Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Counting Your Sheep to Fall Asleep

Dear Dr. Walt,

Are there any supplements that can help my insomnia?

—Sleepless in Seattle

Dear Insomniac,

Three quick points before I answer your question.

First, you may want your doctor to do a brief evaluation to be sure there are no underlying medical or emotional issues that should be addressed.

Second, almost all of the prescriptions your doctor could write for insomnia should not be used for more than a few days or weeks at the most.

Finally, nothing has been shown more effective for chronic sleep problems than cognitive behavioral therapy, which can be provided by any number of qualified Christian counselors.

Now, that said, melatonin is a popular supplement for sleep. Studies show it can help you fall asleep faster, although not necessarily longer. Some research has shown it may also improve the quality of sleep in people with tinnitus, and improve sleep quality and duration in people with autism.

Valerian is another supplement commonly used as a sleep aid, although the evidence behind its use is mixed. One study reported an improvement in sleep for postmenopausal women who suffered from insomnia; however, a review of 37 studies of valerian concluded it was probably not effective for treating insomnia.

As I often remind my readers, in the U.S., neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests supplements for quality and safety. However, one of my favorite quality testing labs, ConsumerLab.com, did test 20 popular melatonin supplements.

The good news is that all passed every quality test.

The bad news is that there was a very wide range of strengths, serving recommendations, delivery forms, and costs. In fact, the daily serving size varied more than 30-fold, from 0.3 mg to 10 mg and the cost for 3 mg products varied 100-fold, from just 2 cents to $3.

Before using any supplement, be sure to check with your physician or pharmacist.

© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.