To me, sleep is a cheating rascal. I’ve had a one–sided relationship with sleep for as long as I remember.
I remember vividly one of the first times I didn’t sleep and just tossed and turned for an entire night. The night before a piano exam at age seven, I was sleeping over at my grandma and grandpa’s house. There was a projection clock that showed the time on the ceiling in bright red digits, so it was easy for me to track the time. Time ticked by slowly: “8:15 p.m. ...8:45 p.m. ...9:30 p.m.” Desperate for sleep, I counted sheep, sang a song in my head, and counted backwards from 100. Nothing worked. The next time I looked up to check the time, it was already 4 a.m..
Since then, I’ve tried everything from aromatherapy to different breathing techniques. I’ve even tried sleeping to ASMR Youtube videos, which failed terribly.
Coming to Penn, I prepared myself as much as possible in my ability: I applied and got single–room housing, and I made sure to bring my silicone noise blockers, my heat therapy eye mask, and my down feather pillow.
There was one thing I never tried before: natural sleep aids. I was skeptical, but during a trip to CVS, I was determined to try them and record my results for my fellow sleep–deprived classmates. I settled on Vitafusion Extra Strength Melatonin, Vicks ZzzQuil, Natrol Melatonin, and Nature Made Natural Acting Sleep Aid. After spending a life’s fortune on these, I set aside eight days for my little experiment, and here are my results.
Day 1: Vitafusion
Vitafusion’s main ingredient is melatonin, which helps your body know when to sleep and when to wake up. Excited for it to work its powers, I got in bed at around 1 a.m. and happily took the recommended dose of two gummies. They tasted delicious, like Welch’s Fruit Snacks. Maybe I was too expectant of the wondrous effects because I ended up in my usual cycle of tossing and turning. When I heard the waking sounds of birds chirping, I checked the time, and it was already 8 a.m.! After that, I did end up sleeping for a couple hours until 11 a.m. The three hours were clearly not enough, as I woke up with a new member to my pimple family, had a major headache throughout the day, and started feeling sick.
Day 2: Vitafusion
This time around, I slept at my usual time of 3 a.m., and had no expectations. After taking the delicious gummies, I fell asleep almost instantly and woke up at 10 a.m., only because I had to pee urgently. Since my first class started at 1 p.m., I hopped back in bed, hoping to sleep some more, but the trip to the bathroom fully woke me up. Still, I was happy with my seven hours of beauty sleep.
Day 3: Vicks Zzzquil
Like Vitafusion, Vicks Zzzquil uses melatonin, but it also incorporates botanicals like lavender, chamomile, valerian root, and lemon balm. At 2 a.m., I got in my bed, followed the directions and took two gummies. They were much larger than the Vitafusion gummies, and they had the distinct grape medicine taste with a bitter aftertaste. After tossing and turning for what felt like an hour, I fell asleep and slept until around 9 a.m. because, like the night before, I had to pee. I hopped back in bed and slept smoothly until 11 a.m.
Day 4: Vicks Zzzquil
At my usual sleep time of 3 a.m., I got in bed and took the two gummies. This time, I slept really easily, but at around 9 a.m., the sound of doors slamming along with my need to pee woke me up. Though I hoped to sleep some more after using the bathroom, I ended up tossing and turning until my alarm sounded at 12 p.m.
Day 5: Natrol
For Natrol, I was expecting magic. It was marketed as the #1 melatonin brand in America, and I was expecting at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I got into bed at 3 a.m., took one tablet, tossed and turned for probably an hour, and woke up at 8 a.m. because I had to pee, like usual. After tossing and turning again, I finally got up to start my day at 10:30 a.m. Though I did get some sleep, Natrol left me disappointed.
Day 6: Natrol
Oh my gosh, Natrol certainly upped its game because I had the most amazing sleep on this day. I slept from 3 a.m. until 1 p.m., nonstop. I didn’t even have a restroom break. I was proud of myself, to say the least.
Day 7: Nature Made
Nature Made is made with a combination of L–theanine, which is a calming element found in black tea, and melatonin. At my usual hour, 3 a.m., I got in bed, took one pill, but tonight, my bladder kept acting up. Every thirty minutes, I would have to use the bathroom. My last bathroom break was around 8 a.m., when my bladder calmed down. I then slept until 12 p.m. The four hours seemed to be enough though as I felt pretty energetic throughout the day.
Day 8: Nature Made
We finally reach the last day of the experiment. I got on bed at around 2:30 a.m., took one pill, and slept almost immediately. At 10 a.m., I woke up because, as expected, I needed to pee. I still was able to fall back asleep until 12 p.m. This sleep felt different from the others, though. It was very comfortable, and I dreamt of swaying in a hammock on a Hawaiian island to the sound of happy, ukulele music.
There were many highs and lows these past eight days—the most I slept in a day was ten hours, and the least was three hours. In all eight nights, my sleep came with extremely vivid dreams. There was one night when I dreamed of my evil high–school Chinese teacher coming back to Penn to haunt me (this is actually a recurring nightmare of mine). Another night, I dreamed I was back in my hometown, eating my mom’s delicious homemade dinner. Another weird thing that has happened since the start of taking these sleep aids is my need to urinate every single morning.
Overall, my experience with sleep aids was iffy. Sleep aids were not my knight in shining armor, and my one–sided relationship with sleep continues.