Sleep deprivation is never a good thing. Whether caused by health-related problems, stress or insomnia, poor sleep quality is one thing you can’t just put up with, as it affects your daily life, temperament, energy, and even mental state. With approximately 45% of Australians struggling with lack of sleep or sleep deprivation, it’s a serious issue.
Whether you’re having a difficult time getting a handle on work or other areas of your life, the stress and anxiety can lead to sleep problems which in turn will make your days harder. It’s a vicious cycle really.
Sleep supplements are an increasingly popular “solution” to any issues with sleep. Ranging from common options like sleeping pills and melatonin to herbal sleep aids like valerian root.
Some sleep supplements are made with plant-based active ingredients like kava. These are commonly promoted as healthier options as they’re naturally occurring and require less chemicals to make.
Often, these plants are processed and transformed into teas like your common chamomile, with the goal of relaxing you and making you sleep easier. They’re also made into over-the-counter sleeping and relaxation supplements.
On the other hand, some sleep supplements are chemical-based and are able to control certain sleep-related hormones. These are designed to help you fall asleep easily and feel well-rested for the next day.
Some sleep aids can offer short-term solutions to sleep disorders like insomnia. However, this is through the use of certain chemicals that may be problematic for your liver, as well as your overall sleep health.
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of sleep supplements and if they’re any good.
Benefits of sleep aids
Induces sleepiness fast
One of the main reasons why people seek out sleep aids is that they have trouble sleeping. Sleepless nights, awake for hours, even insomnia are all reasons people go searching for a solution
Chronic insomnia and other sleep problems affect our health in a myriad of ways. From depleted stamina, headaches, higher blood pressure, and mental fatigue, lack of proper sleep can affect aspects of your life.
Sleep supplements are designed to make the whole process of sleeping a lot easier. Some do this by increasing melatonin production, the hormone commonly associated with sleepiness. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in the body, and is a short term solution to a changed sleep schedule due to jet lag, shift work and the like.
Some dietary supplements use magnesium to induce sleepiness. Naturally found in some foods, magnesium can help in relaxing the body which might lead to an easier time sleeping. It’s also great for post-workout muscle recovery.
Some sleep supplements are taken to keep you sleeping, as opposed to getting you to sleep. Herbal supplements like those made from valerian root or kava are thought to make the drinker increasingly relaxed and therefore sleep throughout the night.
Helpful in other areas
Some supplements that are known for their sleep benefits aren’t just used for sleep. Passionflower or chamomile tea are favourites for tea drinkers who simply enjoy the taste and relaxation benefits, the sleep being an added bonus.
Tea is incredibly good for us and can help in removing antioxidants and other toxins from your system, while allowing for easier digestion and also strengthening your immune system. Other supplements like glycine, an amino acid, are given to people who suffer from schizophrenia, strokes, and some metabolic disorders. Aside from helping you sleep faster, glycine can also act as a bodyguard for your kidney against other stronger medication.
Doxylamine is an over-the-counter sedative with antihistamine properties that can counter nighttime allergies and colds. Being a sedative, it’ll have you asleep in minutes. Products with doxylamine are only available from a pharmacist.
Aside from promoting better sleep, sleep supplements can help in other areas. It’s all a matter of moderation and knowing what’s good for you based on research and advice from a doctor.
Cons of sleeping supplements
Long-term use may lead to dependence
While sleep supplements might do the job and get you sleeping in minutes, sustained use can lead to serious repercussions. One of those problems is over-reliance on these supplements.
One argument why sleep supplements should only be for short-term use is that prolonged reliance might lead an out of sync circadian rhythm, messing up your sleep-wake cycle.
Simply put, our bodies have an internal clock that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up, known as the circadian rhythm. Once this internal clock is disturbed, your body has a difficult time determining when bedtime is.
It ends up feeling like jet lag but on a daily basis. That’s why experts suggest that supplement use should be for extreme situations and with a doctor’s advice.
Prolonged use of these supplements can lead to mild to strong addiction with the user’s sleep habits completely relying on them. Aside from taking over other aspects of your sleep hygiene, these supplements make you feel that you can’t sleep without taking one.
Overtime, the user becomes dependent on these supplements in order to sleep, leading to more complications down the line. Sometimes, the effects of these supplements are saturated through overuse, leaving them with merely placebo effects.
Risk of unintended side effects
As with most medicines and the like, sleep supplements aren’t harmful in short periods and in moderation. However, when abused, these supplements can cost you more than a good night’s sleep.
By taking a sleep supplement, you run the risk of messing up your sleep cycle. As mentioned, over dependence to supplements can lead to irregular sleeping time. This can affect your mood and energy levels during the day.
Extensive use of sleep supplements can worsen existing problems like daytime sleepiness and fatigue. Since the body is essentially forced to sleep, the rest and relaxation associated with this activity is absent.
One other unintended effect of sleep supplements is that it tends to change your appetite, cause diarrhoea, or constipation. The erratic nature of your sleep time, added with the chemical nature of these supplements lead to stomach related problems.
Studies also showed that overuse of sleep supplements increase cancer risk compared to non-users.
So what’s the bottom line?
The cost of quality sleep is priceless. Especially when you’re suffering from problems like insomnia. However, are sleeping supplements worth trying?
As long as supplements are taken safely, go ahead and try them. Just remember that they are a quick fix and aren’t doing anything to address the actual reasons you’re struggling with your sleep. Becoming dependent on them can cause further sleep issues, so use only when necessary.
If you’re unsure about sleep supplements but are looking for a way to improve your sleep, try out a weighted blanket. Made for those with stress, anxiety or even people who struggle with sleep, a weighted blanket is the perfect blend of comfort and function to calm you down and that’ll have you sleeping like a baby.
Other more natural remedies for sleep include meditation and lavender essential oils.
Like with other medicines, supplements are taken for a reason. When abused, they also have their side effects and attached risks. To prevent complications you should follow your doctor’s orders and always read the label.