Sleep Supplements: Is it Safe to Try Them?

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation


Best practices for using natural remedies to get the zzz’s you need

Botanical, herbal, or natural sleep aids that promise to treat insomnia in tablet, capsule, powder, gel, or liquid form are appealing, no doubt. Yet they aren’t necessarily risk-free. So consider the following questions.

What’s Really in There?

Regulations for supplements aren’t nearly as rigorous as the ones for prescription and non-prescription drugs; there is concern that supplements may be tainted with pesticides, metals, or even drugs. What’s more, the product may not even contain the correct plant species or dose that it claims.

Will it Affect Other Meds or Conditions?

Other safety issues involve potential interactions with prescription drugs. Some supplements, such as St. John’s wort, have been found to interfere with many medications, making them less effective. Others are not known to be safe for pregnant or nursing women or people scheduled to undergo surgery soon. Check with your doctor if you’re already on other meds, particularly if the label suggests you do so.

How Long Can You Use It?

Most treatments sold over-the-counter are meant to be used for the short-term, no longer than one or two weeks.

Are the Products and Doses Well-Studied?

Some herbs are simply risky. For example, the FDA has flagged Kava, an herb that's sometimes recommended for anxiety-related insomnia, with an advisory due to risks of severe liver injury.

Safety concerns do not mean that mind-body approaches or complementary and alternative treatments can’t be helpful. Indeed, most advocates for integrated or holistic medicine stress the importance of coordinating the use of any herb or supplement with a medical professional. Talk to your doctor about any sleep aid or supplement you are considering, as well as the reasons why. Exploring your symptoms with a doctor can help you get closer to the root causes, get comprehensive treatment, and find long-term relief.