How many supplements do you think exist for sleep?
My guess is thousands, in various combinations. Every single supplement company I know makes a sleep supplement. The most common ingredients I see, either on their own or as part of a combination supplement, are:
- Valerian root
- Lemon balm
And many more! But those are the most common.
Which supplements work for sleep?
It actually depends on what the root causes are for your sleep challenges. And that can be a very hard thing to figure out without some help. There is no one right answer, because some people will find lavender incredibly helpful, but other people will find magnesium very helpful.
Here are a few I’ll highlight:
Melatonin – clinically I find melatonin separates people into 3 groups. 1/3 of people don’t notice anything, 1/3 of people find it very helpful, and 1/3 of people find that it makes them too groggy.
Magnesium – can be very helpful, but the right form of it is key! The two I usually recommend are magnesium bisglycinate or magnesium threonate. They tend to be more helpful for sleep compared to something like magnesium citrate (which can be helpful for other things).
5-HTP – this is a precursor to serotonin and should never be used by anyone who is on any type of anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication.
Herbs – I love plants. I just think they’re so incredible. Herbs are incredibly medicinal and powerful, but they do tend to be less concentrated. Western medicine tends to isolate the active ingredient, which becomes either a supplement or a medication. But using the herbs in their original form, like in a tea or a tincture, can still have health benefits, but they might be a bit more subtle.
I love using herbs for sleep, but you’ll need to experiment to find the ones you like. Not only can herbs be helpful for relaxation, the habit or ritual around having a cup of tea before bed can be very relaxing.
I don’t recommend jumping into any supplements without having a conversation with your naturopathic doctor or medical doctor.
When should I use them?
I don’t love jumping right to supplements, I have to be honest.
Let me share a story with you.
I had a patient when I was brand new to practicing naturopathic medicine. This woman was a very busy mom of two young kids, who had just gone back to work full-time after a maternity leave. She was, understandably, exceptionally busy, and she came to see me to help keep her energy up.
She wanted me to recommend a sleep supplement for her because she was having trouble sleeping, and so I did, but I made sure to have a conversation with her around all of the other pieces of sleep – her food intake, lifestyle, habits, exercise, stress, etc.
But she wasn’t really interested in doing work on any of these.
Which I totally understood.
As a busy mom, who has the time?
But the problem was that she was relying on a supplement to sleep, and every time she’d run out of it, she wouldn’t sleep again. So she’d go back to the grab a refill of her supplement, and start the cycle again.
She never really did get on top of her sleep, at least while I was seeing her.
And she has stuck with me for the past 10 years.
Unless you address the foundational stuff, which is always my go-to, you’re not really going to get a sustainable result.
Getting your habits, your lifestyle, your food intake in order. Those are going to be the most beneficial for you to actually see long-term improvements to your sleep.
There are two situations in which I would try supplements.
- If you need support to get your foundational stuff started. Sometimes it can be so hard just to get things moving. So if supplements or medication will help you get to that point, then they do get a two thumbs up from me. But I just want you to go into that situation with the idea that the supplement use will be temporary. The goal is to use them to get your feet underneath you, and then hopefully wean off of them to see what your body is capable of.
- If all the foundational stuff doesn’t get you where you want. It’s completely possible that you’ll need some support even if you do have all of your lifestyle stuff in order. If you feel like your movement and food and stress levels, etc. are all well controlled, but you’re still not sleeping, then you can absolutely experiment with some of these supplements to see if you can find something that works for you.
While I always suggest building that strong foundation for health and energy, supplements can have a place and a time for when they’re useful. But I would always recommend talking to someone before jumping into anything to make sure it’s actually going to be a supplement that will address your specific root cause for sleep difficulties, and that it isn’t going to interact with anything you’re currently using.
If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to sleep, here is a link to my Sleep Better Guide that will help you out