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What Is the Real Cost of Taking Supplements That Stop Working?

I am amazed at how much some people will pay for bottles and boxes of pills and potions at the health food store. This is even for "unproven" supplements. And food supplements in the United States are unregulated, meaning that there is no guarantee of what is actually in the bottle – even for "proven" supplements!

Some of my clients regularly spend up to 200 dollars on supplements, teas, and oils, hoping they will help them sleep. If they did, they wouldn't be working with me. So why do I think people keep doing this?

I often hear, "Well, they worked for a few days then stopped working."

Thinking critically about sleep supplements

My feeling is that the supplements didn't actually work in a direct physical way. But what that person taking said supplements experienced was, in fact, very powerful – much more potent than the supplement they paid their hard-earned money for.

This is how I see it: All the supplement-taking is to help achieve sleep, and it wouldn't be happening if people didn't fear being awake. This is regardless of whether the supplements are proven by science to work or not (as some will simply not help anyway).

They were taking these over-the-counter (OTC) supplements with hope, confidence, and the expectation that they would help. So, their fear of not sleeping eased – they had given the power to sleep to something outside of themselves. With this drop in anxiety about not sleeping, their built-up sleep drive was able to do what it does: sleep.

Voila! The supplements work – right?

A wobbly confidence in sleep

However, sleep confidence – especially in people who have insomnia for long periods – is wobbly.

Maybe they are still "experimenting" to get the best result or continue feeling like they are doing something about their insomnia by taking supplements. Or maybe they have a natural blip in their sleep – this seems more significant when people put sleep under a microscope, after all.

I think the fear of not sleeping returns, and then suddenly I hear, "The supplements don't work anymore!" And around on the hamster wheel of sleep chasing we go.

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The toll and unfulfilled promise of sleep supplements

This clearly has a financial toll. But the more harmful consequences of this cycle are that people are led to think that sleep lives in a bottle on a shelf at the health food store. This erodes their sleep confidence in a way that makes them feel even more fearful and vulnerable. Which, of course, worsens sleep over time.

We can't sleep if our safety radar is switched on. And if we repeatedly try to force sleep to happen – like taking an endless list of ever-changing supplement combinations – we continue to reinforce the idea that our radar needs to be on to "protect" us from not sleeping.

This or That

Do you experience brain fog?

Weighing the costs

I do not mean to sound like I am minimizing the experience of not sleeping. I had 2 long, terrible bouts of insomnia, and since they have passed I have had time to learn more about my own sleep process.

I have simply seen through my past sleep efforts and the efforts of people in my life now: that even very well-meaning "trying" has a cost. People are often very aware of the financial cost of supplements but less aware of the costly dynamic that can make their sleep worse rather than better.

Has this sleep supplement dynamic happened to you?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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