Travelers turn to sleep aids for many reasons—to catch some shut-eye on the plane, adjust to a new time zone, or just rest better in an unfamiliar environment. Curious to find out which are the most effective, T+L assembled a panel of editors to test seven of the most popular remedies —including the latest prescription drug, Lunesta. Though not exactly a scientific study, our experiment did have some controls. We consulted Dr. Louis Morledge, a New Yorkbased internist and travel-medicine specialist, who instructed subjects to take a cleansing two-day break between each aid and to abstain from alcohol and cigarettes on a test night. As you'll see, choosing the right sleep aid is a highly personal decision. But whichever one you pick, don't wait until you're traveling to try it out, Morledge says. "Make sure it works at home first, in case you have any unpleasant side effects, like nausea or headaches."
THE REMEDY Valerian 2 pills; 320 mg
SLEEP LOG Our panelists took Nature's Way Valerian Nighttime with Lemon Balm, which in clinical trials has induced sleep and reduced anxiety. This herb was the sleeper hit; our sound sleeper said, "A dream pill. I slept solidly and was lively and rested the next day." Other than "vivid dreams," there were no reported side effects.
BOTTOM LINE Good for those who are sensitive to prescription drugs.
THE REMEDY Melatonin 1 pill; 3 mg
SLEEP LOG Some research shows that melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, is effective as a circadian-rhythm regulator. We took Source Naturals, favored by Dr. Andrew Weil. Responses were all over the map, from "Love this pill—no druggy disorientation" to "I was up half the night counting sheep."
BOTTOM LINE May help with jet lag, but probably won't make you sleep better.
THE REMEDY Tylenol PM 2 caplets; 50 mg*
SLEEP LOG Some say next-day drowsiness is more common with over-the-counter sleep aids; the antihistamine Tylenol PM was chosen to test this theory. "Almost too strong for me," said one panelist; another felt she "physically couldn't get out of bed." But our early riser woke "clearheaded, with no residual lethargy."
BOTTOM LINE Best for sleeping off an illness, not if you need to be alert in the a.m.
THE REMEDY Ambien 1 pill; 10 mg
SLEEP LOG Most subjects described a deep sleep but said they woke abruptly at an early hour. Still, the general sentiment the next day was one of feeling "refreshed and ready to go." Only our sound sleeper reported feeling "spacey and strung out" until lunchtime. Our near-insomniac gushed: "My love affair with Ambien continues."
BOTTOM LINE Excellent for flights that are less than six hours long.
THE REMEDY Lunesta 1 pill; 3 mg
SLEEP LOG Our panelists raved about this rapid-onset drug, saying that true to its maker's claim, it induces a deep, eight-hour slumber. "Don't remember a thing once my head hit the pillow," said our restless sleeper. But our night owl's boyfriend found her "mumbling like a drugged lunatic. Not a state I'd like to be in on an airplane."
BOTTOM LINE Take after arriving, to help you adapt to a new time zone.
THE REMEDY Temazepan (Restoril) 1 pill; 15 mg
SLEEP LOG A few reported a bout of hyperactivity in the first half-hour after taking the pill; these same subjects were later so far gone that they talked in their sleep. Side effects ranged from nausea to dry mouth ("I felt as if I'd swallowed a hairball," said one) to intense next-day drowsiness. Our insomniac, however, said he slept like the dead.
BOTTOM LINE Not worth the side effects, unless you're a true insomniac.
THE REMEDY Tryptophan turkey—all you can eat
SLEEP LOG In order to explore the soporific properties of tryptophan (an amino acid found in poultry), subjects ate a turkey dinner. It may have been our restaurant choice, but three reported initial sleepiness and then "tossing and turning" throughout the night. One commented, "In fact, I'd say that my sleep was worse than usual."
BOTTOM LINE Not very effective when eaten with all the trimmings.
*50 mg of diphenhydramine HCl