The Best Sleep Aids

After talking with doctors and examining clinical studies, we learned that the research surrounding common remedies for restless nights, like melatonin and valerian, is often contradictory. To find the best sleep aid, it’s important to look for an active ingredient that suits your particular sleep problems — and to pay close attention to your dosage and timing.

The 3 Best Sleep Aids

Best for
Falling Asleep
Source Naturals Sleep Science Melatonin 1mg
Source Naturals
A quick-dissolving, low-dose melatonin tablet.
Pros
Helps you fall asleep
Good dosage
Fast-acting
Accurate label
Cons
Not for long-term use
Research is unclear
May interact with daily medications

Why we chose it

Helps you fall asleep

If falling asleep is your problem, Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor, told us that melatonin seems to have an edge over options like valerian. Research suggests that this supplement may be beneficial if, say, you’re battling jet lag — or if you’re sometimes up until 2 a.m. struggling to drift off.

Good dosage

If you do opt for melatonin, it’s important to take dosage into consideration. Dr. Goldstein stressed that melatonin is a hormone — and an imbalance could have far-reaching effects on your body.

“In adults, melatonin can decrease body temperature and overproduce prolactin (a hormone that increases lactation), which can cause a variety of hormonal-related issues, from irregular periods to low libido,” she told us.

Source Naturals was one of our only finalists not to exceed Dr. Breus’s recommended 0.5 mg to 1.5 mg range. Most of the products we looked at offered 3 mg per pill — with some clocking in at a whopping 10 mg.

Fast-acting

These small time-release lozenges are meant to dissolve under your tongue, which means that your body will absorb them faster.

“Usually products that you put under your tongue are absorbed quicker because that area of your mouth is very viscous,” explained Dr. Breus, “as opposed to pill that you swallow that has to be broken down in your stomach, where you stomach acid will eat up half of it.” This gives it an edge over chewable tablets or gummies, which both have to be chewed and swallowed.

Source Naturals Close-Up for Sleep Aid

Accurate label

LabDoor gave Source Naturals’ melatonin high marks for label accuracy, with a score of 82.3 out of 100. Note that this score is for Source Naturals Melatonin 1 mg Orange Flavor, which offers a very strong burst of citrus (though no medicinal taste at all). If you’re not a fan of citrus, we’d suggest Source Naturals’ unflavored melatonin instead — or you can try the peppermint formula. At $0.06 per serving, any one of these flavors represents an affordable option.

Points to consider

Not for long-term use

Dr. Goldstein told us that “long-term use [of melatonin supplements] can also hinder our ability to produce melatonin.” So think of this supplement as more of a once-in-a-while, in-case-of-emergency tool than an everyday standby.

Research is unclear

It’s important to note that, while studies suggest that melatonin may help you sleep, experts are still calling for more thorough research. In other words, melatonin is likely to help you sleep, but the jury’s still out on exactly how much it will help.

May interact with daily medications

If you take a daily medication of any kind, we’d suggest talking with your doctor before incorporating melatonin into your routine. The Mayo Clinic notes that melatonin can interact with a number of common medications, from blood thinners to birth control.

Best for
Staying Asleep
Gaia Herbs Valerian Root, Vegan Liquid Capsules
Gaia Herbs
Low-odor valerian capsules.
Pros
Good for staying asleep
Safe dosage
Few fillers
Mild smell
Cons
Delayed effect
Pricey
May interact with SSRIs

Why we chose it

Good for staying asleep

Valerian isn’t likely to cause next-day drowsiness or vivid dreams, so it might be a better option if you’re struggling to stay asleep. Some studies also suggest that valerian leads to increased slow wave sleep (or “deep sleep”), though these findings have been disputed.

Safe dosage

According to Goldstein, the optimal dose of valerian is between 250 mg and 500 mg. Gaia’s recommended two-capsule serving delivers a solid 450 mg.

Gaia Herbs Close-Up for Sleep Aid

Few fillers

If you opt for valerian, Drs. Breus and Goldstein both told us that it’s best to pick a supplement with as few fillers as possible. Gaia edges out other, otherwise competitive supplements thanks to an ingredient list that includes just three items: valerian, vegetable glycerin, and vegetable cellulose.

Mild smell

Most valerian supplements give off a strong scent that may put some people off. You’ll catch a faintly earthy scent as you open a bottle of Gaia, but we didn’t notice this until we stuck our noses into the bottle. By contrast, others gave off a lingering aroma that reminded us of dirty socks and sweaty feet.

Points to consider

Delayed effect

Valerian research is more contradictory than that pertaining to melatonin. One valerian study found no benefit to taking the herb at the 14-day mark but discovered that it “greatly improved sleep” after 28 days. Dr. Goldstein confirmed this, noting that, while valerian will work for some “super sensitive” people the first time they take it, for others it may need to build up in their system for weeks before they start to notice any changes (though she notes that the same has been said about melatonin).

Pricey

Gaia is a premium option at $0.30 per serving. However the valerian is sourced from the company’s organic farm in North Carolina, and each bottle comes with an ID number that allows you to track the batch and learn more about the source of your supplement on the manufacturer’s website. If you’re conscious about organic products, the price may be worth it, but know that there are cheaper valerian options out there.

May interact with SSRIs

While valerian is generally considered safe, Dr. Goldstein warns that even herbs can still cause interactions with other drugs, especially SSRIs. As with any herb, it’s best to talk with your doctor first.

Best for
A Long, Deep Sleep
GoodSense Sleep Aid Doxylamine Succinate Tablets
GoodSense
An antihistamine that’ll help you sleep but may leave you groggy.
Pros
Helps you sleep
Cost-effective
Cons
Side effects

Why we chose it

Helps you sleep

For desperate times, an antihistamine-based medication might be your best bet. Antihistamines work — no one disputes their ability to cause drowsiness.

Cost-effective

At $0.12 per serving, GoodSense is much cheaper than our valerian option and cheaper than the other antihistamine options we looked into, too. Other brands retail for up to $0.50 per serving for the exact same active ingredient.

GoodSense Close-Up for Sleep Aid

Points to consider

Side effects

These tablets aren’t built to last for six or eight hours — they’re built to last for 12. That’s too long for anyone who needs to be productive the following day, although it could be just right for someone looking to sleep through a long-haul flight or who’s desperately in need of sleep after a long week.

Dr. Goldstein warned, however, that the sleep you get from an antihistamine isn’t going to be as restorative as unmedicated sleep. “It’s like alcohol,” she told us. “You’ll get sleep, but you’re not going to wake up with mounds of energy.” Dr. Zammit explains, “When you take a sedating antihistamine, REM sleep may be suppressed at the beginning of the night. But then it rebounds at the end of the night, and this can lead to vivid, intense, and sometimes disturbing dreams.”

Guide to Sleep Aids

How to find the right sleep aid for you

Figure out your sleep issue

The sleep aid that will be helpful to you depends on what issue you’re experiencing. Do you just want something to give you the extra nudge on a long flight? Or is it that you’re struggling to fall asleep each night? Different active ingredients are meant for different issues, so it’s important to know which one you’re trying to target.

Talk to your doctor

Sleep issues can often be traced back to an underlying issue. When we asked Dr. Breus for his first choice in treating sleep issues, he told us, “It’s never a pill. I would want to know the root cause. There could be an anxiety component where cognitive behavioral therapy could be helpful.” If you face sleeplessness regularly, it’s well worth speaking to your doctor about underlying causes.

Try magnesium

“Magnesium is my go-to recommendation for patients experiencing trouble sleeping,” says Dr. Goldstein. “It’s nature’s relaxer.” Magnesium plays an important role in helping to balance blood sugar and hormones; an imbalance in either could be affecting your sleep. By supplementing magnesium, “you’re replenishing a mineral that basically everyone needs, as well as helping to literally relax the body.” Before reaching for a traditional sleep aid, try starting off with magnesium to see if it makes a difference.

Sleep Aid FAQ

Is the placebo effect real?

Yes. In fact, Dr. Zammit says that the most common reason new sleep aid testing fails is because the group of participants taking the placebo often respond well, making it difficult to show the drug’s superiority.

Can you become addicted to sleep aids?

It depends on the sleep aid. Consumer Reports writes that while the antihistamine diphenhydramine isn’t physically addictive, it can be psychologically addictive. On the other hand, Mayo Clinic says that you’re unlikely to become dependent on melatonin with short-term use. Again, it’s best to talk to your doctor to figure out which option is best for you.

Is it safe to take a sleep aid if I'm already taking other medications?

Although many sleep aid options like valerian are typically considered safe, it’s always wise to to consult your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine. A sleep aid’s active ingredients may interact with SSRIs, blood thinners, birth control, or other daily medications.

The Best Sleep Aids: Summed Up

Source Naturals Melatonin 1 mg Unflavored
Gaia Herbs Valerian Root Liquid Phyto-Caps
Good Sense Nighttime Sleep Aid Tablets
Best for
Falling asleep
Staying asleep
A long, deep sleep
Price
Starting at $12.49
Starting at $18.25
Starting at $4.33
Price per pill/capsule
$0.06
$0.30
$0.12
Active ingredient
Melatonin
Valerian root
Doxylamine (antihistamine)