If you find yourself feeling sleepy during the day or waking up unrested, you might be tempted to try an over-the-counter sleep aid. These herbal formulations promise to help you get a good night’s rest, but can they really help? The evidence is spotty about the effectiveness of these sleep aids, but let’s see what we do know about the effectiveness of their active ingredients.


Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by your body. It was once considered the darling miracle drug for sleep. Some studies do support its effectiveness for reducing jet lag or sleep disturbance related to shift work, but overall reviews suggest there is little to no positive effect from taking melatonin, and taking melatonin is essentially no different from taking a placebo, though there is some potential benefit for people with cluster headaches.

Man in bed taking sleeping aidsL-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is commonly found in tea leaves. It has been claimed that L-theanine is helpful in increasing alertness and focus as well as relaxation. These claims have little evidence to support them, and their somewhat contradictory nature highlights the lack of regulation for these types of claims made by supplement manufacturers. (Always look for the disclaimer on the label: “These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”)

5-Hydroxytriptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP is one of the more studied ingredients in this popular formulation, and there is decent research to suggest that, when combined with gabadone (GABA), 5-HTP can reduce the time to fall asleep, may improve sleep quality, and may reduce night terrors.


Taurine is another supplement ingredient that is claimed to both improve sleep and increase alertness. Of these two claims, it seems that the alertness claim has more evidence, though there seems to be some association between decreased taurine levels and obstructive sleep apnea.

Feeling That You’re Not Sleeping?

It’s possible that for people with mild sleeping problems, something like this might be modestly effective. However, if you are sleepy during the day and waking unrested, it’s important to be evaluated for sleep apnea. If you have sleep apnea, supplements or medication that induce additional relaxation might actually backfire by increasing the collapse of your airways during sleep and causing more apneic events.

To learn more about sleep apnea and what treatments might be effective for you, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center today.