These days everyone is making several efforts for their physical and mental health. But sometimes even exercising, eating right, meditating and even therapy fall short. A lot of ailments have a simple solution: regulate your sleep cycle. As Chandigarh-based fitness coach Vaishnavi Boora points out, sleep helps the body repair and regenerate tissues. It also boosts the immune system and consolidates memories and learning, she says. “Additionally, sleep helps regulate hormones that control hunger and satiety, including ghrelin and leptin, which can affect weight management,” adds Boora.
Getting in the recommended 8 hours, as we all know, is harder than it seems, especially if you are dealing with chronic stress or have a history of insomnia. One quick fix, which supposedly helps in regulating your sleep, is popping in one of the many sleep supplements, ranging from melatonin gummies, strips, and CBD oils, that have flooded the market. So, what actually are these supplements? Do they have tangible health benefits? And are there risks to ingesting them regularly?
Also read: The ultimate guide to sleeping better
“Sleep supplements are antioxidants and naturally developed vitamins which may help in reducing fatigue syndrome. As a result, brain activity gets relaxed, inducing sleep”, says Dr Azmat Karim, Consultant, Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine, Fortis Escorts, New Delhi. Some of the most popular supplements in the market include melatonin gummies or oral strips, CBD oils, magnesium supplements, and sleep teas amongst others. Here are some of their characteristics.
The most easily available supplement among them has to be melatonin, a lab-made version of the hormone released by our pineal gland that is responsible for regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. A 30-year-old technical analyst from Albany, New York, who prefers not to be named, talks about her own experience of using melatonin, something that she has been using for 10 years since she suffers from insomnia. “Doctors told me that the body only needs about 0.5 to 1 milligrams of melatonin and to have it a couple of hours before I slept”, says Rao. Since the body produces melatonin naturally and as its levels already rise in the evening, the supplements help make the most of one’s natural melatonin production. Melatonin is not considered addictive in nature. Even after she stopped using it, she says that she had been able to sleep well. “I no longer suffer from chronic insomnia the way I used to,” she adds.
Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production. People use it to supplement magnesium deficiencies as well as to treat muscle aches. Laura Gomez, a digital PR specialist, from London swears by magnesium as a sleep supplement. “I've been taking Magnesium Bisglycinate 500 mg for over three months now, and I chose magnesium because it helps relax the nervous system”. Magnesium has other health benefits as well such as helping to recover after doing a high-strength gym routine which also motivated Laura to choose this particular supplement. “It has helped me to sleep better but the difference will be noticed after a couple of weeks, not just a few days. I sleep through the night, which in the past I didn't. Also, I fall asleep much faster”, observes Laura.
Cannabidiol or CBD is another supplement taking over the market, and how. According to a Statista Cannabis Market Data Analysis & Forecast, the Medical Cannabis segment in India is projected to grow by 12.41% (2023-2027) resulting in a market volume of US$21.97m in 2027.
Studies have found that CBD may help with various sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and REM sleep behaviour disorder. Gaagan Goyaal, CEO, Twiee Expect Miracles, a CBD-focused brand, has witnessed good results with CBD in its efficacy for better sleep. “CBD oil works really well with botanicals like Goji Berry Extract or melatonin and others as being an adaptogen, CBD assists in faster and better absorption of such botanicals”, says Goyaal. Nadia Singh Bahl, co-founder of Vitality Hours, India's first wellness discovery platform sometimes uses a mild CBD mint mouth spray from her brand ANTIDOTE. She also focuses on consuming superfoods and herbs like a Sleep Tea Tonic which contains mountain herbs like lavender, catnip and ginkgo leaf. “I use supplements only when I feel the need to unwind and get a more relaxed sleep post a hectic day, not daily”, says Bahl.
Though CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant that has been shown to have potential therapeutic benefits, including promoting relaxation and improving sleep quality, concerns regarding the safety of CBD usage are bound to arise. While Dr Abraham Benavides, medical advisor at Nature and Bloom, a CBD resource website says that “CBD is generally considered safe for human consumption in moderate amounts, it may cause some mild side effects, such as dry mouth, dizziness, and changes in appetite and mood”. He recommends consulting a healthcare professional before using CBD.
Better sleep hygiene
While sleep supplements are all the rage, it is important to fix your sleep hygiene practices before resorting to them. Therapist Mansi Poddar from Kolkata recommends her favourite sleep hacks which she favours over sleep supplements. “There has to be a wind-down time before sleeping to let your body relax,” she says, adding that physical activity, yin yoga and relaxation practices like yoga nidra are also effective tools. And yes, “balancing one’s blood sugar throughout the day along with getting some sunlight every morning will help in sleeping better”, adds Poddar.
Boora also does not prefer sleep supplements. “I don’t recommend any sleep supplements to my clients. Incorporating healthy sleep habits such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help in improving sleep quality,” she believes.
If you have incorporated all of the above, and you still struggle to get restful sleep, it may be worth resorting to a supplement temporarily. “Sleep supplements can be used for individuals who have no medical, neurological or psychological reasons for sleep disorders,” says Dr Karim. “It can be given to young and middle-aged people who have sleep disorders because of lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies”.
Aditi Sarawagi is an independent journalist and writes for children