I'm an Insomniac, but This Supplement Puts Me to Sleep in 5 Minutes Flat

Updated 04/16/19
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Lily Brown

Sleep—we crave it and we need it, but we never seem to get enough of it. A new Consumer Reports survey of 4023 adults found that 27% of Americans suffer from insomnia while 68%—the equivalent of 164 million people—struggle with sleep at least once a week. These are sobering statistics, which is why we’re dedicating the next few days to this ever-elusive, never-can-have-enough part of our lives. Welcome to Byrdie’s first-ever Sleep Week, wherein you can expect detailed accounts of our own editors’ sleep trials and tribulations, the latest products to help you nod off, and all the new relevant research. Suffice to say, we’re obsessed with getting more shut-eye (the quality kind, too), and hopefully our obsession will ensure you wake up more mornings feeling well rested and less like you want to hurl your alarm clock across the room. Read (and rest) up!

When January 1 rolled around this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach to my resolutions than usual: Rather than attempt the typical lifestyle overhaul in pursuit of some idealized life (and body), I opted to make 2017 about the means instead of the ends. This meant prioritizing smaller shifts that circled around self-care, all with the idea that by focusing on the process, health and happiness would ultimately be welcome byproducts. And for me, one of my biggest hurdles to tackle would be my lack of sleep.

I'm a bit of an insomniac, something that has only been aggravated by a compulsive need to check work emails (and okay, Snapchat) at all hours and an ever-burgeoning Netflix habit. (Word to the wise: The OA is not the kind of show you can drift off to.) Needless to say, Byrdie's Sleep Week—coupled with my reinvigorated dedication to personal wellness—couldn't have arrived at a better time.

And since I have a fascination with herbal remedies, I decided that it was high time to see what the growing market of sleep supplements could do for me, since inhaling lavender and counting my breath historically aren't quite enough to send me off to dreamland. I've only ever experimented with melatonin, ultimately to no avail (more on that in a bit)—but there are, of course, tons of other natural remedies out there. I gathered five, and embarked on a two-week-long quest to see how well they worked, using a makeshift grading system that addresses the three pillars of a great night's sleep: how fast I fell asleep, whether I stayed asleep, and how refreshed I felt the following morning.

Spoiler alert: Roughly 14 days later, I'm feeling less sleep-deprived than I have in years.

Keep reading to see which sleep supplements won out.

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MagOx 400 Magnesium Supplement $18
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I had actually purchased this a few months back after reading its glowing reviews on Amazon, but admittedly I never got around to trying it until embarking on this little experiment. Nonetheless, I can see now why it's well-hyped: I took it right before bed while struggling to unwind from a tough day at work, and it almost immediately calmed my nerves before sending me straight to dreamland in a matter of minutes. I woke to my alarm nearly eight hours later, dazed and exactly in the same position where I had fallen asleep.

It was the first time I had slept straight through the night without waking up in months.

After trying it out for a few more nights to test its consistency, my only complaint is that it tends to leave me very groggy in the morning—the kind of groggy where you realize you've snoozed your alarm three times without any recollection of doing so.

SLEEP SCORE:

Falling asleep: A+

Staying asleep: A+

Next-morning alertness: C-

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Whole Foods Restful Sleep $10
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I was shopping at Whole Foods a few weeks ago when I realized that it would be wise to peruse the store's extensive natural supplement selection in search of potential sleep aids. I settled on this store-brand specimen, which boasts valerian root, a popular and science-backed natural sleep supplement, as its main ingredient. Though the recommended dosage is one pill an hour before bed, the bottle said I could take up to three "for extra support." I settled for two and was out like a light until my alarm went off the next morning.

But unlike my experience with the MagOx, I woke feeling alert and impossibly refreshed. It was like I had never truly understood the value of a good night's sleep as much before, especially after I continued to have consistent results over the next few days. My mood was better, I was more focused and productive at work, and I didn't spiral into a crash by 3 p.m. This supplement would ultimately be my favorite of all the ones I tried, and it will become a staple in my nightly routine.

SLEEP SCORE:

Falling asleep: A+

Staying asleep: A+

Next-morning alertness: A+

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Magnum Solace Dead Sea Magnesium Oil $20
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A sleep spray? I was admittedly pretty skeptical, though Amazon reviewers say that magnesium oil works well to calm the mind in addition to the body. (Because some of magnesium's roles include regulating our serotonin levels and ensuring that our nerves and muscles function properly, research suggests supplementing with it can help prevent soreness and cramping, and can contribute to an overall state of relaxation.)

Following the advice of a member of our secret Facebook group, I spritzed a bit of the oil on the soles of my feet before hopping into bed, as well as some sore muscles in my back and neck—and was admittedly a little skeeved out by getting into bed with really oily feet. While it definitely helped ease some of my muscle pain and made me marginally drowsy, I ended up waking up in the middle of the night and didn't feel refreshed as I could have in the morning. I also was not a fan of the filmy residue it left on my feet after drying.

While I can see it becoming a great go-to for relief after, say, a tough workout, I think it's ultimately a pass as a sleep aid.

SLEEP SCORE:

Falling asleep: B

Staying asleep: C

Next-morning alertness: B-

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Zhou Driftoff Natural Sleep Aid $20
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I Amazon Prime-ed this sleep aid to my front doorstep after seeing it boasted more than 700 positive reviews—and it's always a nice bonus when the pill capsules are vegan, which isn't typically the case. This formula relies on a blend of different sleep-inducing herbs, like melatonin, valerian root, chamomile, lemon balm, and L-Tryptophan (the amino acid that makes us feel sleepy after eating Thanksgiving turkey).

I've had some less-than-ideal experiences with melatonin in the past: I typically have very vivid dreams to begin with, and supplementing with melatonin tends to make them particularly nightmarish. But I hoped that since it's just one of many ingredients in this formula, this particular side effect wouldn't be quite so pronounced.

Ultimately, I found this to be a less potent version of the Whole Foods supplement I took—it made me very drowsy but didn't quite knock me out like the other one. And while my dreams weren't quite as awful as they usually are when I've taken straight melatonin, they were markedly more vivid on the nights that I took this, to the point that I felt a little drained when my alarm went off. Still, everybody is different, and it's a solid option if you just need a little nudge in the sleep department.

SLEEP SCORE:

Falling asleep: A-

Staying asleep: B+

Next-morning alertness: B

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Dirty Lemon Sleep Drink Case of 6 $65
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I'm a big fan of Dirty Lemon's detox drinks (affordability notwithstanding), but I wasn't sure how I would like the brand's new Sleep formula. Unpopular opinion, but the taste of chamomile is not my cup of tea, and it's a primary ingredient in this herbal cocktail—along with lemon balm, rose, passionflower, and magnesium. Fortunately, the flavor wasn't overly pronounced—it had a floral note to it for sure, but I got more of the lemon balm than anything else. Either way, gulping this bottle was a nice, ready-made alternative to drinking tea before bed.

I found that it did take a bit longer to make me sleepy than other remedies I tried—about an hour or so—but it did knock me out until my alarm went off on two out of the three nights that I used it. 

SLEEP SCORE:

Falling asleep: B

Staying asleep: A

Next-morning alertness: B

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