Besides time, sleep may be the most precious commodity in our society. And most adults don’t get enough of it—over half of Americans report feeling sleepy throughout the day regularly, according to the Sleep Foundation. While getting good quality sleep is essential for overall health, outside life factors can make that difficult. Your diet, lack of exercise, work circumstances, and personal life can keep you tossing and turning at night. At times like this, sleep aids can be a helpful tool to get to sleep and stay asleep. However, some over the counter sleep aids can have negative side effects, which is when natural supplements can be a good alternative. The health market is incredibly saturated with supplement options, so knowing which ones are actually legitimate can be tricky. We asked Dr. Nicole Avena, Nature Made Wellness Ambassador and a health psychologist, what some of her favorite natural alternatives for sleep aids are.
First of all, what are some common causes of poor sleep? “Many people find that they don't sleep well because their minds are racing or they are worried about things in life, and thinking about them before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep,” Dr. Avena says. Also, “eating a poor diet can have an impact on your sleep. It is best to avoid highly processed foods, as they can have a lot of added sugars that can interfere with sleep. If you are looking for a nighttime snack, opt for one that has protein, like plain yogurt or a handful of nuts.” Supplements are meant to do just what the name suggests—a sleep aid cannot serve as a cure all for poor sleep. It’s important to use them in conjunction with leading a balanced lifestyle. Without that, poor sleep, and its direct health effects, will persist. Dr. Avena shared some supplements she recommends, and components of sleep aids that may signal that it is high quality and effective.
“Melatonin is a hormone that naturally rises before we fall asleep, the immediate release of melatonin helps you naturally fall asleep faster, and the extended release of melatonin helps you stay asleep longer.” If you struggle with falling asleep at night, Dr. Avena recommends Nature Made’s Sleep Longer, as it is a drug free sleep aid that works to calm your mind and get you ready for bed.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that allows the brain and body to calm down for sleep. A deficiency of GABA can be caused by things like anxiety, chronic pain, and epilepsy. It is especially helpful if your problem is waking in the middle of the night and struggling to get back to sleep—if you have this problem, Dr. Avena recommends Nature Made's Back to Sleep. It is a fast-dissolving tablet that combines Melatonin, L-Theanine, and GABA to help you relax and quickly fall back to sleep.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that has been shown to reduce insomnia, anxiety, and stress. “L-theanine helps you unwind by relaxing your mind to prepare you for a good night's sleep,” Dr. Avena says. In fact, one 2018 study found that people who took L-Theanine regularly for 8 weeks reported improved sleep quality. One supplement containing L-Theanine that Dr. Avena recommends are Nature Made’s Sleep & Recover Gummies. They are helpful if you struggle with getting into a relaxed state for bed, especially due to stress.
If you are having trouble falling asleep, supplements can be a great addition to a bedtime routine. However, it is important to have a healthy waking lifestyle as well, as your lifestyle can be a direct thread to how much sleep you’re getting. It is also important to note that some supplements can interact negatively with other medications. Before you try any supplement, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are on any regular medications, consult with your doctor to make sure that it is safe to use.