Should I take supplements to help me sleep? A doctor explains | CNN

Sign up for CNNs Sleep, But Better newsletter series.Our seven-part guide has helpful tips for getting better sleep.


It has long been established that sleep plays a crucial role in health and well-being. Numerous studies have documented the relationship between health and the quantity and quality of people’s sleep. Anyone who has had a bad night’s rest can attest to how they had less energy and were grumpier the next day.

About 18 percent of American adults take some form of medication to help them sleep, including over-the-counter pills and prescription drugs, according to a 2023 report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 6.3% said they take sleep medication every day and 2.1% most days.

Although medical treatments can help with sleep, are some forms more effective than others? Are there any dangers in trying over-the-counter supplements like melatonin? What about a recent social media sensation, the sleeping girl mocktail? What are the non-pharmaceutical measures that can help sleep? And why is it important to seek medical attention for insomnia?

To help us with these questions, I spoke with CNN wellness expert Dr.
Leana Wen. Dr. Wen is an emergency physician and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University. She previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

CNN: How do we know sleep is important to your health?

Dr. Leana Wen: The evidence is solid. For example, studies have shown that people who regularly sleep less than seven hours per night have a higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, which are the main risk factors for developing heart attacks and strokes. People with irregular sleep patterns may also have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Lack of sleep can affect the functioning of the immune system and increase the chances of contracting diseases. In addition, lack of sleep can affect learning, problem solving, decision making, and emotional control. And daytime sleepiness can be dangerous; increases motor vehicle accidents and workplace injuries.

CNN: What types of medical treatments can help sleep?

Wen: The US Food and Drug Administration has a list of medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that are approved to treat insomnia and insomnia.

It’s important to note that many have significant side effects, including next-day lightheadedness, sleepwalking, confusion, and dizziness. Some could be habit-forming and are not intended for long-term use. Many have interactions with other medications. Anyone considering these treatments should talk to their doctor before starting them.

CNN: Are over-the-counter drugs safer than prescription drugs?

Wen: Not necessarily. For example, some people take antihistamines like Benadryl to help them sleep. Antihistamines can cause dangerous overdoses if taken in large amounts or mixed with other drugs or alcohol. These medications can also cause sedation and impair someone’s function the next day. All of this means that just because something is over the counter doesn’t mean it’s safe in all cases.

CNN: What about melatonin? What is it and does it work to help sleep?

Wen: Melatonin is a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness. It helps regulate our circadian rhythm, our internal clock, and is therefore an important hormone for sleep.

Melatonin supplements are lab-made versions of this hormone. There is some evidence that melatonin supplements can help with jet lag. They can also help shift workers and people who have trouble falling asleep at a regular time at night. Research is mixed on whether supplements are helpful for people with chronic sleep problems.

One thing to keep in mind is that melatonin is a supplement and is not regulated by the FDA in the same way that prescription drugs are. Dosage and purity may vary between brands. The same guidance applies to other supplements that people may try as sleep aids. People should approach melatonin and other supplements with caution and, as with other over-the-counter medications, discuss use with their primary care provider first.

CNN: Which drugs are more effective than others?

Wen: That depends on the individual. As with any other health condition, some people may respond better to one type of treatment and others to another.

Taking a step back, I think it’s essential that anyone considering a sleep medication check with their healthcare provider first. You should get an evaluation to find out what the cause of your sleep deficiency is.

Maybe it’s a matter of not getting enough sleep. This is different from not being able to fall asleep once you are in bed. Also, some people can fall asleep but then wake up in the middle of the night.

Your provider may assess other aspects of your life. Drinking alcohol, for example, may help some people feel like they can fall asleep faster, but it can actually increase nighttime awakenings and reduce sleep quality. Some medications can be stimulants and can affect your sleep. You may have an undiagnosed medical condition, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, that is keeping you awake. It is important to do this assessment to find the root of the problem before starting medications.

CNN: There’s been a lot of talk about TikTok and other social platforms the sleeping girl mocktail. What can you tell us about this trend and if it’s safe to try?

Wen: I hadn’t heard of this, but you’re right it’s all over the internet. This is a recipe for half a cup of tart cherry juice mixed with a tablespoon of magnesium powder, topped off with soda water or prebiotic soda.

I think tart cherry juice was probably chosen because it naturally contains some melatonin. It’s a small amount, but maybe it can have some impact on promoting sleep. Magnesium is a mineral that some studies suggest can help you relax and sleep. Prebiotic soda or soda is probably for taste.

I’m not sure this blend meets an evidence-based standard for treating insomnia, but it seems pretty safe, as long as the products are purchased from reputable sites. Some people may be responding because of a placebo effect, but to that, I say, why not? If it helps someone sleep better, and there’s no harm in it, they should keep it.

CNN: What other non-pharmaceutical measures can help with sleep?

Wen: This is a key question and goes back to the question of why someone has trouble sleeping. Many people struggle because they don’t get enough time in bed, which is an important first component to good sleep. If your ideal sleep duration is at least seven hours a night, try to spend at least eight hours in bed.

It’s best to go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends. Avoid naps if possible. The sleep environment is also important. It is best to sleep in a cool, quiet and dark place. Screens interfere with sleep, so try to avoid looking at your phone or watching TV right before bed.

Finally, there are other non-pharmaceutical measures, such as increased physical activity, yoga and acupuncture, which may help some people. Be sure to talk to your provider to diagnose any other issues, and then try different methods, in consultation with your provider, to see what works best for you.

#supplements #sleep #doctor #explains #CNN
Image Source :

Leave a Comment