Sleep is one of the most important components of physical and mental health. “A good night’s sleep is related to so many important functions of our body, from helping to maintain immune health and an improved mood to lowering your risk of certain health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes,” explains Keri Gans, RDN, a nutrition consultant in New York City and the author of The Small Change Diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of three adults do not regularly get adequate sleep.

Over-the-counter sleep aids, including those that are naturally derived, have become increasingly popular in treating sleeplessness and insomnia. Sleep gummies, supplements in gummy form with active ingredients, may be an effective treatment in the short-term, says Gans.

What Are Sleep Gummies?

As the name suggests, sleep gummies are a supplement to help you fall and stay asleep, in gummy form. These products are relatively new to market, according to Michael Breus, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan Beach, California, who specializes in sleep disorders, and part of what he calls the “gummy craze” sweeping the supplements industry. Sleep gummies contain active ingredients to induce sleep, most commonly melatonin, L-theanine, and CBD. Perhaps the only benefit sleep gummies have over supplements in capsule or tablet form is that they are easier for people who cannot swallow pills, says Dr. Breus, who is also the author of The Power of When, a book on understanding your body clock and circadian rhythms.

What Are the Active Ingredients in Sleep Gummies?

These over-the-counter sleep aids usually use one or a combination of three major ingredients to induce sleep: melatonin, L-theanine, and CBD.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone your body naturally produces to help you fall and stay asleep. Interestingly, it is only released in the dark, and it generally increases in the hours before bedtime, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).

Not only does it produce a sleepy feeling, but melatonin levels stay elevated in your blood, generally for 12 hours until the return of daylight. While there are no “normal” baseline amounts for melatonin, production of the hormone decreases as we age, and can fluctuate for other reasons throughout life. Melatonin supplements, which use a chemically synthesized version of the hormone, can induce drowsiness.

Side effects vary, but according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), they can include:

  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

While melatonin is generally safe for adults and children, Gans notes that a daily dose of melatonin should not exceed 10 milligrams (mg). “Follow instructions for use on the label,” she says.

L-theanine

L-theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide), is a stress-relieving amino acid naturally found in tea leaves. According to past research, it may reduce anxiety by affecting brain waves and inducing a state necessary for high-quality sleep. And, unlike conventional sleep aids, it does so without additives or other side effects, including daytime drowsiness.

One small study, published in October 2019 in Nutrients, found that a nightly dose of 200 mg of L-theanine improved stress-related sleep problems as well as depression and anxiety.

CBD

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a compound found in marijuana (one that lacks the psychoactive component that produces a high). It has become a popular ingredient in many over-the-counter products for its supposed anti-anxiety effects. There is limited research, including a study published in January 2019 in The Permanente Journal, showing that CBD may help individuals who suffer from anxiety, and thus the sleeplessness associated with anxiety.

What Are the Touted Benefits of Sleep Gummies — and Which Are True?

The biggest benefit of sleep gummies is that they can help you sleep. Since sleep gummies are relatively new to the market, there are no specific studies supporting their benefits. There is, however, research surrounding some of the active ingredients, as mentioned above.

Experts unanimously point out that any potential benefits of sleep gummies are only a short-term solution. They do not treat the root cause of sleeplessness.

Who Should Take Sleep Gummies?

Sleep gummies containing melatonin may be recommended for adults with temporary sleep problems or to help with jet lag, according to the NCCIH. There is also some evidence these sleep aids may help people who have a condition known as delayed sleep-wake phase disorder (DSWPD). There is less scientific agreement about the effectiveness of melatonin to treat insomnia, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine does not recommend the use of melatonin supplements for chronic insomnia.

Sleep gummies, specifically those with melatonin, may also help children sleep. “Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is important in regulating the sleep-wake cycle; levels are low during the day, rising to a peak in the middle of the night,” says Carl Baum, MD, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “Some children with neurodevelopmental disorders do not produce normal levels of melatonin, so in theory, oral administration of melatonin can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that melatonin may also cause side effects in children, including headaches or bedwetting. Additionally, long-term use could delay puberty

What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Sleep Gummies?

The biggest issue with sleep gummies is that, like all dietary supplements, they are unregulated in the United States. “Since the passage of the federal Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, any product labeled as a dietary supplement escapes FDA regulation,” explains Dr. Baum. “Other pharmaceuticals, including over-the-counter products, require evidence of safety and efficacy before they are approved by the FDA.” This means that once a product enters the market, the FDA bears the burden of proving whether it is mislabeled or dangerous before they can be withdrawn from the market. “The bottom line is that if you take a dietary supplement, you have absolutely no idea what is in the product: The active ingredient may not be present in the labeled dose — if it is there at all — and disclosure of contaminants and adulterants is not required.”

In fact, when researchers tested sleep aids, they found that most — 71 percent — had more than a 10 percent margin of error from what the label claimed, and amounts of melatonin varied significantly (by more than 400 percent) among different batches of supposedly identical products from the same brand. The results of the study, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2017, showed that the amounts of melatonin varied from 85 percent less to nearly 500 percent more than what the label claimed.

Gans adds that melatonin can negatively interact with some medications, “and therefore should be reviewed prior to use with one’s physician,” she says. “If you are on any prescribed medications or have any medical conditions you should always check with your physician first before starting on any supplements.”

Per the Mayo Clinic, medications that can interact with melatonin include anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, blood pressure medications, diabetes medications, contraceptives, immunosuppressants, seizure-threshold-lowering drugs, fluvoxamine, central nervous system depressants, and diazepam.

Breus notes that, as a general rule, “you can put more stuff in a gummy than a pill,” including sugar and flavoring and unnecessary ingredients. “This can easily lead to over dosages,” he says, adding that “very few, if any, supplement makers actually have the correct dose of any herb or supplement.” Additionally, any product in gummy form may lead to candy confusion. “We are seeing lots of accidental overdoses and kids taking things thinking they are candy,” he says.

How Long Do the Effects of Sleep Gummies Last?

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to take sleep gummies, make sure to take them as directed. Most gummies should be taken shortly before bedtime. If you take them in the morning or afternoon, you may become drowsy.

How long sleep gummies last is dependent on the ingredients. For example, a study published in the April 2017 Current Neuropharmacology found that after a dose of 1 to 5 mg, most people’s melatonin levels peaked within an hour, returning to normal four to eight hours later

How to Choose a Sleep Gummy

Because sleep gummies are not regulated by the FDA, Gans stresses the importance of choosing a reputable brand. According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study of 31 melatonin supplements, about a quarter of them contained serotonin, another hormone, as well as other unnamed ingredients.

[12] “Always choose a supplement that has third-party certification,” she says. The National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF) and the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) are two reputable third-party certification groups.

Also, she recommends a dose of 1 to 3 mg of melatonin per day, with 10 mg being the limit.

Summary

Sleep gummies may help some individuals get a better night’s sleep in the short-term. Sleep gummies are not a long-term solution to insomnia, however. If you are struggling to fall or stay asleep, experts suggest consulting a doctor in order to determine the root cause of the issue.

Also, as with all supplements, one should choose their brand of sleep gummies with caution and always discuss with their physician prior to use.

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