If you have been battling insomnia for a while, it can feel like an endless, awful cycle of bad moods and low energy. You know that you need to explore solutions to your problem, but it’s hard to take any steps or even think straight because you are so tired!
Most sleep specialists emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes to address insomnia issues. Diet and exercise changes, creating a better sleep environment, and adopting good habits like a regular bedtime routine can resolve many sleep problems.
People often do not want to try to use sleep aids, even mild, over-the-counter varieties, because they fear side effects or becoming too dependent on them. This is a valid concern and it is a good idea to avoid medication for a problem that can be resolved without it.
For many people, though, the emotions around not getting enough rest become their own obstacle. It’s hard to focus on calming and de-stressing techniques when your mind is full of anxiety and frustration over your sleep difficulties. You may be frustrated or even angry because you have not been able to sleep. And fatigue throws a pall of apathy and depression over everything, making even small efforts seem enormous.
Thus, in order to work on the underlying issues, sometimes you just need to break through the cycle and get some real rest. This is when it can be a good idea to turn to a sleep aid.
Herbs And Supplements To Help You Sleep
When trying out herbs and other supplements, do so carefully. Read up on side effects and possible risks of mixing them with other supplements, over-the-counter medications, or prescription drugs that you may already be taking. Don’t try more than one at a time. Use the recommended dosage and pay close attention to the effects. If you keep a sleep diary, note the dates, times, and doses that you take, and how well they work for you. Here are three of the most common supplements used as sleep aids:
Cannabidiol or CBD is a compound in hemp and marijuana that is increasing in popularity as a sleep aid as it becomes more widely available. A Consumer Reports survey recently showed that about 10 percent of Americans have tried CBD, and most reported some effectiveness. It is available in many formats, from essential oils to edible gummies and even as a lotion or patch applied to the skin.
A few caveats: Although CBD is not the ingredient in marijuana that gets you “high,” its legality varies widely from state to state. In some states it is fully legal; in others you need to have a prescription or can only obtain it in certain forms. CBD product manufacture is not closely monitored or regulated, so quality can also vary widely, and there is a lot of hype and mythology about health benefits and the most effective ways to take CBD. Do a lot of research, try different methods of ingestion, and remember that the effect may not come on quickly, so you should not take more or increase dosage if you don’t feel anything at first.
Melatonin has a reputation as a natural and effective sleep aid with few side effects. This makes sense, since melatonin is a hormone that you already produce to regulate sleep. Melatonin taken as a supplement is simply adding a small “boost” to what is already in your body.
Melatonin appears to be especially useful in situations where the natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythm is disrupted, such as in cases of jet lag or when shift work requires daytime sleeping. Side effects can include headaches and next-day drowsiness.
#3: Valerian Root
Valerian root is an herb that grows in Europe and Asia, and has been used as a traditional herbal sleep remedy for centuries. Even today, it is the most commonly used sleep aid in European countries. It can be taken at bedtime in pill form or as a tea. Valerian should be used carefully, as it can interact with other supplements and medications as well as alcohol.
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Some people are more comfortable turning to non-prescription drugs as sleep aids. Their manufacture and claims of effectiveness are more rigorously monitored and tested by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it can feel safer and more reliable to use these medications.
Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sleep medications, including Aleve PM, ZZZQuil, and most generic sleep aids. It is an antihistamine, meaning that it blocks the body’s production of histamines, chemicals that cause reactions like sneezing, runny nose, and congestion in response to allergens like pollen. This is why diphenhydramine is used in common allergy medications like Benadryl, and why Benadryl and other allergy medications tend to make you sleepy.
Diphenhydramine works well for many people, but there are side effects to watch out for. It can interact with other medications and supplements. It can also leave you drowsy well into the next day. Some people have a bad reaction to diphenhydramine or antihistamines in general, and it can make them wakeful and jumpy rather than sleepy. If you use something like Benadryl as an occasional sleep aid, make sure it’s the variety that has a 4-hour effectiveness, not 8- or 12-hour (usually labeled “all day” on the package) to reduce the chance of being drowsy the next day.
There are also serious concerns about long-term or overuse of diphenhydramine-based medications. Resistance builds up over time, which means that if you use it too often, you may require higher doses to get any effect or it can lose all effectiveness. Some research suggests that long-term use of diphenhydramine can be a factor in development of dementia in later years, so it’s important to keep this potential cumulative effect in mind and use it as sparingly as possible for both allergies and sleep issues.
#2: Doxylamine Succinate
Doxylamine succinate is the main ingredient in the sleep medication Unisom. It is also an antihistamine and has all the potential side effects of other antihistamines, but some people find it more effective than diphenhydramine-based medications. It is stronger and takes effect more rapidly, but can also lead to sleepiness the next day, headache, and other side effects.
Though all of these supplements and medications are considered safe for general use, there is less understanding of possible effects when used during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or if you have other health conditions like liver disease, thyroid problems, or autoimmune disorders. If you have any of these issues, you should consult with your doctor before trying any of these substances.
Whatever sleep aid you may choose to use, remember that none of them are intended for long-term use and it’s important to be careful not to become physically or psychologically dependent on them. The best way to approach them is to use them to break the cycle of sleeplessness and allow yourself to get a night or several nights of good rest, then use your renewed energy to explore longer-term solutions to your sleep problems.