John Howard/Digital Vision/Thinkstock
If you have been having trouble sleeping at night, you may have considered supplements to help you sleep. But how well do they work? And how safe are they?
Our body naturally has melatonin — it is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland. Melatonin is involved in the sleep-wake cycle, meaning it helps tell the body when it is time to go to sleep and when it is time to be awake. The supplement form of melatonin is synthetically made, and can be taken as a pill, or placed under the tongue or in the cheek.
Melatonin supplements have several uses, including insomnia, delayed sleep phase syndrome and insomnia due to health conditions and medications, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or beta-blockers. Some people may use melatonin to help with jet lag.
So how well do melatonin supplements work for sleep problems? MedlinePlus noted that melatonin is likely effective for people who are blind who have sleep disorders, and children with autism and developmental delays who have sleeping problems.
They added that melatonin is possibly effective for jet lag and insomnia, and possibly ineffective for adjusting sleep schedules. The MayoClinic.com stated that the effect of melatonin on decreasing the time for a person to fall asleep is mild.
Melatonin supplements do have several side effects. Common side effects of melatonin include dizziness, headaches and daytime sleepiness. Less common side effects include confusion, mild anxiety, irritability, abdominal discomfort and short periods of depression.
Another supplement that people may try to help them fall asleep is valerian. Derived from a plant, valerian may help decrease the time it takes for a person to fall asleep.
The active ingredient that helps people fall asleep is not clear: “there is no scientific agreement as to the active constituents of valerian, and its activity may result from interactions among multiple constituents rather than any one compound or class of compounds.