5 Potent Ingredients to Seek in OTC Sleep Supplements

Most potent ingredients in OTC sleep supplements

Lack of sleep and sleep disorders have never been so prevalent than they are today. It is estimated that about 35% of adults in the United States do not get enough sleep, according to a CDC report.[1]

There are many conventional and traditional remedies that are used to fight off or treat sleep problems, and one of the most common options is to use over-the-counter sleep aid supplements.

If you search for sleep supplements on Amazon or any of the countless other online stores that sell dietary supplements, you will get a tall list of recommended products, often with confusing positive and negative reviews by other users.

While other consumers’ reviews and experiences could be helpful, I’d argue that you can make a more educated and less iffy decision by looking at the product label and examining each of the active ingredients in the formula.

5 Ingredients to Look For

There are many herbal, natural and synthetic compounds that are used to induce relaxation and restful sleep, which are sold either separately or as part of a multi-ingredient formulation.

Based on efficacy data gathered from the available clinical studies as well as overall consumer feedback, the following are five of the best and most effective ingredients that you should look for when shopping for an OTC sleep aid.

1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone in the human body that is mainly responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. The pineal gland releases melatonin at night/in darkness to induce sleepiness, thus it is often referred to as “the darkness hormone”.

This compound is available as an over-the-counter supplement and it is widely used to treat different sleep disorders in young and old people, although studies have not been conclusive on its efficacy in healthy individuals.[2][3]

People with low melatonin levels may benefit the most from melatonin supplementation. It is one of the most popular natural remedies for sleeplessness and most users report positive results with it.

You can find melatonin supplements in the form of pills, capsules, sublingual drops, spray and gummies. You’d hardly find a sleep aid formula without melatonin as one of the ingredients.

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the essential minerals needed by the body, which almost half of the U.S. population don’t get enough of from their everyday diet,[4] which explains why there is such a massive demand for magnesium supplements.

Magnesium is necessary for proper functioning of the body as it plays a role in many biological processes, and it is particularly important for the functioning and wellness of the brain.

One of the key functions of magnesium in the brain is that it stimulates GABA receptors resulting in improved function of the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter: GABA.[5]

People with low magnesium levels can suffer from many health problems, including anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping, thus, magnesium supplementation may provide relief from these symptoms and improve sleep quality.

3. Glycine

Glycine is an amino acid that the body uses to synthesize some proteins. It is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter. The body can produce glycine on its own, but it can also be beneficial when supplemented.

Several studies have shown that glycine improves sleep quality,[6][7] and it has also been shown to help with fatigue resulting from poor sleep.[8]

For insomniacs, it is recommended to take glycine in the form of magnesium glycinate: the magnesium salt of glycine, which gives you the added brain-calming and sleep-promoting benefits of magnesium.

4. L-Tryptophan

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid that the body must acquire from food sources. Tryptophan has several functions in the body, among which is serving as a precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin.

As a dietary supplement, L-tryptophan is used for different health problems including sleep disorders, depression, ADHD, anxiety, and others.

People who have taken tryptophan supplements to help them sleep have had mixed experiences with it, but there is some clinical data suggesting it may be beneficial for insomniacs.[9]

However, since most people get adequate amounts of this amino acid from their diet, there is no conclusive evidence that further supplementation has significant effects.

5. L-Theanine

Yet another amino acid that can come in handy at bedtime, L-theanine is naturally found in the leaves of green tea and other plants.

L-theanine is an analogue of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, however, it exhibits an inhibitory effect on the brain and thus promotes rest and relaxation.

Studies suggest that L-theanine increases the levels of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine in the brain leading to possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing benefits.[10]

L-theanine is a potent natural sleep aid, and it seems to be particularly effective for people who have sleep problems associated with stress, anxiety, depression and other mental disorders.[11][12][13]


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html
  2. https://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/813219/1/Riha%20accepted%20MS%202016.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1490287/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22364157/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11447329/
  6. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jphs/118/2/118_11R04FM/_pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4397399/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3328957/
  9. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00175180
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17182482/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25759004/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22214254/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366437/

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