For the last week, I’ve been testing the sleep aid Alteril every night. It’s an over the counter sleep aid that’s sold online and in many big stores in the United States, such as Target, Amazon, Walmart, and CVS.
Overall, I was content with how well it worked for me. I’ve had good results from other sleep aids containing melatonin, so I did have some expectations it might help.
But before you wonder if I’ve heard of the placebo effect (which is kind of useful anyway), this was the first time I’ve taken a sleep aid with the specific combination of melatonin, L-tryptophan, valerian and chamomile.
So in this review, I’ll be talking first about my experience of taking Alteril for seven nights, and then take a look at the ingredients, side effects and warnings.
I bought my pack of Alteril from the local Target, where it cost $18.99 at the time. In the box were four blister packs, each with 15 capsules. There was no instruction leaflet on the inside, and just the basic information about the sleep aid written on the outside of the box.
As you can see in the photo below, the softgels are relatively large for sleep aids and very, very yellow. Perhaps the designers of these mini yellow submarines are fans of the Beatles…
The first night
The instructions say to take two softgels with water an hour before bed. The word ‘softgel’ always makes me think you can chew them, but they are actually capsules that you have to swallow whole.
They went down easily with water, but I can imagine people who struggle to swallow larger pills/capsules/softgels might be put off by the size; I measured them at just under an inch long.
After taking them, I lay in bed and read for a while. I don’t usually expect to feel drowsy with over the counter sleep aids as they tend to be mild compared to prescription sleep aids. But I felt distinctly drowsy after around 45 minutes, so turned off the light and fell asleep quickly.
Confused waking in the night
I woke up twice in the night, albeit briefly. Once because there was a storm and the wind was blowing in through the window. I vaguely remember getting up, stumbling to the window and closing it while making a racket with the blinds. I was either still half-asleep or very drowsy.
The second time was for a bathroom trip. I have almost no memory of it other than the fact that it happened. So my two wakings were both brief and drowsy.
Fine in the morning
I felt like I slept well the first night, despite the short wakings, and woke up feeling fine too. There was no grogginess, no headache or other noticeable side effects that sometimes accompany sleep aids. So that’s a positive start.
As I write this I’m feeling content about the effects of Alteril, and it will be interesting to see if I sleep well again for the rest of the week (I wrote this article in stages).
I again felt noticeably drowsy a while after taking the Alteril, and I again slept well (for me). I only woke once, briefly, and don’t recall feeling disorientated.
I had no side effects or grogginess in the morning, so that’s two good nights in a row.
Nights 3 and 4
The next two nights were very similar. I slept well, woke once in the early morning briefly with the memory of very vivid dreams. I then woke up a bit later, again with the feeling I’d been having vivid dreams.
I did feel ever so slightly groggy both mornings, but it cleared with a coffee and fresh air while walking the dog.
Nights 5, 6 and 7
For the final three nights of my week long test, I decided to escape the muggy heat of the city and spend a few nights by the beach. Like many people, I take a couple of nights to adjust to a change in bedroom, and the bed in the little place I rented was small and not particularly comfortable.
So this was an ideal time to see if the Alteril would help when my circumstances were more likely to disrupt my sleep.
As it turned out, I continued to sleep fairly well. To be fair, I did a lot of swimming and it was good to get out of the city and breathe fresh air for a change. So perhaps that also helped me feel relaxed enough to sleep in the new place.
But I’m sure I felt drowsy while reading after taking the Alteril sleep aid. Not ‘tired from activity’ drowsy, but ‘tired from feeling sedated’ drowsy. So for me, the Alteril had a positive effect.
There was a little bit of grogginess in the morning, but it didn’t get any worse as the week progressed, and really was minimal. I suspect that if I wasn’t being so vigilant because of this test, I would have just shaken it off without much thought. So it was in no way as bad a morning hangover as many other sleep aids I’ve tried, and totally acceptable to me personally.
I was impressed by the Alteril sleep aid, despite some initial concerns about the size of the softgels. I could actually feel some sedation, which isn’t always the case with over the counter sleep aids. And that gave me some confidence that they were working, rather than it being the placebo effect at work. Though to be fair, it’s kind of hard to be sure about that.
The main thing is that I felt like I slept reasonably well every night for the seven nights I took it. And when I compared my sleep tracker data for that week to the week before, there was a noticeable increase in total sleep time, and a slight increase in the overall sleep score.
I know you have to take those measurements with a pinch of salt, but in the absence of other measuring tools, it at least provides a little reassurance that the sleep aid did something useful.
One possible concern is the vivid dreams, which I suspect may be down to the melatonin. For me, this wasn’t an issue as I quite enjoy lying in bed remembering vivid dreams. But I know not everyone likes recalling vivid dreams, especially if they aren’t so pleasant.
There were also a couple of incidents of feeling disorientated when waking in the night. So based on my own experience, I would recommend caution if you’re someone who is at risk of falls.
Overall though, I was pleased with the result and the lack of worrying side effects (for me). So this is an over the counter sleep aid I would be okay with taking again when needed.
According to the box that I bought in August 2020, the active ingredients are:
- L-Tryptophan – 200mg
- Melatonin – 4mg
- Blend of Valerian root extract and Chamomile flower extract – 60mg
All of these are used in a wide range of other sleep aids, so there’s nothing unique or unusual about them.
I’m not going to go into a long analysis of how effective each one is, and what research supports it. What I will say is that I know from personal experience that melatonin seems to work well for me and my sleep problems. Just be aware that it’s not thought to be equally effective for everyone.
I also typically find that valerian and chamomile have a mild effect for me, and kind of depends on how much is in the sleep aid and how long I take it for.
As for L-tryptophan, I often wonder why they combine it with melatonin when the way it’s supposed to help with sleep is by increasing the amount of melatonin in the body. So why not just stick with the melatonin?
Is it a backup plan in case the melatonin in the softgel doesn’t work? Is the hope that it might have some impact on mood as well as sleep? Or did the manufacturer just think it would appeal to more people if included? If you have an answer or theory about that, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
The other, inactive, ingredients are listed as:
- Rice bran oil
- Medium chain triglycerides
- Purified water
- Yellow beeswax
- Sunflower lecithin
- Titanium dioxide
- FD&C yellow #5
- Silicon dioxide
I’ve seen a few customer reviews from people complaining about the ‘chemical ingredients’ and highlighting the titanium dioxide. This leads them to question the use of the phrase ‘Natural Sleep Aid’ in the packaging.
If this is important to you also, there’s a useful fact sheet about it on chemicalsafetyfacts.org that you might like to read and draw your own conclusions from.
Who should avoid the Alteril sleep aid?
The box I bought came with the following warning:
Do not use if:
- You are under 18.
- You are pregnant, lactating or nursing.
Consult a physician or licensed qualified healthcare practioner if:
- You are being treated or diagnosed with any medical conditions.
- You are using any other dietary supplement, prescription drug or over the counter drug.
They also advise not to exceed the stated dose, not to take with alcohol, not to use when driving, and not to use if you are experiencing long-term sleep difficulties.
That final point is interesting, and ties in with the standard sleep advice that most over the counter sleep aids should be used for no more than a couple of weeks maximum. If you have ongoing sleep problems, it’s advisable to speak to your doctor and not to take sleep aids indefinitely unless they recommend it.
Possible side effects
Alteril is sold as a dietary supplement. And like so many others, that means the FDA regulates it differently than conventional food and drugs. One result of that is a lack of a list of possible side effects that you might typically find on a patient leaflet for medication.
The box does have one small warning saying this:
Do not exceed recommended serving: exceeding may cause serious health effects. Seek medical attention if any symptoms occur.
It would be nice to know what symptoms to look out for, and if it’s possible some people might experience health effects without exceeding the recommended ‘serving’. But the law doesn’t oblige them to list every possible known side effect of melatonin, valerian, chamomile, or tryptophan.
And to be honest, that always leaves me in a quandry when I do reviews like this.
Should I accept the simple warning and leave it at that? Or should I create what would likely be a long list of symptoms I know can be associated with those ingredients?
In this case, I’m going to take the middle ground and give you four sources to check yourself if you’re concerned about each ingredient. All four of the sources I list below actually discuss all of the ingredients on different pages. So if you haven’t used the sites before, they are all good to cross-reference for further information.
- Melatonin: see the Mayoclinic’s expert answer to a question about side effects.
- Tryptophan: WebMD has a page about this.
- Valerian: Healthline has a useful page about the side effects of valerian.
- Chamomile: Drugs.com has a good amount of info. about chamomile.
What evidence is there that Alteril sleep aid works?
As is usually the case with over the counter sleep aids, I couldn’t find any clinical trials to demonstrate the effectiveness or safety of Alteril. That doesn’t mean it isn’t safe or effective, just that there’s no research into this particular brand.
There’s plenty of research into the effectiveness of each of the four principle ingredients – if you search online, you’ll find both medical websites and journals that discuss them.
Short answer: there’s some evidence that they might help some people with some sleep problems. So basically, there’s no guarantee this sleep aid will work for you.
Furthermore, I couldn’t find any research into what happens when you combine all four ingredients in this quantity and in this way.
What do others say about the Alteril sleep aid?
As it’s been sold on Amazon for a while now, there are plenty of customer reviews to read. At the time of writing, the version I took has 126 ratings, and 4.3 out of 5 stars. And on the Target website, there are 36 reviews, with a score of 4.7 out of 5 stars. Walmart, Walgreens and CVS also sell it, and have combined customer reviews between 4 and 5 stars.
On all five websites, you’ll find a mix of people who say it worked really well, people who say it did nothing, and some who say it was okay. Interestingly, vivid dreams also came up in some of the comments I read through.
Have you tried Alteril?
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried any of the Alteril sleep aids. Did it work for you, and did you have any side effects? Let me know in the comments below!