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Report From a Sleep Guinea Pig

If you are like most Americans, you probably feel that you’re not getting enough sleep, or that the quality of the sleep that you’re getting is lower than you’d like. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that there are 70 million of us who have some kind of complaint about our sleep, and that’s become obvious by the rising number of prescription sleeping medications, over-the-counter sleep aids, and sleep-inducing devices that are available on the market. When you add the money spent on these items to the latest craze of using sleep trackers to tell exactly how long and how well you’ve slept, and it’s obvious that this is a hot issue. So it’s not surprising that people are starting to look more deeply into the effectiveness of sleep supplements, and one consumer recently took it upon himself to try out several different options. He approached the subject methodically and tracked his sleep quality using a Withings Aura, and went so far as to journal his pre-sleep activity and diet and to estimate the cost per dose of each treatment that he tried. To his credit, he not only made a point of not repeating the same treatment consecutively, but also repeated each supplement in order to confirm its impact on him and spent days between each supplement without taking anything in order to make sure that his system was clear of the previous option.

Though he repeats throughout his recording of his experiment that his analysis is far from scientific and that everybody will respond differently, as well as that people should always check with their own physician before embarking on taking a supplement that might interact badly with a medication that they are currently taking, his results were very interesting, and definitely worth considering. Here is a summary of what he took:

  • Melatonin – a synthetic version of the hormone that our bodies make in response to light. It has been scientifically tested and proven effective in treating shift workers and those suffering from jet lag. Estimated cost per treatment is four cents.
  • Valerian Root – an herbal treatment that is widely available as a tea as well as powdered and taken in a capsule. Estimated cost per treatment is eight cents.
  • Chamomile – an herbal treatment that is widely available and popular as a tea. It is also available as a capsule. Estimated cost per treatment is ten cents.
  • Lemon balm – an herbal treatment that is part of the mint family and is most commonly available as a tea. Estimated cost per treatment is eighteen cents.
  • L-tryptophan – tryptophan may sound familiar to anybody who complains about sleepiness after Thanksgiving dinner, as there is a myth that turkey contains high levels of this amino acid. This is not true, but it is also known to facilitate the production of both serotonin and melatonin in the brain, working to boost mood and sleep. Estimated cost per treatment is forty-five cents.
  • Somnis – a supplement made up of L-tryptophan, melanonin and GABA, a chemical made in the brain that has been found to be instrumental in our ability to sleep. Estimated cost per treatment is thirty cents.
  • Serenity – a supplement made up of valerian root, passion flower extract, magnolia bark, jujube, chamomile, L0theanine, 5-HTP, melatonin and BioPerine, as well as vitamins. Estimated cost per treatment is $1.33.
  • Luna – a supplement made up of L-theanine, valerian root, chamomile, passion flower, lemon balm, hops flower, L-taurine, melatonin and magnesium. Estimated cost per treatment is seventy-three cents.


The results from taking each of these options intermittently over a period of several weeks were interesting. The writer found that taking L-tryptophan provided him with the greatest results in terms of the number of hours that he slept, increasing his sleep quantity from an average of 6.85 hours per night to 7.53 per night, but he also felt that his sleep quality on those nights was reduced. For improvement in sleep quality he was most impressed with the effect that chamomile provided, and reported that the herbal remedy had actually made him sleep so soundly that he was difficult to rouse in the middle of the night. He also found that when he used chamomile he slept longer than he did on nights when he did not take a supplement at all, so his overall rating of chamomile was the highest among all of the single supplements that he took.

He was also surprised to find that melatonin had the exact opposite impact that he had anticipated. Because melatonin is one of the only sleep supplements that has actually been scientifically tested and has research behind it, he had anticipated a positive experience, but instead he found that he was restless throughout the night, woke up repeatedly and experienced an undesirable grogginess the next day when he woke up.

He also found that valerian was similarly unsatisfying, and reported that he not only had several mid-night awakenings but also experienced disturbing dreams and felt extremely fatigued the following morning. He also found the pills themselves unpleasant, with a bad odor. Out of all of the supplements that he took, the writer found the worst experience with lemon balm, which had a strong diuretic effect on him that resulted in him waking with the urgent need to go to the bathroom repeatedly.

When examining the impact of the multi-ingredient supplements, he found that they worked better than most of the individual ingredients that he took, though Serenity and Luna were best in terms of quantity and Serenity was best in terms of quality. Overall, Serenity gave him much improved sleep, though he found it difficult to take because of its bad smell; it was also the most expensive option.

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