The importance of a good night's sleep can't be stressed enough. Getting enough sleep every night is imperative to your ability to learn, memorize, create, and make decisions. Beyond that, sleep also plays a role in how effectively you can perform in the gym, as well as how successful you are with trying to lose weight.
Moreover, getting enough sleep has also been associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, stroke, and heart disease.
Yet, millions of people each day struggle to get enough quality sleep for a variety of reasons.
In addition to improving sleep hygiene, many individuals also turn to sleep aids.
Today, we’re discussing all things related to sleep aid supplements -- do they work, should you use them, are they safe, and more.
Let’s get started by discussing some common ingredients found in sleep aid supplements
Common Sleep Aid Supplements
Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced by your body that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Levels of the hormone rise in the evening (telling the body it’s time to sleep) and drop in the morning.
Research has found that melatonin supplementation may be beneficial for those people dealing with circadian rhythm disruption (i.e., jet lag or shift workers), and it may also reduce sleep latency (how long it takes you to fall asleep) as well increase the total amount of sleep time in individuals with sleep disorders. <1,2>
Based on the current body of literature, melatonin supplementation appears to be safe with no serious side effects.
Theanine is an amino acid in tea leaves noted for its ability to promote feelings of relaxation without inducing sedation. <3>
Research has shown that consuming 200 mg of L-theanine (the same dose included in Steel Dreams®) before bed may support improved sleep quality not by inducing sedation (like prescription sleep aids) but through a reduction in feelings of stress and anxiety. <4,5>
Doses up to 400mg theanine have also been studied and found to help improve sleep and relaxation.
Finally, theanine is safe and non-habit forming. Research has found that the observable adverse effect level (NOAEL) for the oral administration of L-theanine was determined to be above 2000 mg/kg bw/day.
For a 180lb male (~81kg), that would be 163 grams of l-theanine per day!
Valerian is an herb native to Europe and Asia that has been traditionally used as a natural remedy for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even menopause.
It’s also one of the most frequently used sleep aid supplements in the US and Europe.
While research isn’t conclusive as to the way valerian may encourage better sleep, some researchers believe it may be due to the plant’s ability to increase GABA -- the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the body.
Specifically, studies show that valerian extract may increase GABA levels in the brain and possibly block GABA from being reabsorbed into nerve cells. <6>
Similar to other sleep aids included on this list, clinical studies have found few, if any, side effects from valerian root supplementation up to 600mg per day. One study found that when subjects received 900mg, there were reports of increased sleepiness. <7>
Chamomile is one of the oldest natural remedies known to man. It has been used for centuries to treat such ailments as <8>:
- GI Disorders
- Muscle Spasms
- Hay Fever
These days, many people still turn to a cup of warm chamomile tea before bed to help take the edge off and get to sleep easier.
The reason for this is that chamomile may possess specific sedative effects due to the presence of apigenin, a flavonoid in the plant that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain. <8> Benzodiazepine receptors are part of the GABA receptor complex, and activation of these receptors helps reduce feelings of anxiety.
Other naturally occurring compounds chamomile extracts can also bind GABA receptors in the brain, further encouraging relaxation and possible sedation, but more research is needed to identify these specific compounds. <8>
5-HTP stands for 5-hydroxytryptophan. It is an amino acid naturally produced in the body that serves as the direct precursor to serotonin -- a neurotransmitter heavily involved feelings of well-being and happiness
5-HTP also supports the sleep cycle as serotonin can be converted melatonin, which we discussed above. By this logic, supplementing with 5-HTP may encourage better sleep by supporting melatonin production in the body.
Research has found that a combination of 5-HTP and GABA was able to decrease sleep latency, increase sleep duration, and improve sleep quality. <9>
5-HTP may also benefit weight loss, too, as some research indicates that supplementing with the amino acid may increase feelings of fullness, helping individuals to eat less and lose weight. <10>
Venetron is a patented extract of rafuma (Apocynum venetum L.), a wild perennial plant found across Central Asia and Europe.
Rafuma has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as "a mind stabilizer and calms the liver. It is used for insomnia, high blood pressure, and nervous breakdown treatments."
Clinical studies on Venetron® have noted it may improve sleep initiation, increase deep sleep, and relieve psychological stress. <11,12,13>
Do Sleep Aids Work?
Research has shown that the best way to promote better sleep is by making changes to your lifestyle -- getting exercise, limiting stress, avoiding blue light 2 hours before bed, stopping caffeine intake by 3 PM, etc.
Once you have these pillars of sleep hygiene in place, then it makes sense to look for a sleep aid.
Studies have shown that sleep aid supplements can reduce how long it takes you to fall asleep as well as increase how long you sleep at night. Additionally, many sleep aids include ingredients (such as KSM-66® or L-Theanine) to help alleviate stress and anxiety. As you’re likely aware, stress can seriously impair your ability to get a quality night’s sleep or even fall asleep in the first place.
Sleep aids can work, but they are not a panacea, nor should they be used as a bandage for poor sleep hygiene.
Furthermore, not all sleep aids are created equal. Some sleep aid supplements include ingredients that cause tolerance, habituation, and withdrawal. Others can leave you feeling groggy and sluggish.
Steel Dreams® is our sleep aid of choice. It’s formulated using only natural ingredients to help reduce stress, calm a hyperactive nervous system, and improve sleep quality and duration.
- Ferracioli-Oda E, Qawasmi A, Bloch MH. Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e63773. Published 2013 May 17. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063773
- Costello RB, Lentino CV, Boyd CC, et al. The effectiveness of melatonin for promoting healthy sleep: a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. Nutr J. 2014;13:106. Published 2014 Nov 7. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-106
- Williams, Jackson, et al. "l-Theanine as a Functional Food Additive: Its Role in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion." Beverages, vol. 2, no. 2, 2016, p. 13.
- Rao, T. P., Ozeki, M., & Juneja, L. R. (2015). In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 34(5), 436–447. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2014.926153
- Turkozu, D., & Sanlier, N. (2017). L-theanine, unique amino acid of tea, and its metabolism, health effects, and safety. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57(8), 1681–1687. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2015.1016141
- Santos MS, Ferreira F, Cunha AP, Carvalho AP, Macedo T: An aqueous extract of valerian influences the transport of GABA in synaptosomes. Planta Medica 60: 278-279, 1994.
- Leathwood PD, Chauffard F: Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Medica 2: 144-148, 1985.
- Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Mol Med Rep. 2010;3(6):895–901. doi:10.3892/mmr.2010.377
- Shell, W., Bullias, D., Charuvastra, E., May, L. A., & Silver, D. S. (2010). A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep. American Journal of Therapeutics, 17(2), 133–139. https://doi.org/10.1097/MJT.0b013e31819e9eab
- Cangiano, C., et al. "Effects of oral 5-hydroxy-tryptophan on energy intake and macronutrient selection in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients." International Journal of Obesity, vol. 22, no. 7, 1998, pp. 648-654.
- Yamatsu, A., Yamashita, Y., Maru, I., Yang, J., Tatsuzaki, J., & Kim, M. (2015). The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 61(2), 182–187. https://doi.org/10.3177/jnsv.61.182
- Asami Nakata, Shin-ichiro Yamashita, Naoko Suzuki, Tingfu Liang, Tomoko Kuniyoshi, Jinwei Yang, Tsuyoshi Takara. Effect of an Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract (VENETRON®）on Sleep Quality and Psychological Stress Improvement -A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Crossover Study. Jpn Pharmacol Ther. 2018 46（1）117-125
- "Safety and Toxicological Evaluation of VENETRON®―A Botanical Health Product―." ライフサイエンス出版, http://www.lifescience.co.jp/yk/yk18/jan/ab11.html