The 9 Best Sleep Aids of 2021

Here’s how to make sure you’re stressing less and sleeping more

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Our Top Picks
Because of its natural contents, this definitely takes the cake for best overall.
Magnesium supplements, like this pick from Nobi Nutrition, may help regulate melatonin and promote calmness in older adults.
If you’re looking for a tastier way to consume your go-to sleep aid, these melatonin gummies are a good pick.
These contains 5-HTP, which has been shown to help with serotonin regulation.
They are all-natural, gluten-free, and don’t contain any artificial flavoring.
This medication works well to subdue the symptoms of the allergies while also helping patients sleep.
Containing three powerhouse ingredients help you get your beauty rest.
In addition to diphenhydramine, it contains acetaminophen, which is a pain reliever and fever reducer.
This is made to help users stay asleep, rather than fall asleep.

Look, we get it: sleep isn’t just important, it’s necessary. 

Laying in bed and not being able to fall asleep can be super uncomfortable. Not only can it cause more stress and frustration in those moments, but it can also lead to issues in your ability to work and focus the next day. Luckily, there are plenty of over-the-counter options that can help you take back your full night of rest.

To find out what ingredients to look for in supplements and medications, we tapped Durga Sunitha Posina, MD, a board-certified internist in Stony Brook, New York. While Dr. Posina explains that over-the-counter medications are definitely helpful, she specifies that they are intended to “help in the short term or for light irregularities in your sleeping schedule.” Before heading to the pharmacy, she recommends evaluating some lifestyle factors first

"If you are going to bed with the television on or with your phone blasting blue light at your face, odds are you could be sending signals to your brain to stay awake,” says Dr. Posina. “Sleep hygiene is important when looking to improve the quality of sleep.”

In addition to those factors, Dr. Posina encourages people to refrain from eating dinner later into the night and to avoid fatty, carb-heavy meals that can cause indigestion. Also, consider your stress levels and how they may be impacting your ability to fall asleep. “Therapy can help you unravel some of those feelings, so they don’t keep you up at night,” says Dr. Posina. 

We’ve outlined some supplements and medications below that contain ingredients recommended by Dr. Posina.

Best Overall: Love Wellness Sleeping Beauty

lights out

Not only does this supplement contain melatonin, it contains organic valerian root, which Dr. Posina explains is known for its calming properties. “Valerian and its components have been studied for their relation to gamma-aminobutyric acids, which are amino acids that serve as a neurotransmitter,” says Dr. Posina. “Low gamma-aminobutyric acid levels resulting from chronic stress are believed to be connected with anxiety and poor sleep.” Because of its natural contents, this definitely takes the cake for best overall. 

The Love Wellness Lights Out pills are vegan, as well as dairy and gluten-free. They also contain magnesium, which has been shown to reduce stress while promoting a sense of calm. 

Best for Older Adults: Nobi Nutrition Magnesium Complex Premium

It may be hard for older people to acclimate to new routines. Unfortunately, sleep conditions also become more common as we age—and this is due to a number of reasons, including sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome

This Nobi supplement is great for all of these reasons. It’s pure magnesium, which is a naturally-occurring mineral that has been shown to decrease in our bodies as we age. While magnesium isn’t a sleep aid, it has been shown to promote calmness in older adults, and it helps regulate melatonin. The great thing about these supplements is that you don’t have to remember to take them right before bed—you can take them at any point throughout the day. Just make sure to take note of whether or not it’s improving your sleep after a few weeks of use. 

Best Tasting: Olly Sleep Gummies

Olly Sleep Melatonin Gummies (50 Gummies)

The original version of the OLLY gummies contains three milligrams of melatonin as well as L-theanine, which has been found to reduce stress levels. In addition to those two active ingredients, it also contains chamomile, passionflower, and lemon balm extracts. They also have extra-strength gummies if you’re looking to amp up the milligram dosage from three to five for an added boost, or rather, for an added sedative. 

Finally, if you want to tack on some sleep-filled benefits, this brand also has an immunity version of their sleep gummies. This version includes elderberry and vitamin C, both of which have cold-fighting components. 

Quick Tip

"Before buying an over-the-counter sleep aid, you should consider what problem you’re solving. For starters, are you struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep? If you’re having trouble falling asleep, a standard, fast-acting sleep aid may do the trick. But if your issue is staying asleep, you might be better served by a time-release option." — Dr. Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Best Chewable: Sugarbear Sleep Vitamins Vegan Gummies

These adorable SugarBear gummies contain melatonin as well as valerian root—so you’re sure to sleep super soundly. They also contain lemon balm leaf and passionflower, making them not only pretty and helpful, but also totally natural, and magnesium, which has been shown to help those who struggle with neuromuscular excitability (like restless leg syndrome). 

Finally, in addition to everything else, this contains 5-HTP, which has been shown to help with serotonin regulation. The bottle recommends thoroughly chewing and taking one gummy 30 minutes before falling asleep for the best results. 

Best for Kids: Zarbee's Naturals Children's Sleep with Melatonin Supplement

The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses taking caution when it comes to melatonin due to the fact that the FDA doesn’t monitor quality control of over-the-counter preparations, which could mean that the actual dose in the pill isn’t the same as what's listed on the bottle. That said, they do say that it can be helpful for short-term sleeping problems that are a result of stressors, travel or a sudden change in routine. 

These Zarbee’s supplements contain one milligram of melatonin and work best when taken 30–60 minutes before bedtime. They are all-natural, gluten-free, and don’t contain any artificial flavoring. That said, don’t worry, they’re still enhanced with some berry flavoring that will help them go down easy.

Best Allergy Relief: Benadryl Allergy Ultratab Tablets

While Dr. Posina cautions against using medicines with diphenhydramine unnecessarily “because the body builds a tolerance rather quickly,” she notes that they can be helpful for those experiencing chronic allergies. “This is an antihistamine that is used in allergy medications and produces a drowsy effect on those who take it,” says Dr. Posina. “Usually, for someone experiencing chronic allergies, this medication works well to subdue the symptoms of the allergies while also helping patients sleep.”

In particular, the Benadryl Ultratabs Antihistamine Allergy Relief contains 25-milligrams of diphenhydramine and is intended for kids and adults ages six and up. 

Beauty sleep, indeed. This product is gluten-free, sustainably sourced, non-GMO, and vegan. It also combines three powerhouse ingredients that will help you dream the night away: three milligrams of melatonin, vitamin B6, and calcium. B6 contributes to the body’s production of serotonin, so you can’t go wrong there. The brand advises people to take one tablet 20 minutes before they go to bed. 

Best for Pain Relief: ZzzQuil Night Pain Nighttime Sleep-Aid Pain Reliever

If you have a cold or injury, it’s completely understandable that you may be having some trouble sleeping. This ZzzQuil will definitely help you out. In addition to diphenhydramine, it contains acetaminophen, which is a pain reliever and fever reducer. 

This is intended to help you fall asleep in 20 minutes, so make sure you take it when you’re ready to turn out the lights. Again, remember that Dr. Posina, as well as most doctors, caution against using this as a general sleep aid due to its habit-forming potential.

Best Time-Release: Natrol Advanced Sleep Tablets

Here’s the thing, 10 milligrams is significantly more than any other supplement on this list, so definitely make sure you’re consulting with your doctor before picking this up. That said, if your problem isn’t as much falling asleep as it is staying asleep, you may need to consider a time-release option—and this definitely checks that box. 

The bottle advises taking one tablet 20 minutes before bedtime, which is when it releases five milligrams to help you fall asleep. Once you’re asleep, the tablet releases the next five milligrams later in the night to help you stay asleep.

Final Verdict

It’s important to make sure you’re consulting with your doctor and not fostering a reliance on supplements and medications unnecessarily. That said, if you’ve exhausted all of your lifestyle options, the best choice is definitely something with melatonin and valerian root. This is why Love Wellness supplements take the cake in terms of ingredients. However, if you're looking for something a little more natural, opt for HUM Beauty zzZz Sleep Aid to get a good night's rest while staying healthy.

What to Look for in a Sleep Aid

Ingredients: Depending on whether or not you’re attempting shut-eye while you have a cold, there are three main ingredients that you should be looking for in a sleep aid. Melatonin and valerian root are great natural options for everyday use, and should be your go-to when seeking a new sleep aid. Diphenhydramine is definitely where you want to turn when you’re feeling under the weather, but should be used sparingly.

Side Effects: Take your milligram dosage into account when considering sleep medications and supplements, and definitely reduce the dosage if you find yourself feeling tired into the next day. Lots of sleep medications also come with potential side-effects when they’re paired with other medications or alcohol. Make sure you talk with your doctor to find out if you’re at risk.

Precautions: It’s important to consult a doctor because sleep medications can be habit-forming. Because of this, you definitely want to make sure you’ve exhausted all possible lifestyle changes before resorting to supplements or medications.

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Article Sources
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