The route to a restful slumber is complex. There is certainly room for different supportive aids to get us there. However, some combinations of sleep aids can be more beneficial, more balanced than others. How does Zhou Nutrition's Driftoff stack up?
The Zhou Nutrition Driftoff Premium product claims its blend is designed to soothe you to sleep and keep you there. On the surface, a number of its ingredients would support this claim. But how does this stack up compared to Unplug, and is the evidence there to back up those benefits?
Boasting chamomile, valerian, passionflower, lemon balm and hops, Driftoff is very much coming from the classic calmative angle. There is strong traditional use for these to improve sleep. The thing is when we pick apart their methods of action we quite quickly stumble upon a potential situation of "too many cooks". Are Zhou Nutrition namedropping too hard?
To cut right to the chase what all of these elements aim to do is influence the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (which you will also note is included in this blend). GABA’s action in the brain/nervous system is inhibitory, i.e. it blocks excitation which makes us feel calm, combats anxiety and improves sleep. Chamomile binds to GABA receptors in the brain, passionflower and hops increase circulating GABA levels; valerian and lemon balm prevent GABA breakdown by blocking the enzymes that do this. So to summarise we are going hell for leather on really upping our GABA concentration here. In terms of dose dependency, clinical trials into the efficacy of these herbs seems to show that relatively low doses have significant effects (so the 100-150mg amounts in Driftoff would be considered active) so if we come from a ‘are they actually working?’ stance, then it would seem that yes they probably are. Do you want all of them to be acting on that singular pathway at the same time though? Perhaps not.
Neurotransmitters (neurological hormones if you will) don’t work alone. Their pathways are often in antagonistic pairs and GABA’s partner in crime is its excitatory opposite: glutamate. What we can potentially experience when we solely superboost GABA is a short term improvement in those anxiety/sleep dysfunction symptoms, but then progressively over time this can spill into daytime grogginess, apathy and a loss of motivation because you start to block the natural level of excitation you need during the day. This can take time but in terms of the long game when it comes to our neurological function this would paint a significant win over to Unplug as its positive effects are both immediate and cumulative, and when it comes to an addition to your routine wouldn’t you want to be wholly sure that its inclusion is always going to be doing you good?
The Amino Acids
As already mentioned above Zhou's blend contains GABA which we have touched on in terms of its influence on sleep. In terms of its necessity to be included as an isolated amino acid as well as all of those elements designed to boost naturally circulating levels, well this is definitely starting to smell like serious overkill.
Also previously mentioned is the potential for excess GABA to block glutamate action, but we should also highlight here that in certain individuals too much GABA can actually increase glutamate levels (due to inherited genetic traits) and if this occurs then what you’ll actually find is that someone becomes more ramped up, more anxious, more hypersensitive and very much less likely to wind down at night. This is more likely to occur with single amino acid supplementation as opposed to including those secondary enhancing mechanisms - so combining both then increases this possibility even further.
Next up we have 5-HTP and melatonin. These are actually again concentrating on a single neurotransmitter pathway (a different one though), with one acting at the beginning and one jumping in at the end of the melatonin-pathway. 5-HTP is the active form of tryptophan which is our precursor to serotonin (our happy hormone) and higher levels of serotonin are associated with better mood regulation. Some of our serotonin eventually goes on to be converted into melatonin (our trigger to feel sleepy in the evening) so it would stand to reason that if we up our levels of serotonin we will then make more melatonin. Plus if we then just chuck in a bit of extra melatonin too, well then we are sure to drop off nice and quick. Right?
The issue again here comes down to the fact that our body doesn’t work purely in linear equations. Each of these conversions require enzymes and enzymes require nutrient cofactors. Providing amino acids in the absence of these in too high amounts can often have the opposite to desired effects as we don’t metabolise them correctly. It is an extremely common side effect to see increased anxiety as a result of 5-HTP supplementation. It was for this exact reason that Unplug was formulated to work on multiple neurotransmitter pathways, and to include all the elements required for all of the stages of relaxation and sleep.
The other thing to really note here is that this is all concentrating on getting you to sleep but nothing is really looking at keeping you asleep. Melatonin is often heralded as the be all and end all of natural sleep aids but its action is mainly contained to turning you off for the night. Low levels are linked to frequent waking but this is more to do with the fact that you haven’t settled into your sleep cycle properly. Supplemental melatonin also has its limitations: too high amounts will cause a ‘hangover’ the next day, often likened to walking under water. Melatonin also loses efficacy over time, so often people will find a starting dose that works like magic but with continued use their original issue resurfaces. By opting for Montmorency Cherry in Unplug (which is a naturally occurring melatonin source but at a far lower dose) we chose to offer the body a little extra unwinding assistance but without going anywhere near these possible pitfalls.
Verdict: Driftoff vs Unplug
It would seem a foregone conclusion that this summary would paint Zhou’s Driftoff in a pretty negative light and shroud Unplug in an almost angelic spotlight by comparison but this is not so. Yes, there are some pretty strong points against the use of this blend long term, plus the excipients in the capsules (maltodextrin, magnesium stearate & gum arabic) which can cause their own issues elsewhere in the body, but at its price point of £14.43 we will be good natured enough to suggest that as a very short term, quick fix option, there may be an indication for its use.
But in terms of our choice and the indications from clinical evidence out there, Unplug comes out on top as a sustainable and healthy slow fix for your sleep.
|Driftoff by Zhou Nutrition||Unplug by Motion Nutrition|
Lemon Balm 100mg
Brahmi powder (Bacopa monnieri) 100mg
Ashwagandha Root 100mg
Montmorency Cherry 100mg
Magnesium Citrate 100mg (27% RDA)
Rhodiola rosea Extract 50mg
Zinc Picolinate 10mg (100% RDA)
Bioperine® Black Pepper Extract 2.5mg
Iodine 100μg (67% RDA)
Note from Motion Nutrition: Driftoff is an American supplement containing synthetic melatonin, which is considered a prescription drug in the UK. If you are considering supplemental melatonin we would advise speaking to your practitioner beforehand as this a prescription-only product in the UK.