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Our stressful modern lifestyle, compounded by the use of technological devices that emit blue lights, has made insomnia a fairly common problem in our society. There are many approaches that can be used to manage insomnia, and today we shall look at the role of dietary supplements in treating insomnia.
But before we start, what makes a person more likely to experience insomnia? Well, there is a myriad of reasons, which can be categorized as follows:
Individual factors such as old age, genetics, female gender (especially peri- and postmenopausal), predisposition toward being more easily aroused from sleep and sleep reactivity (i.e. easier to have sleep disruption in response to stressful events)
Use of medications and substances such as drinking too much caffeine and as a result of side effects of certain medications (e.g. steroid medications)
If you experience insomnia as a result of any of these reasons, treating these underlying problems should treat or relieve your insomnia.
Dietary supplements for insomnia, or commonly known as sleep aids, may be useful for some individuals struggling with insomnia. However, the effectiveness of dietary supplements in treating medical conditions has always been controversial—so, are they effective in relieving insomnia?
Here we discuss a few most commonly used sleep aids:
Fun fact: our body actually secretes its own melatonin! Melatonin is synthesized in the pineal gland in our brain, from the essential amino acid tryptophan. The pineal gland would release melatonin into our bloodstream as we approach night time, which promotes sleep; its levels quickly drop again as we approach day time.
For people who struggle with insomnia, there’s also synthetic melatonin (called exogenous melatonin) sold as sleep aids. Meta-analysis has found that melatonin can significantly reduce sleep latency (the time taken for you to fall asleep), increase sleep efficiency and total sleep duration.
Melatonin is sold as an over-the-counter sleep aid in Western countries, but it’s not widely available in Malaysia. You may instead buy tart cherry extract supplements, which contain naturally occurring melatonin, although the actual amount of melatonin may vary from product to product. The appropriate dose of melatonin and treatment duration also vary based on the country’s regulation.
You should not buy melatonin supplements from unverified and unregistered sources, online or offline. This is because unregistered preparations may contain very high doses of melatonin and/or additives that can have their own pharmacologic actions and potential side effects.
Image credit: DMTrott, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The sleep-promoting effect of valerian root has been recognized for 2000 years, having been used by Hippocrates and Dioscorides in ancient Greece. (6) Today, it’s also common to see valerian-root based supplements sold as sleep aids. Numerous clinical studies confirm the effectiveness of valerian root in promoting sleep. (1,2), though conflicting evidence is also present (3,4), stating that valerian doesn’t necessarily work for insomnia. Nevertheless, valerian root is a generally safe herbal medicine (except with a risk of liver injury) and it may improve sleep quality in some individuals.
Lavender is one of the most well-loved scents: it brings calm and pleasantness into the environment. While lavender is most commonly sold as essential oils, you may also find lavender being sold as a dietary supplement for promoting sleep. In human trials, inhalation of lavender has been shown to induce relaxation and sedation. (5) However, lavender, essential oils or supplements, have been shown to have no clinical benefits when it comes to treating insomnia in hospital settings. There’s another problem with lavender-based products: the lavender used is commonly adulterated (i.e. made worse in quality by adding other substances) (6).
Image credit: formulatehealth, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Ashwagandha, also known as the Indian ginseng, is an Ayurvedic medicine for promoting sleep. A double-blind, dandomized, placebo-controlled study reported useful benefits of ashwagandha in patients with insomnia and anxiety, but further large-scale studies are needed to substantiate this claim. (6)
Many other dietary supplements, such as kava and chamomile, are marketed for insomnia; however, there is insufficient evidence to support their efficacy. You’re encouraged to seek medical professional advice before purchasing any sleep aids.
If sleep aids don’t help with your insomnia, you’re encouraged to see a doctor to find out the causes behind your insomnia. Since insomnia can significantly impact the quality of our lives, consulting a doctor and getting appropriate pharmacotherapy treatment may be helpful. A doctor can prescribe medications such as benzodiazepines, anxiolytics or antidepressants to help you sleep better.
If you have any questions related to insomnia, you can consult our professional doctors and healthcare professionals on DOC2US. DOC2US is a mobile application that allows you to talk to a doctor or any healthcare professionals via text chat at any time and from anywhere. For better communication, you can even send our online doctor images or voice messages related to your medical inquiry.
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Note: DOC2US is not for medical emergencies. In the event of urgent medical conditions, please call 999.
Disclaimer: As a service to our users and general public, DOC2US provides health education contents. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
5. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Blumenthal M, Tyler V. Rational phytotherapy. 2004. P.97
6. Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs & Natural Supplements. Marrickville, AU: Elsevier Australia; 2015. P.613-623
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