Many people turn to a non-addictive sleep aid after having a bad experience with prescription sleeping pills. Others just want something more natural with fewer side effects. While choosing a natural sleep aid is a good way to improve your sleep, picking out the right one can be a difficult task. There are lots of options available and they all make similar claims. Here are some key ingredients to look for when picking out the best non-addictive sleep aid.
Millions of people worldwide suffer from a sleeping disorder each year, causing them to turn to their doctor or another medical professional for help. But instead of treating the root cause of the problem, many people are prescribed medications to help them sleep. Studies show that nine million Americans reportedly take prescription sleeping pills regularly (1).
Prescription sleeping pills are categorized as a type of drug called a sedative-hypnotic. Common examples include barbiturates and benzodiazepines such as Xanax. Other drugs in this category include nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics, which are also known as “z-drugs.” Their purpose is to help you sleep by binding to GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms your central nervous system, reduces anxiety and depression, and helps you sleep.
Approximately 38 million prescriptions were written for the sleep drug Ambien between 2006 and 2011 alone (1). Despite being told by their doctors that it’s not possible to get addicted to prescription sleep aids, many people find themselves dependent on them for sleep. An estimated 1.1 million people in Germany are addicted to their prescription sleeping pills (4). In some cases, a person doesn’t realize they are addicted to their sleeping pills until they experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.
It can be hard to tell if you are addicted to your sleeping pills, especially if you have never tried to get off them. Your actions and behavior toward your sleeping pills says a lot about how dependent you are on them. Common signs that you are addicted to your prescription sleep aid may include (1):
The problem with prescription sleeping pills is that most people with sleeping problems need them for long-term use, but they are only safe to take short-term, if at all. In 2012, approximately 21 percent of people taking a prescription sleep aid reported having suicidal thoughts as a result of their sleeping pills (1). Approximately 30,149 people on the sleep drug Ambien made a trip to the emergency room from side effects associated with the drug (1).
Side effects can range from non-life threatening to severe. In addition, many people taking prescription sleep aids in combination with alcohol, painkillers, or antidepressants, which can be dangerous to your health. Common side effects of prescription sleep aids may include (3):
In addition to being prescribed addictive sleeping pills, many people with sleeping disorders are not told how to correct their problem. Without adequate knowledge of their underlying sleeping issues, a prescription drug user becomes tolerant to their drug and needs more of it to work.
Natural sleep aids provide an alternative treatment in a non-addictive formula. Most natural sleep aids contain herbs and other ingredients found in nature that you are less likely to become chemically dependent on.
A person with a sleeping disorder might have several things going on. They could have poor sleeping habits that keep them awake or they could be experiencing sleep loss as a side effect of an underlying condition. In either case, a person experiences sleep loss when their circadian rhythm becomes disrupted.
The circadian rhythm is characterized by the mental, behavioral and physical changes your body undergoes during a 24 hour period. This includes your sleep patterns and the way you respond to light and darkness (5). While it is not the same thing as a biological clock, the two are related as the circadian rhythm is controlled by your biological clock.
A biological clock is a group of molecules that interact within all the cells throughout your body. You also have a “master clock” in your brain that controls all the body clocks to make sure everything runs smoothly. The master clock is made up of a group of 20,000 nerve cells in the hypothalamus of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN (5).
In addition to being controlled by internal clocks, your circadian rhythm is also affected by external factors. In other words, your circadian rhythm is greatly affected by your lifestyle habits. Exposure to light is the primary factor that throws off your circadian rhythm. It has the ability to turn on or turn off genes that control your internal clock (5).
Disrupting your circadian rhythm may affect your sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, hormone levels, and metabolism. It is also associated with an increased risk of health issues, such as insomnia, various sleep disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, obesity, and seasonal affective disorder (5).
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain that makes you feel sleepy. It is largely affected by light exposure. When it gets dark outside at night, your optic nerves send a signal to the brain that it’s time to go to sleep. The brain tells the SCN to produce melatonin and release it into your bloodstream so you get tired. But when you are exposed to light, your brain assumes it’s daytime and that you don’t need to sleep. So it sends a message to the SCN to stop producing melatonin.
Any light exposure can affect your melatonin levels, including blue light emitted from an electronic screen. Staying up late to watch television or scrolling through your news feed on your smartphone can impact your sleep. Other night time habits such as eating too late at night and drinking too much caffeine throughout the day can also impact your circadian cycle. Here are some other ways in which your sleep circadian can be thrown off:
Even the slightest disruption to your circadian rhythm can affect your sleep. Correcting unhealthy sleep habits is the first place to start. If you still need help, consider taking a natural sleep aid to help gently guide your circadian sleep rhythm back to normal.
Unlike prescription pills, research shows that many of the ingredients found in natural sleep aids are non-addictive. Prescription sleep aids also lack the diversity of a natural sleep aid, which are derived from pure sources that contain antioxidants and other plant compounds that provide numerous health benefits in addition to helping you sleep. To find the best non-addictive sleep aid, look for a product with the following ingredients:
Taking melatonin right before bed is a good way to help get your sleep back on track. It’s non-addictive (6) and has fewer side effects than a prescription sleep drug.
In addition to helping you sleep, melatonin has been shown to protect against neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety (7). It also has powerful antioxidant properties that are credited with giving you younger looking skin and treating cancer. According to a 2015 study, melatonin has the following health benefits (8):
Taking melatonin an hour or so before bed can help reset your circadian rhythm by telling your body when it’s time to fall asleep.
Valerian root extract is a flowering plant that has proven anti-anxiety and sedative effects to help you sleep. It has even been shown to treat anxiety better than some prescription medications (9), which is especially beneficial for people who have a hard time turning off their mind at night.
Valerian root works by enhancing GABA levels in your brain, which is similar to how prescription medications work. According to a Swedish study, approximately 44 percent of subjects reported having perfect sleep after taking valerian root. Another 89 percent who took valerian root reported having improved sleep. Unlike prescription medications, the study concluded that no side effects were reported in the group of people who took valerian root (10).
L-theanine is a compound found in green tea that helps you relax. A 2017 study found that subjects who supplemented with l-theanine improved their sleep, anxiety, and depression (11). The study also found that l-theanine supplementation was completely safe.
L-theanine is one of the few nutritional supplements that crosses the blood-brain barrier. It works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate. Research shows that l-theanine makes you feel alerted and calm at the same time. It’s the perfect supplement to take at night before meditating because it allows you to focus on sleep while blocking out anxious thoughts.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid necessary for making the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Research shows that people who are depressed, anxious or experience sleep problems have low levels of serotonin in the body. L-tryptophan is also a precursor for melatonin. In addition to making you feel sleepy, l-tryptophan helps you feel comforted and less anxious.
Although some foods naturally contain l-tryptophan, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the amount you need from food alone. A 2016 study found that supplementing with l-tryptophan can help you increase your cognitive function, improve mood, and lower anxiety (12). Taking melatonin and l-tryptophan together can help you feel calm and sleepy at the same time, which is the perfect combination for uninterrupted sleep. L-tryptophan is also safe with few side effects and does not cause dependency.
Since many sleep aids work by increasing GABA in your brain, it may help to supplement with GABA itself. GABA works similarly to l-theanine by blocking glutamate from binding to receptors in your brain. GABA can also be used to treat the following conditions:
The best non-addictive sleep aid is the one that makes you feel sleepy when you should and helps you perform at your best during the day. Look for one with safe and proven ingredients without the side effects of a prescription drug. To get to the root of your sleep issues and avoid becoming dependant on your sleep aid, try including your natural sleep aid as part of a healthy bedtime routine that helps you reset your circadian rhythm. Eat a light dinner, avoid electronics two hours before bed, take your natural sleep aid, spend a few minutes meditating, and enjoy a full night’s sleep.