If you’ve been tossing and turning lately, there are a number of over-the-counter products—from aromatherapy sprays to special teas—that claim they can help, either by inducing or enhancing sleep. The question remains: Do they work? Before you buy, read on to find out what the experts have to say.
Jane Sleep Aid Essential Oil Bath Bomb
What is it? A fizzy bath bomb containing valerian, as well as lavender, chamomile and sage essential oils, which the company says will help soothe you and induce sleep.
Does it work? “It’s not a cure for moderate to severe insomnia, but for an occasional bout of poor sleep it’s worth a try,” says Shelby Freedman Harris, PsyD, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Harris notes that the scent of lavender has been shown to aid in relaxation. She also advises that taking a hot bath (or shower) in general can be very helpful for promoting sleep, but the key is to do so one to two hours before bedtime. The idea is to raise your body temperature and let it gradually cool down just before bed to help ease you into dreamland, since your body temperature naturally decreases when you get sleepy. $8; JaneIncProducts.com.
What is it? A beverage (mostly filtered water with calorie-free sweetener) that purports to enhance sleep with three active ingredients: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), melatonin and 5-HTP.
Does it work? It very well might. “GABA is a substance in the brain that promotes sleep, and melatonin is the ‘hormone of darkness’ that spikes in your body just after you fall asleep,” says Joseph Ojile, MD, founder of the Clayton Sleep Institute in St. Louis. “The ingredients in this product have the potential to enhance falling asleep in the correct patient,” such as someone who is traveling west to east and switching time zones, or a night-shift worker. Melatonin in particular has been proven to help regulate your internal body clock. If you decide to try Dream Water, talk with your doctor first to ensure that any medication you’re taking does not conflict with the product. $19.99 (six 8-oz bottles); DrinkDreamWater.com.
Bath & Body Works Pillow Mist in Sleep: Lavender Vanilla
What is it? Spritz this aromatherapy spray on your pillow and sheets, and inhal e the scent of lavender, which is said to help you calm down and destress.
Does it work? It’s unlikely to help with serious sleep issues, but if you’re just a little stressed and need to unwind before bed, this may help. “Lavender is a well-known naturopathic substance for relaxation and sleep,” says Dr. Ojile. $10; BathandBodyWorks.com.
Badger Sleep Balm
What is it? Rub this waxy balm under your nose, on your lips, or on your temples o r other pulse p oints. The products aims to relax you with its oil-based mix of rosemary, bergamot, ginger, balsam fir and lavender.
Does it work? It won’t actually put you to sleep, which the manufacturer admits, saying “Sleep Balm doesn’t make you sleepy! It helps quiet your thoughts, then you fall asleep naturally.” But Dr. Ojile says that if you simply need a little help relaxing, it can’t hurt to give this product a try. Lavender has been shown to be calming, and if you find the smell of the other ingredients pleasing, they may also help you unwind. $10 (2-oz tin); BadgerBalm.com.
What is it? A flavored tea powder (it comes in apple or cinnamon) that’s added to hot or cold water. It contains L-Tryptophan, which, according to the manufacturer, increases serotonin, leading to less tension and better sleep.
Does it work? It’s possible. “There’s been research showing that L-Tryptophan can be helpful to induce sleep, so this is worth a try if your sleep problem is mild and not happening consistently,” says Dr. Harris. But it can’t hurt to talk to your doctor first to confirm that it’s safe for you to use. If you often have trouble sleeping, Dr. Harris recommends consulting your physician or a sleep specialist. $24.99 (18 packets); FluidEssentials.com.
What is it? This “lullaby in a bottle” contains six flower essences which the company claims help calm your mind and reduce stress to help induce sleep.
Does it work? Sam J. Sugar, director of sleep services at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Doral, Florida, says he doesn’t recommend it because there isn’t enough strong evidence that it works and it’s unlikely to help for a serious sleep disorder. However, he does note that “the chemicals that are contained in these botanicals may help benefit someone with a minor and temporary sleep disorder.” This product is most likely safe, but it’s worth mentioning it to your doctor before consuming. $18.95 (20 ml bottle); RescueSleep.com.
What is it? An herbal tea containing valerian, chamomile and St. John’s wort, which is meant to reduce anxiety and aid sleep.
Does it work? It’s possible, but don’t try it—at least not without first consulting your doctor, warns Matthew R. Ebben, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in neurology at the Center for Sleep Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Valerian—at least in combination with hops—has been shown in studies to help people sleep. But the danger with St. John’s wort is that it could act as an MAO inhibitor, a type of antidepressant,” he explains. That means it could interact with other medications you’re taking, or even common foods, like certain types of cheese and alcohol. $4.99 (16 tea bags); YogiProducts.com.