If you struggle to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, you're in good company: According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health, 30 to 40 percent of adults say they have some symptoms of insomnia, and 10 to 15 percent say they have chronic insomnia.
No one likes feeling like a zombie for days on end, and lying awake all night is its own kind of torture. Luckily, there are tons of routes you can take to ease your insomnia symptoms, from working to be more more active during the day and cutting down on caffeine to getting a prescription from a doctor.
Then there's something in between: Natural sleep supplements. Valerian root, St. John's Wort, hops, magnesium, melatonin, and more recently CBD oil are common recommendations for sleeplessness. But are these supplements effective? And if so, how safe are they?
The sleep supplements you should probably steer clear of
First things first: Just because it's all-natural doesn't mean it doesn't have side effects. A huge one of many natural sleep supplements—especially a supplement like hops, which is also found in beer—is grogginess when you wake up, sort of like a mini-hangover. So if you're going to load up on sleep supplements, be prepared to feel more tempted than usual to hit the snooze button.
Then there are more dangerous side effects. St. John's Wort, which is recommended for both insomnia and depression, presents a unique complication. "St. John's Wort is known to have side effects such as skin sensitivity, nausea, diarrhea, upset stomach, and headache," says Dr. Ehsan Ali, a Beverly Hills-based primary care doctor. "A severe side effect is 'serotonin syndrome,' meaning it may interfere with prescriptions. It's actually banned in certain countries."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Ehsan Ali, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and he completed a specialized training in geriatric medicine. Upon completing his medical training from NYU, Dr. Ali Ehsan moved to Los Angeles where he works as a physician on staff with the Cedar-Sinai Medical Group as primary care doctor.
If you're on any kind of prescription, it's crucial to consult a doctor before taking St. John's Wort. And even if you're not, it's probably best to steer clear of it—especially because there are so many other options out there.
The ones you should try
On that note, there are a handful of natural sleep supplements out there that will help you get a good night's sleep with few to no side effects. Melatonin, which is the sleep hormone naturally produced in the body, is the safest recommendation, according to Dr. Ali. "Melatonin is very mild and no side effects usually experienced. It can cause nausea and daytime sleepiness, but it's not very common."
Magnesium is another great option, especially because a magnesium deficiency can actually be responsible for insomnia. Taking magnesium regularly can also help with feelings of anxiety and depression, so it's worth trying—even if it's just for the sake of busting a little stress.
Then there's CBD oil. Although it's fairly new to the market sand needs to be studied more extensively, it's probably worth a shot, too: Studies have shown that it helps quite a bit with lowering anxiety and improving sleep.
Don't be afraid to seek outside help
There's no doubt about it: Insomnia is rough. According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is associated with changes in mood, lack of motivation and energy, irritability and feelings of overwhelm. If sleeplessness is something you're struggling with on a regular basis, ask for help.
"Start by cutting out caffeine, practicing meditation, and doing yoga," suggests Dr. Ali. "If none of those are working, try talking to your doctor." Your doctor may suggest a certain sleep supplement, a prescription medication, or cognitive behavioral therapy, which is thought to be the most effective treatment for insomnia.
If you're struggling with insomnia, don't go at it alone—especially if it means taking sleep supplements that may do more harm than good.