Are you sleeping poorly? Doctors say it's important to look at your lifestyle -- too much caffeine, too little exercise, or too much late-night work or TV. If lifestyle changes aren't enough, medications can help. But supplements may also help provide a peaceful night's sleep.
What's been proven to work? What's safe?
Here's advice on sleep supplements from two experts: Sharon Plank, MD, with the University of Pittsburgh Medical School Center for Integrative Medicine, and Alon Avidan, MD, a sleep researcher at the UCLA School of Medicine.
4 Supplements for Natural Good Sleep
- Chamomile tea
Plank recommends these four supplements, especially valerian and melatonin. They "have good scientific evidence backing them up," Plank tells WebMD.
Start with low doses, and tell your doctor what you are taking. (Some people should not take specific supplements.) Also, don't take any sleep supplement long-term.
"Any sleep aid should not be taken for long periods," Plank says. "You must address lifestyle, too. Make sure something else is not interfering with sleep."
Chamomile Tea for Sleep
People have used chamomile tea for sleep for thousands of years. Studies seem to back up its calming effect. One Japanese study of rats found that chamomile extract helped the rats fall to sleep just as quickly as rats that got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication). Better research of chamomile is needed, experts agree. The FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects.
Plank says: "The trick is to make sure you are brewing it properly. Use two or three tea bags. Then put a lid on the pot to keep oils in the water -- so you get the medicinal effects of the tea."
Use chamomile cautiously if you are allergic to ragweed (the plants are related). Also, don't take chamomile tea if you are pregnant or nursing.
Melatonin for Sleep
Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle (circadian cycles). Studies show that melatonin not only helps some people fall asleep, but also enhances the quality of sleep. "Melatonin comes in two forms -- extended release and immediate release," says Plank. "If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night, you may want to take extended release before you go to bed. If you have trouble falling asleep, try immediate release."
Also, "melatonin supplements can be effective in treating certain sleep disorders, including jet lag," says Avidan. But studies suggest you must time the melatonin you take carefully to help with jet lag. On the day you depart, take melatonin when it is bedtime at your destination. Continue taking it for several days. It works best when traveling eastward -- and when crossing four or more time zones.
A few cautions: Melatonin is considered generally safe for short-term use. However, there have been concerns about risks of bleeding (especially in people taking blood-thinners like warfarin). There also is increased risk of seizure, particularly in children with brain disorders.