Ever find yourself lying in bed, tossing and turning at night, asking yourself, “Why can't I go to sleep?”
You're not alone.
A good night's sleep is a cornerstone to maintaining your health. Many people have difficulty sleeping enough, usually needing between seven and nine hours of rest each night. Numerous factors could play a part in a poor night's rest, including :
- Sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
- Mental health
- Poor sleep habits
Researchers believe that sleep, a key player in regulating our internal clock (circadian rhythm), plays a substantial role in many of our critical functions. Feeling well rested is just the tip of the iceberg, with researchers believing that sleep plays a substantial role in many of our critical functions, including:
- Memory consolidation
- Brain detoxification
- Hormone regulation
- Tissue repair
- Emotional behavior control
Conversely, inadequate sleep is considered a potential factor in numerous adverse health issues, including :
- Depleted immune system
- Increased chances of accidents
Numerous sleep remedies claim to help people stuck in this potentially unhealthy predicament. Various aids, including medicines, applications, treatments, and changes in habits, may all play a part in improving a person's sleep quality and duration.
How Do Sleep Aids Work?
For about as long as people have struggled to sleep, there have been some form of sleep aids to utilize to vary success. In most applications, sleep aids produce a soothing, sedative effect on the consumer. This result is intended to help a person fall asleep more quickly and/or stay asleep longer, improving their sleep quality and duration for the evening.
Sleep aids vary in action and results based on their chemical makeup. Several types are available and are detailed in the sections below.
Most consumers using a sleep aid hope to experience one or more of the following benefits:
- Increased Drowsiness: No matter the option, each sleep aid is made to help a person fall asleep easier.
- Daytime Drowsiness Relief: Improved sleep quality and duration help alleviate any potential sleep deprivation symptoms, notably daytime drowsiness.
- Improved Sleep Duration: Duration plays a critical part in sleep quality, with many remedies touting their sleep duration-improving capabilities.
- Reset/Improved Sleep Schedule: Improved sleep quality often correlates with a reset or improved internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm.
Most sleep aids, particularly medications, and some supplements are not intended for long-term use. Some remedies and methods are suitable for prolonged treatment. Other cautions and potential adverse setbacks of specific sleep aids, techniques and routines include:
- Lingering Next-Day Effects: Some remedies, including melatonin, have been linked to lingering effects, ranging from confusion and loss of coordination to a headache some have likened to an alcohol-induced hangover.
- Abnormal Behavior: Numerous claims have stated that individuals under certain sleep aids have performed complex tasks without being fully awake, including sleepwalking, driving under the influence, and even murder, sometimes referred to as an Ambien defense .
- Allergic Reactions: Some ingredients or medications may trigger an allergic reaction in a person, ranging in side effects from minor discomfort to a loss of life.
- Drug Interactions: Certain drugs and supplements may react to sleep medications and supplements, causing similar wide-ranging outcomes as an allergic reaction.
- Dependency Risks: Some remedies, particularly prescription and OTC medications, may cause addiction or dependence.
Sleep aids often present a positive relief for consumers. However, with grave concerns attached to many remedies, consumers should speak with a trusted medical professional before implementing any sleep aid into their nightly routine .
Natural Sleep Aids
Natural sleep aids have been used for an untold amount of time. Their reputation for improving sleep quality has persisted even as the rise of medications and supplements gained steam in many parts of the world over the past few decades.
People searching for a natural sleep remedy have numerous choices to consider. Aids range from hormones and herbs to minerals and plant extracts, each promoting some effect on the body and our sleep process .
Some of the most popular natural sleep aids found in nature and at your local store include:
- Melatonin: A sleep cycle-regulating hormone often used in cases of jet lag and circadian rhythm disorders. Be aware of potential adverse outcomes, including dizziness and daytime drowsiness.
- Lavender: Consumed as an herb or an essential oil, lavender has long been linked to calming and sleep-inducing effects.
- Valerian: An herb long associated with improved sleep quality, potentially increasing the onset time a person falls asleep.
- Chamomile: Available in tea, capsules, and tinctures, chamomile has long been associated with mental soothing properties, promoting improved sleep quality.
- Passionflower: Considered potentially beneficial to anxiety sufferers, passion flower is historically seen as a sedative.
- Hops: Known for its presence in beer, hops have been mixed with herbs such as valerian root in a non-alcoholic blend to improve sleep.
- Cannabidiol (CBD): A non-psychoactive cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant with reported links to improve sleep as well as other beneficial mental and physical effects.
- Tart Cherry Juice: An excellent option for those seeking the effects of melatonin in a naturally flavored drink.
- Magnesium: A supplement for one of the body's essential minerals critical in sleep regulation.
- GABA: A supplement to the neurotransmitter associated with stress relief and improved sleep quality; however, its efficacy continues to be debated.
- Glycine: A supplement to the body's amino acid linked to lowering body temperatures and producing a faster sleep onset.
Prescription Sleep Aids
Prescription sleep aids, a form of sleep medicine, are medications recommended by a healthcare provider. These items can be typically picked up at your local pharmacy but cannot be bought over the counter. Medications vary in their mechanisms as well as their intent.
Some of the most popular options used to retreat various sleep disorders and other conditions include :
- Anti-Parkinsonian Drugs (Dopamine Agonists): Various drugs have been used to treat conditions like restless leg syndrome, including gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant), pramipexole (Mirapex), ropinirole (Requip), and rotigotine (Neupro).
- Benzodiazepines: Drugs like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) have been used to address parasomnia conditions and short-term insomnia. However, addiction and dependence risks are heightened with this option.
- Non-benzodiazepine Hypnotics: Medications including (Lunesta), zaleplon (Sonata), and zolpidem (Ambien) are used to address short-term insomnia symptoms. A lower risk of dependence compared to benzodiazepines is often reported.
- Melatonin Receptor Stimulators: Ramelteon (Rozerem) mimics melatonin, helping address insomnia.
- Anticonvulsants: Gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica) have been utilized to treat various sleep disorders linked to restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement disorder, and bipolar disorder-induced insomnia.
- Antinarcoleptics: Drugs like modafinil (Provigil) and pitolisant (Wakix) can promote daytime alertness by treating narcolepsy, circadian shifts brought on by shift work sleep disorder, and sleep apnea.
- Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety Medications: Certain antidepressants, such as mirtazapine (Remeron) and trazodone (Desyrel), contain sedative effects aimed at improving sleep as well as relieving mental health symptoms.
- Orexin Receptor Antagonists: Medications like suvorexant (Belsomra) and lemborexant (Dayvigo) are used to block orexin action. This chemical encourages a person to stay awake.
- Doxepin (Silenor): Silenor blocks the body's histamine receptors, leading to possibly improved sleep.
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Aids
For those who can't fall asleep or stay asleep, over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids offer short-term relief without a prescription. Much like prescription drugs, OTC options vary in ingredients and efficacy, with medications and supplements aimed at various outcomes that improve sleep quality and duration.
Popular OTC options include :
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl): A popular antihistamine associated with improved sleep on set. However, these options also come with an increased risk of daytime drowsiness and other non-sleep-related adverse side effects.
- Doxylamine (Unisom): A diphenhydramine alternative with similar sedative antihistamine effects and adverse results, including daytime drowsiness.
Some OTC medications also use natural ingredients such as valerian root and melatonin to produce their effects.
Exercise and Physical Activity
Exercise can play a critical role in improving our sleep quality and duration. Physical activity helps regulate the body's internal clock, primarily when used consistently. These habits can lead to improved sleep patterns.
Those using exercise more sporadically may also improve their sleep. Physical exertion through exercise and other similar activities increases the body's temperature. Once the activity has stopped, the body will see its core temperature reduce, potentially signaling to the body that it is time for sleep. Exercise also releases endorphins known to reduce stress and relieve anxiety, two factors critical to falling and staying asleep.
Just about any physical activity could trigger improved sleep effects. Some of the most commonly utilized workouts and exercise routines include :
- Aerobic Exercise
- Cardio Workouts
- Resistance Exercises
- Weight Training
- Breathing Exercises
Adjust Your Routine
Before turning to any medications or substantial life changes, many suffering from sleep disorders or a tough night of sleep may benefit from one or more modifications to their daily routine. Adjusting one or more of these behaviors and environmental factors may have a positive effect on your sleep quality :
- Use a white noise or other sleep noise machine
- Use red light
- Lower the room temperature
- Set a sleep schedule
- Get your daily dose of sunlight
- Changes the lights according to sun levels
- Avoid looking at your clock
- Avoid daytime naps
- Avoid late-night snacking
- Avoid late-night drinking (especially alcohol and caffeine)
- Listen to relaxing music
- Change into comfortable clothes
- Avoid or minimize all electronics (especially blue light-emitting devices)
- Journaling before bed
- Adjust your sleep position
- Read a relaxing story
Start Improving Your Sleep
Finding the ideal sleep aid(s) is a personal journey that factors in each person's unique needs and health conditions. Numerous sleep remedies and techniques exist, from prescription to natural to environmental and much more. With so many options to consider, consumers must be aware of the possible drug interactions, side effects, and the appropriate options for their age and medical conditions.
Rather than relying on themselves, consumers should turn to a trusted medical professional who can discuss the options and how they may impact their unique circumstances. Remember that there is no panacea when it comes to sleep aids. Some trial and error may occur along the way. But by prioritizing safety and education, you and your trusted medical support can identify the best possible options to improve your sleep quality and duration.