How do sleep supplements affect your brain health?

Sleep is crucial for maintaining optimal brain health and overall well-being. Unfortunately, many of us struggle to get a good night’s rest due to stress, lifestyle habits, or other health conditions. 

This has led to a growing interest in sleep supplements as a potential solution to improve sleep quality. 

These supplements range from natural remedies like melatonin and valerian root to synthetic options that promise to help us fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

But how effective are these supplements, and how do they impact your brain health in the long run? It’s vital to explore not only the potential benefits but also the possible risks involved.

This blog aims to provide a balanced perspective, supported by scientific research and expert opinions, to help you make informed decisions about using sleep supplements.

How do sleep supplements work?

Understanding how sleep supplements work can help you decide if they are right for you [1].

Sleep supplements interact with the body’s natural processes to promote relaxation and enhance sleep quality

They typically contain ingredients that either boost the body’s natural sleep hormones, calm the nervous system, or induce drowsiness, making falling and staying asleep easier.

These supplements generally function through one of several mechanisms to encourage relaxation and promote sleep:

Regulating sleep cycles

Melatonin, a common ingredient in sleep supplements, plays a crucial role in regulating sleep cycles. This natural hormone signals your body that it’s time to sleep, aligning your internal clock with the natural light-dark cycle.

It’s especially helpful for those who have non-traditional work hours and may use melatonin to adjust their sleep schedule.

Melatonin can aid in quickly resetting the body’s clock to a new time zone, reducing the effects of jet lag.

By mimicking the body’s natural sleep signals, melatonin helps ensure a smoother transition to sleep, making it a key tool for managing sleep patterns effectively.

Promoting relaxation

To promote relaxation, many sleep supplements utilize ingredients like L-theanine and valerian root. 

L-theanine, found in green tea, helps reduce anxiety by boosting levels of calming brain chemicals, creating a sense of relaxation without drowsiness [2].

Valerian root increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which helps regulate nerve cells and calm anxiety.

Using these supplements can help smooth the transition into sleep by relaxing the body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep naturally. They are beneficial for those who struggle with winding down at night.

promoting relaxation

Inducing drowsiness

Some sleep supplements work by inducing drowsiness. Key ingredients typically include:

AntihistaminesAntihistamines, which are common in many over-the-counter sleep supplements, block histamine receptors in the brain, which helps you feel sleepy.
Diphenhydramine and doxylamineThese are specific antihistamines known for their sedative effects, often used to treat short-term sleeping difficulties.

These ingredients are effective for those who need help falling asleep because they slow down brain activity and promote a state conducive to sleep. They’re beneficial for occasional sleeplessness, ensuring you get the rest you need to function well the next day.

Reducing sleep interruptions

Reducing sleep interruptions is crucial for achieving deep, restorative sleep. Ingredients like magnesium and CBD are often used in sleep supplements for this purpose:

MagnesiumThis mineral lessens the chance of overnight awakenings by calming the nervous system. It also facilitates deep, restful sleep by preserving normal levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that encourages sleep.
CBDKnown for its anti-anxiety effects, CBD can help maintain a calm state throughout the night, preventing sleep disturbances related to stress and anxiety.

These components are ideal for those who might fall asleep easily but struggle to stay asleep, helping ensure a night of uninterrupted rest.

What is the most common ingredient in sleeping pills?

When you look at sleep supplements, several key ingredients frequently pop up, each with properties to help enhance sleep quality:

  • Melatonin – This naturally produced hormone helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Supplementing with melatonin can be especially effective for issues like jet lag or shift work sleep disorder.
  • Valerian root – Often used for its sedative properties, this herb can help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and may improve sleep quality.
  • Magnesium – This mineral is critical in calming the nervous system, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
  • L-theanine – Found primarily in green tea, L-theanine promotes relaxation without drowsiness, potentially improving sleep quality by facilitating a calm state of mind.
  • CBDCannabidiol, or CBD, has been studied for its potential to reduce anxiety and stress, common culprits behind sleeplessness.

What is the best supplement for sleep?

Sleep supplements come in various forms, each designed to aid in different aspects of sleep, from falling asleep quicker to improving sleep quality. Here’s a brief overview of the main types you might encounter:

TypeDescription
Natural supplementsThese include ingredients like melatonin, valerian root, and chamomile, which are derived from plants and often favored for their minimal side effects. They are used to promote relaxation and help regulate sleep patterns.
Synthetic supplementsThese are manufactured substances designed to mimic the effects of natural sleep supplements or promote sleep through other chemical pathways. Examples include over-the-counter antihistamines like diphenhydramine, which are often used for their sedative properties.
Over-the-counter sleep supplementsThese can be available without a prescription and include natural and synthetic ingredients. They are commonly used for short-term sleep issues, such as those caused by jet lag or temporary stress.
Prescription medicationsThese are used under a doctor’s supervision, primarily for chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia. They include stronger substances that can significantly affect sleep cycles and require careful management to avoid dependency or side effects.

Choosing the right sleep supplement type depends on your needs, medical history, and lifestyle. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help you select a safe and effective option tailored to your situation.

Is it bad to take sleep supplements?

Taking sleep supplements can help manage occasional sleep problems, but it’s not ideal to rely on them regularly. Overuse can lead to dependency, tolerance, and other side effects, making it important to use them cautiously and under medical guidance.

Before using sleep supplements, it’s essential to consider potential risks and side effects. These products can interact with medications, cause dependency, and lead to unwanted next-day drowsiness.

Understanding these aspects can help ensure sleep supplements’ safe and effective use.

Dependency and tolerance

One significant risk with regular use of sleep supplements is the potential for dependency. This means you might start feeling that you can’t sleep without them.

Additionally, tolerance can develop, where you need increasingly larger doses to achieve the same effect.  This cycle not only undermines the effectiveness of the supplements but can also expose you to increased side effects.

If you rely heavily on sleep supplements, it might be time to consult with a healthcare professional to explore safer, long-term strategies for improving your sleep.

Drug interactions

Sleep supplements can interact with various medications, potentially leading to harmful effects.

For instance, combining sleep supplements with central nervous system depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines can significantly increase sedation [3], risking respiratory depression and impaired cognitive functions. 

Consult a healthcare professional and discontinue using the supplement. They can provide alternatives and assist in determining whether the supplement is the problem.

drug interactions
Photograph: Annamartianova80/Envato

Side effects

Sleep supplements, while beneficial for many, can have side effects that vary depending on the type and individual response:

  • Drowsiness – Excessive sleepiness the next day can impair driving and focus.
  • Dizziness – Some users may experience dizziness or a lightheaded feeling, increasing the risk of falls.
  • Headaches – Occasional headaches are a reported side effect, which may discourage continued use.
  • Gastrointestinal issues – Ingredients in sleep supplements can cause stomach discomfort, including nausea and constipation.
  • Allergic reactions – It’s crucial to check for allergies, as reactions can range from mild itching to severe respiratory issues.

Always start with the lowest possible dose to monitor how your body reacts and discuss any persistent adverse effects with your healthcare provider.

Effects on mental health

Sleep supplements can have varied effects on mental health. While they generally help by promoting better sleep, which supports mental well-being, they can sometimes cause vivid dreams or nightmares that may disturb sleep quality rather than improve it. 

Furthermore, certain supplements might exacerbate conditions like depression or anxiety due to their influence on brain chemistry. 

If you notice changes in your mood or mental state after starting a sleep supplement, it’s important to discuss them with a healthcare provider. This step ensures that your approach to better sleep is holistic and considers all aspects of your health.

Long-term health concerns

Using sleep supplements over a long period can raise several health concerns. Prolonged use might affect liver and kidney function, especially with supplements metabolized heavily by these organs [4]. 

Additionally, long-term reliance on sleep supplements can disrupt natural sleep patterns and hormone levels, potentially leading to more severe sleep disorders. 

Anyone using these aids regularly should monitor their health closely with a healthcare provider, ensuring that any potential harm is identified and addressed early to maintain overall health and well-being.

Closing thoughts

It’s clear that while these supplements offer benefits like improved sleep onset and quality, they also come with risks such as dependency, interactions with other medications, and potential long-term health effects.

Being well-informed can help you make choices that enhance your well-being without compromising your health.

If you’re exploring using sleep supplements, start with a consultation with your healthcare provider. This step ensures that any supplement you consider is appropriate for your health conditions and lifestyle. Additionally, evaluate your sleep hygiene practices. 

Simple changes in your daily routine, like setting a consistent sleep schedule and creating a restful environment, can significantly improve your sleep quality naturally.

FAQs

What are the most common ingredients in sleep supplements?

Melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium are frequently used. Each ingredient works to improve sleep by either promoting relaxation or regulating sleep cycles.

Are sleep supplements safe to use with other medications?

Some sleep supplements can interact with other medications. Always check with a healthcare provider to avoid harmful interactions.

Can I use sleep supplements every night?

It’s best to use sleep supplements only as needed. Using them nightly can lead to tolerance and reduced effectiveness.

What should I do if I experience side effects from a sleep supplement?

Stop using the supplement and consult a healthcare provider. They can help determine if the supplement is the cause and suggest alternatives.

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-aids/natural-sleep-aids
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31758301/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634348/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5412268/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.