Sleep Aids
Before taking any supplements, you should first speak with your doctor to determine which is right for you and your situation. That said, let's take a closer look at the benefits and risks of each.
Natural Sleep Aids
First, we will look at natural sleep supplements. These are available over-the-counter (OTC), at your local pharmacy, wellness retailers, natural foods stores, or online. The benefit of a natural sleep supplement is the fact that they are natural and are not as addictive. They are often more accessible, cheaper, and available in different forms like tea, sublingual, or capsule. There is substantial research on natural sleep supplements that have shown significant improvement in the quality of sleep. The FDA doesn't regulate natural sleep supplements or the labeling. A common assumption is that natural means safe. This is not always the case, and there are risks when taking natural supplements, including allergies and negative reactions when combining with other supplements and medications.
Some of the most common natural sleep supplements include:
- Chamomile: commonly ingested in tea form and the active ingredient in sleep teas. Chamomile is said to have a sleep-inducing effect.
- Kava: is said to be able to help with stress-related sleep difficulties. There are risks with kava, and it can cause liver damage.
- Valerian: is used to treat insomnia as well as anxiety. Some research has shown positive results, and it is non-addictive. It is recommended that is it taken daily for over two weeks to see the greatest results.
- Melatonin: this is one of the most popular natural sleep supplements. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone the increases at night. It is commonly used to treat jetlag and used by those who work shifts. If you take too much, it can cause drowsiness, so it is recommended to take a smaller dose.
Tryptophan: have you ever gotten super sleepy after eating turkey? It's because of the tryptophan. This is an amino acid naturally occurring in our brain used in the formation of serotonin. It is said to help people fall asleep faster.
Man-Made Sleep Aids
Now let's look at man-made sleep aids. There are man-made sleep aids that you can get over-the-counter (OTC) and some that require a prescription from your doctor. Prescription sleep supplements are typically stronger than natural sleep supplements, and like any strong drug, they come with a list of side-effects. The most common side-effects include headache, drowsiness, dry mouth, confusion, and rebound insomnia – it makes you wonder what the point in taking them is! When taking man-made sleep aids, you are also at risk for drug tolerance and dependence issues, which means with prolonged use, it will make it even harder for you to fall asleep naturally, which could result in you needing a stronger prescription. When you stop taking them suddenly, you can experience troubling withdrawal symptoms. The most common issue with prescription sleep aids is that once you stop taking them, you can experience rebound insomnia, which means your sleep issues are worse than they were, to begin with. For this reason, it is important to try non-medicinal, natural sleep aid before resulting in man-made sleep aids.
Some of the most popular over-the-counter man-made sleep supplements include:
- Diphenhydramine: This is an active ingredient in drugs like Sleepinal, Sominex, and Nytol.
- Doxylamine: This is the active ingredient in drugs like Nighttime Sleep Aid and Unisom
- Acetaminophen: This is an active ingredient in drugs like Tylenol PM
Antihistamines: This is an active ingredient in drugs like NyQuil.
Prescription sleep aids are considered sedative-hypnotics and slow down the nervous system. Sedative hypnotics are classified as either Benzodiazepine or Non-Benzodiazepine.
- Benzodiazepines: these have a high risk of dependence but are used to treat insomnia in more extreme cases. Commonly known drugs include ProSom, Restoril, and Doral. After a couple weeks of use, you will become immune to the effects, and they will stop working. You can then start to experience negative side effects like confusion, insomnia, and headache.
- Non-benzodiazepine: these are newer and were designed to have the same effect with fewer consequences and negative side-effects. There is a risk of dependency, however less than the benzodiazepines. These are more commonly used and include drugs like Ambien and Lunesta. Although less, they are not free of side effects. Users may experience rebound insomnia, headaches, depression, or sleep-walking, sleep-driving, or sleep-eating.
In some cases, doctors may prescribe anti-depressants to treat insomnia. This is not an FDA approved treatment; however, these drugs are known to induce sleep. Sleep supplements, both natural and prescription, come with their own set of risks. These risks should be weighed out with your doctor, and use should be monitored to ensure they help you get the sleep your body needs. Your doctor will often prescribe these as a last resort. Several alternatives should be attempted first, which includes proper sleep hygiene and routine.
Sleep hygiene involves having an environment and routine that promotes deep, restful sleep.
Research has proven that good sleep hygiene can help you fall asleep and stay asleep. A sleep schedule, routine and comfortable bedroom, bedding, and pillow are the best way to set yourself up for sleep success.
How to set up a sleep routine:
1. Set a bedtime
Yes, bedtimes are not just for small children. Going to bed and waking at the same time every day will improve your quality of sleep. Life get's busy, and it's so easy to say just one more episode, or I want to finish this blog post before I go to bed, etc. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, you're crawling under the covers after midnight. Set a time and stick to it, 7 days a week.
2. Cut out naps
If you aren't sleeping through the night, you are likely very tired the next day and may find yourself trying to squeeze in a quick nap or two. I get it, and you probably do feel you need it to get through the day. The thing is, that nap is preventing you from sleeping at night. If you must nap, try doing it earlier in the day and keeping it short. Gradually try to ween yourself off, if you can.
3. Set a Nightly Routine
A consistent routine will get your body ready for sleep. For a great routine, shut off the electronics (phone included!), dim the lights, and allow yourself to wind down. You need this time to decompress without the pressure of falling asleep. Ideally, you should shut off electronics an hour before bed. The light from cellphones, laptops, and iPads can decrease your melatonin production and make it difficult for you to fall asleep.
4. Cut out alcohol and cigarettes
Nicotine stimulates your body; that's why it's addictive. This stimulation can make you feel wired and not be able to fall asleep. Alcohol may initially make you feel tired, but it is known to cause sleep disruptions.
5. Avoid late-night eats
Eating a meal late at night can cause heartburn and ingestion. Your body will be busy trying to digest that food and result in poor sleep.
6. Keep bed for sleeping
It can be tempting to bring your laptop to bed to finish up a project or answer some emails. This should be avoided. When you only use your bed for sleep, your body will know that it is time to sleep when it's in bed, not think about tasks and projects.
How to optimize your bedroom for sleep:
1. Have a comfortable pillow
The best investment you can make to improve your sleep is a good pillow. You should look for a pillow that fits your body (adjustable), firm, and supportive. A buckwheat pillow or millet pillow can do just that. A millet pillow, for example, is filled with organic millet hulls that will allow you to customize your pillow to fit your head and neck. This will keep your body aligned and prevent you from waking up with neck pain or headaches. It is also designed for all sleeping positions for extra comfort. If you aren't comfortable or are in pain when you lie in bed – it's a problem! Upgrading your pillow and help you sleep better.
2. Keep your bedroom temperature low
Your body's temperature naturally decreases as you sleep. Therefore, many people sleep better in a cooler room. To help you fall asleep, lower the temperature slightly (you don't want it cold; this can have the opposite effect!). The ideal temperature is around 65 degrees. Keeping cool but comfortable is important when considering your bedding as well. A pillow specially designed to stay cool can work wonders. For those, you run a bit hot and even sweat when sleeping, a Cooling Pillow can help keep your temp down. The cooling Buckwheat Pillow is designed with a cool-touch pillowcase. It's cool to touch, extra breathable, and still has the supportive, adjustable features of a quality pillow.
3. Set the mood
Dim lights and create a soothing environment in your bedroom. Having a pile of laundry you need to fold, a to-do list beside your bed, and bright lights isn't going to help you relax and sleep. Room darkening blinds can help keep out bright streetlights, and a dim lamp will help set the mood.
Sleep difficulties can negatively impact your life and have serious mental and physical health consequences. There are many reasons a person may be having trouble sleeping; usually, it is a symptom of another condition. When you are struggling to sleep, it can be hard to think of anything other than your need to get a good night's rest. Several natural options exist that can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep; setting up a sleep routine, having a comfortable pillow like a cooling buckwheat pillow or millet pillow, and natural sleep supplements can work wonders. Natural sleep supplements will be enhanced with a consistent sleep routine and comfortable bedding. In extreme cases, doctors may prescribe man-made sleep drugs, but it is not without side-effects. Sometimes these drugs can cause more issues down the road. If you find yourself tossing and turning each night, try the tips listed above, and you may find yourself finally having a goodnight!
For a more comprehensive guide into sleep aids and supplements, check out our full guide.