Many of us have had at least one incident of lying in bed staring at the ceiling during the early morning hours, unable to fall asleep.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 30 to 35 percent of adults complain of insomnia.
It’s an issue that has sparked a robust market of sleep supplements, aids, and online tips promising a better night’s rest. One of the latest is a drinkable “sleep aid” product in a can called Som Sleep. The drink contains L-theanine, GABA, and melatonin — ingredients often linked to relaxation and sleep.
Could this work better than other sleep aids?
The Som Sleep company announced the launch of its Som Sleep Original and Som Sleep Zero Sugar products in January 2018. Since then, it has made some rounds in the blogosphere, where users have touted its effectiveness. Sports Illustrated listed it in a roundup for better sleep and performance in athletes.
But positive buzz aside, is this sleep drink something we should be chugging so we can catch some z’s?
“My biggest concern here is that individuals who feel the need for these substances … are missing the opportunity to address a problem,” said Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist, sleep specialist, and author of “The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It.”
He said not only do these kinds of products potentially mask underlying conditions that need to be properly treated — anxiety, for example — but they also contribute to a larger problem relating to how we think of sleep and how we address the issues we have with it.
“Sleep is remarkably important for our body to work properly,” said Winter. “Having said that, people are not in danger of not sleeping.”
He explained that insomnia can be related to anxiety, which makes the experience worse.
“Insomnia is not, not sleeping,” Winter said. “Insomnia is not sleeping when you have decided you want to sleep and, importantly, having a negative emotional response to [that]. That’s where the anxiety can be a real killer.”
He equates it to a hypothetical situation of not wanting to eat a particular meal and then feeling the need to take a pill to make yourself eat.
“Imagine a drink that helps you feel hungry for your lunch if for some reason you go out with your friends and don’t feel like eating your chicken Caesar,” he said. “Does anyone think this is a helpful or needed drug? No, because everyone would simply skip eating and move on with their lives.”
But some sleep experts do see benefits to some of Som’s ingredients.
“It looks like an easy way to get some potentially healthy, sleep-inducing supplements in, without having to take a pill. The calorie content is not too high, and neither is the sugar amount, which would not be helpful for sleep,” said Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a psychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist in private practice in Silicon Valley, California.
Dimitriu said there is data supporting the use of “magnesium, melatonin, GABA and L-theanine” to reduce stress. He also said that magnesium can also help with anxiety and sleep, since it works as a muscle relaxant, and may even raise levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
BDNF “is like [Miracle-Gro] for brain neurons,” he said. “Melatonin helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, and can have some benefit to getting people to sleep. L-theanine is great at improving the body’s response to stress.”
Dimitriu cautioned that it is important to remember that Som is essentially a mix of supplements that are available over the counter and will probably only work in mild cases — if at all.
“My greatest concern would be in people relying on this, or other supplements, to correct a more significant sleep issue — such as one related to anxiety, depression, or sleep apnea,” Dimitriu said.
A costly night’s sleep?
At about $2.50 per 8-ounce can, is it worth the cost?
Dr. Nate Watson, an advisor to SleepScore Labs and past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said if consumers purchased either melatonin or magnesium separately, it may be roughly equivalent to Som’s pricing. Som is available in 4-, 12- and 24-packs.
But whether it has benefits is up to clinical research to determine, he said.
“I have concerns about the actual ability of the product to facilitate sleep, beyond the placebo effect,” said Watson.
He said if consumers choose to use a melatonin supplement instead, dosing is key: “You really only need 1 milligram (mg). It also should be taken hours before the intended bedtime.”
Additionally, consumers should remember that supplements are not regulated by the same stringent standards given to medications that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist based in Los Angeles, California, and medical advisor at Nightfood, said that while he can’t speak to the product itself, he can speak to its ingredients magnesium and melatonin.
“Both are effective to help someone fall asleep,” he said. “In a general sense, these two elements are fine to help you fall asleep every now and then.”