The Best Natural Sleeping Aids of 2022
Updated: Sep 16
Improving Sleep - My Journey With Melatonin…and a Surprising Alternative I Found
When I was younger, I never had problems with sleep. I could easily get 7 hours of good rest a night and be raring to go in the morning. These days however, it’s a different story, which I actually only noticed happening after I reached my mid-thirties.
It’s been going on for some time now, and I had finally had enough of feeling listless and not wanting to get out of bed to start work (even working from home!) in the morning. I’ve even tried a number of suggestions from friends, be it not using my mobile phone within half an hour of my bedtime, or even exercising more after work and drinking less coffee, the latter of which I am down to just one large cup a day.
Even with these changes to my lifestyle, I found that the quality of my sleep was perhaps just slightly improved at best. As such, I went online to try to find sleep supplements to try out to see if it would be effective for me. A quick search led me to melatonin - I’ve heard about their usage to aid sleep and there was a wealth of information online, which encouraged me to finally try them.
Here is my journey using Melatonin, and why I swapped it out for this other lesser-known alternative.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin (not to be confused with melanin) is a hormone that is naturally produced by your brain in response to darkness—it acts as a signal for your body to sleep and is instrumental in regulating your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
In 1995, scientists found a way to synthesize this hormone externally, and since then melatonin has often been taken as a dietary supplement by those experiencing sleep disorders. Its popularity as an ostensible antidote for sleep deprivation is perhaps due to it being relatively inexpensive and widely available—with the exception of the U.K., melatonin is generally available in most countries over the counter (i.e. without a prescription).
Melatonin is pretty easy to get, and you can easily find them at online stores like GNC, or on Lazada/Shopee. I purchased some melatonin online in a bottle of 60 tablets, with each tablet having 3mg of melatonin. Additionally, I followed the directions on the bottle and had one tablet a day at bedtime.
While melatonin is used extensively by many people, there also have been some reports of negative side effects, including headaches, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. However, the side effects may vary from person to person. Additionally, one other thing I heard was that taking too much melatonin could cause an over reliance on the supplement, and would affect sleep even more when you stop taking it. There is conflicting research on this aspect but I personally did not want to be reliant on something for the long term.
My Experience With Melatonin (25 days)
Day 1: I took a tablet of melatonin before bedtime, and while I did manage to have slightly better sleep, I did notice that when I woke up, I was significantly more drowsy/groggy than usual. My morning was not very productive.
Day 2-7: I religiously took my melatonin tablet every night before bedtime, and I felt that my sleep did improve slightly, and I was falling asleep faster with a slightly deeper sleep. However, I also noticed that the drowsy feeling when I woke up seemed to be more apparent and lasted for longer, from almost 7.45am from when I woke up to 9 or 10am. In addition, I did suffer from a headache on days 3 and 5, which lasted for about 2 hours.
Day 8-25: The quality of my sleep remained at a slightly better state, and was comparable to that of day 2 to 7. The drowsy feeling in the mornings did not really go away and I felt that my mornings were definitely less productive than usual. This drowsy feeling did usually abate by lunchtime however. One other thing I noticed was that I had nausea and headaches off and on during some of the days. I’m not sure if it was caused by melatonin but I had not really changed my diet during this time.
On day 26, I decided to stop taking the melatonin pills as I really disliked the way I was so unproductive during the mornings, as well as the occasional nausea. Overall, I felt that the slightly better sleep was not worth the side effects of increased drowsiness and headaches/nausea.
My Further Research On Melatonin
In a bid to find out more about melatonin and why it was not really effective for me, I did more research online about the supplement and its limitations. Here’s what I found:
While melatonin is believed to help you fall asleep more quickly, in reality it only speeds up the process by a slight extent, according to neurologists. For me however, I did feel that I fell asleep slightly faster and had slightly better sleep however.
The efficacy of melatonin supplements depends on the specific sleep issues you are experiencing. Studies have suggested that melatonin supplementation most clearly benefits those suffering from jet lag and/or Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD), in which a person has a “night owl” sleep schedule and is unable to fall asleep at a conventional bedtime.
The safety of using melatonin supplements in the long-term has not been established: for example, in the study that found melatonin suitable for treating DSWPD, the benefits and safety of melatonin for long-term treatment were not assessed.
As it stands currently, melatonin is more suitable for short-term use and for people experiencing jet lag or DSWPD—it is not a cure-all for sleep disorders. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has even concluded that there isn’t enough scientific support for melatonin supplements improving insomnia
There is also concern about the quality of melatonin supplements. A recent study on commercial melatonin products found that 71% of the 31 tested melatonin supplements were not within 10% of the dosage listed on their labels.
It also found that 26% of the products contained contaminants like serotonin. The wide variety and availability of melatonin products thus mean that there are many different melatonin formulations on the market, a significant portion of which are mislabelled or contain unlisted contaminants.
The consumer should also be aware that consuming melatonin supplements may cause a hangover effect of daytime drowsiness. Melatonin supplements may also lose their effectiveness over time, however that ranges from case to case. I believe for my case, melatonin was not very effective and did cause some negative side effects.
The Surprising Alternative I Found - Ashwagandha
As melatonin didn’t work for me, I really wanted to find out whether there were any alternatives for the supplement. While not as well-known as melatonin, I found that this interesting natural herb called ashwagandha that many people were taking to improve their quality of sleep, and promote calmness/reduce anxiety.
What is Ashwagandha?
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen that helps your body adapt to existing conditions—for example, if you are stressed out and overwhelmed, adaptogens help to calm you down and boost your energy without overstimulation so that your body can respond to the stress in a healthy manner. In other words, adaptogens like ashwagandha help your body adapt to stress by exerting a normalizing effect on bodily processes.
As an adaptogen, ashwagandha doesn’t have just one isolated health benefit. Rather, it responds to what your specific physiological system needs in order to keep your body balanced. As a result, ashwagandha can improve your overall well-being by helping your body adapt better to stressful conditions by maintaining healthy cortisol levels and promoting resistance to anxiety.
In addition, ashwagandha is also non-habit-forming and consistent consumption will not result in an over-reliance on it.
Ashwagandha has been used for centuries as a sleep aid and recent studies have indicated that a regular consumption of ashwagandha is linked to a significant improvement in multiple sleep parameters—specifically, a reduction in the time it takes to fall asleep, and an increase in sleep efficiency, sleep quality, and total sleep time. In another placebo-controlled study, participants who had taken an ashwagandha extract reported a 72% increase in their sleep quality on average, compared to a 29% increase for the placebo group.
On another level, ashwagandha naturally helps your body to cope with stress by maintaining healthy cortisol levels and promoting resistance to anxiety. When you are less stressed out, you will naturally be able to sleep more deeply with a reduced likelihood of waking up during the night.
My Experience With Ashwagandha
So far, I’ve been taking ashwagandha for a good two months, and I have had a positive experience to this day!
While I did not experience great effects during the first week, consistent consumption of my ashwagandha supplement showed significant effects after about 14 days. I was taking 1 sachet a day of 250mg every night.
I felt that I was falling asleep much faster, and had less restless sleep than usual. For the first time in quite a while, I woke up feeling refreshed and I had more energy. The biggest takeaway for me was that when I woke up in the mornings, I did not have that groggy or drowsy feeling that I did when taking melatonin. I was able to function pretty well straight from the get go after waking up. Additionally, I did not suffer from any noticeable side-effects from my consistent usage of ashwagandha.
My further experience after a couple of months of taking ashwagandha consistently is that the herb really works for me. Of course, I believe that the effects will differ from person to person but for those suffering from poor sleep, this is definitely worth a try
Ashwagandha Supplements: What To Look Out For
There are a number of options out there, so it can be challenging to distinguish between which brands are effective and which are just trying to take your money.
When it comes to finding a high-quality ashwagandha supplement that delivers results, you should look for the following things:
Root-Only Extract Formulation
Ashwagandha extract can be made from the plant’s leaves, roots, or a mixture of both. It is important to look for an extract that is solely derived from the roots, without any leaf components: a root-only extract is preferable because most independent research studies and clinical trials on the therapeutic effects of Ashwagandha utilize root-only extracts.
Don’t settle for low-quality, inferior non-branded ashwagandha. Instead, look for products formulated with premium quality branded ashwagandha to ensure that you are getting the best possible quality.
At the forefront of ashwagandha ingredients is KSM-66, which has been studied extensively and shown to offer a holistic formulation.
KSM-66 is shown to retain the complex balance and original proportion of all the active chemical constituents found in the raw ashwagandha root. Such a formulation will ensure that you get to enjoy the full range of adaptogenic benefits offered by this multifaceted herb.
No Unnecessary Ingredients
The best ashwagandha supplements on the market are the ones that are comprised of healthy, complementary ingredients.
By cutting out the fillers, you can be sure you’re getting a legitimate product with highly concentrated ingredients in its purest form, with no unnecessarily added artificial additives or synthetics.
Top 3 Ashwagandha Supplements To Improve Sleep
After doing a lot of research into the ashwagandha supplement space and looking at all the options that were available…my go-to brand is The Purest Co’s Ashwa Lychee Drink.
I believe their quality is one of the best in the market, coupled with the fact that I could not find any other concentrated ashwagandha drink! In my research, I found out that the best absorption rate comes from liquids, rather than pills or powders. While the Ashwa Lychee Drink from The Purest Co is not the cheapest option in the market, it’s probably the most effective!
Additionally, before purchasing the Ashwa Lychee Drink, I read up on a lot of reviews and customers have had really good things to say about the supplement and how it has helped them with their sleep issues.
We here at Superfood Reviews have put in the hard miles to find out what the best option for a turmeric supplement in the market is. We have graded each choice through a stringent grading based on the following criteria:
Contains the top ashwagandha formulation - KSM-66
Includes effective complimentary ingredients like PharmaGaba ® and Camu Camu
No unnecessary ingredients or additives
Made in Taiwan and manufactured to HACCP and ISO22000 standards
Only available online
Regularly out of stock due to high demand, and takes a while to produce and restock
The Ashwa Lychee Drink is the number one choice for us due to its holistic formulation and with the brand’s focus on the customer experience.
The drink has the optimal amount of branded ashwagandha extract (KSM-66), which uses only root extract and is generally considered to be the most well-researched extract in the market. Additionally, The Purest Co has added good complimentary ingredients such as PharmaGaba ® and Camu Camu extract in their offering.
While many options of ashwagandha can be inherently bitter, the Ashwa Lychee Drink has a great taste due to the lychee concentrate juice, while not being overly sweet.
Additionally, the main difference is that the Ashwa Lychee Drink is one of the few if not the only concentrated ashwagandha drink in the market. While costly to produce as a liquid, the absorption rate of liquids beats any other form factor (gummies/pills/powders) by a large margin, according to research.
While not the cheapest option in the market, in terms of effectiveness, the Ashwa Lychee Drink is the top choice, and it helps customers reap the most benefits out of the ashwagandha supplement.
Contains the top ashwagandha formulation - KSM-66
Includes effective complimentary ingredients like Vitamin D
Low concentration of ashwagandha per gummy
Tastes too sweet and artificial
Gummies aren’t great with absorption rates
Gummies are too sticky and inconvenient
The Ashwagandha gummies by Goli are one of the few options for ashwagandha supplements in gummy form. While the interesting form factor can make it convenient for customers to eat, studies have shown that absorption rates through gummies compared to liquids is around half as effective.
Customers who have tried Goli gummies do raise certain concerns about its taste being too sweet however, and there is also a consensus that the gummies get too sticky in warmer climates, and taking individual gummies out of the bottle is a difficult ordeal.
As one of the pioneers in the gummy supplements industry, Goli is a brand that is well-known for producing high quality Apple Cider Vinegar gummies, hence you can rest assured that processing standards and safety are high.
Lastly, Goli has a good return policy, and you can send them back to the company within 30 days. Having said that, you are responsible for return shipping costs which could be high.
While Goli is a well-respected brand and their gummies are quick and convenient to consume, we believe that the gummies format (less effective), coupled with its sweetness, puts Goli at a slight disadvantage.
Made in the USA
Non-GMO and plant-base
Low ashwagandha concentration
No complimentary ingredients
Powders aren’t great with absorption rates
An up and coming brand from the United States, KOS has a broad range of functional powders and supplements. Their ashwagandha powder has good reviews across different marketplaces, with some customers praising its no frills and effective product.
KOS’s powder is produced in the USA to USDA standards, hence it is safe to say that processing standards are high. However, a large disadvantage for us would be that KOS does not use KSM-66, which is broadly regarded as the number one ashwagandha extract in the market today.
Additionally, due to the fact that the concentration of ashwagandha is not as high as the other options in the market, this has counted against KOS.
Lastly, powdered supplements may clump and result in inferior effectiveness rates for customers, as well as the additional work it takes to mix it into drinks.
While melatonin did not work for me, considering I did not like the fact that I was very drowsy in the mornings and the side effects of headaches and nausea, I managed to find a great alternative that helped me to improve the quality of my sleep - ashwagandha.
However, everyone is different, and ashwagandha may have different effects for you.
I believe however, that after doing the proper research online, that taking an ashwagandha supplement such as the Ashwa Lychee Drink would definitely help most people with their sleep issues after consistent use of the product.