Sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo gets to the bottom of why your supplements may not be working for you.
Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our Sleep Well Wednesdays series. Check back every fortnight and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.
Quality sleep is often a mystery to many of us, and something that I have no doubt many of you are craving. Especially now, in the thick of the working year, it can be in vogue to stay up “just that hour later” to get that extra work project out before the day closes (…guilty!).
And, if this is the case, I am also sure you’re feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, particularly fatigue and mental fogginess, and probably googling “sleep supplements” or “help me sleep better”.
If so, here is your go-to guide which will save you stressing about what will work, and what won’t – saving you sleepless nights in the process.
As you’ll soon know, not all sleep supplements actually work, and there are several red flags to be wary of. As always, before starting any supplement regime, speak to your health practitioner first.
Fail 1: right ingredient, wrong form
Starting off with the most renowned sleep supplement, it’s imperative you know: not all magnesium is helpful. As I mentioned in my 2022 updated signature bedtime routine, you need to look for magnesium glycinate, di- or bi- glycinate, or chelate.
Comparatively, other forms, such as magnesium oxide, are designed for constipation – not sleep. On a similar vein, a 2001 study by Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago found oral magnesium is more bioavailable (easily absorbed) than other forms, such as a spray or balm.
That’s not to say these other formats aren’t effective, however the existing clinical data does indicate that oral forms are the best.
Fail 2: it doesn’t have co-factors
Ideally, your sleep supplement will have synergistic ingredients. With reference to magnesium, vitamin D is an important mineral for absorption, as are zinc and calcium. In addition, a 2020 paper by Cambridge University found vitamin B6 increases it’s uptake.
Fail 3: the supplement doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier
Some sleep supplements seem to offer you a world of calm, GABA for example. As our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, yes, GABA does relax the nervous system, help you switch off and feel sleepy.
However, this is when GABA is created naturally by the body. On the other hand, synthetic GABA may not have the same effect, as it does not readily cross the blood brain barrier. Translated, this means it will not be readily absorbed by the body, and as a result, have little effect.
Fail 4: the ingredients are not supported by science
Although we are always looking for new and novel ways to sleep better, when it comes to supplements, we should stick to what we know. Outside of magnesium, the Ze91019 blend of Hops and valerian, is backed by a wealth of clinical data.
For example, a 2000 study found the combination could help individuals fall asleep faster, sleep deeper and wake up more refreshed. Similarly, a 2007 clinical trial found participants were able to fall asleep faster.
Important to note that the researchers highlighted that it was the blend, rather than either ingredient exclusively, that instigated the results.
Fail 5: it’s not intended for long term use
Speaking specifically about melatonin here, it is a great supplement to – temporarily – correct a misaligned circadian rhythm, yes. As highlighted in a 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal, melatonin can help you fall asleep faster, reduce morning fatigue, deepen and lengthen sleep.
Sounds like a dream – right?! Right – for short term use only. See, the clinical evidence only supports it’s use for 1-3 months, no longer. So – use it in the interim, but not for the rest of your nights.