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Getting adequate, quality sleep every night is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Poor sleep impacts every aspect of your life.
If you don’t sleep, you are usually in a bad mood, so you snap and your kids and spouse. Your relationships start to suffer. You can’t focus at work because you are so tired. Your cravings for sugar and fat get completely out of control. You definitely don’t have the energy to exercise.
The stress from lack of sleep and the drama caused by it increases the stress hormone cortisol.
This not only throws off all the other hormones in your body, it also makes you start putting on weight around your mid-section. See how sleep can impact everything?
Getting Quality Sleep
Insomnia impacts 50-70 million Americans, so you are definitely not alone (1). Making sure you get quality sleep does take a little bit of effort. The goal is to sleep 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Quality sleep requires a bit of lifestyle change and implementing a solid bedtime routine. The first thing is to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day. This will get your body into a pattern of feeling sleepy at a specific time.
Second, try to avoid any screens (smart phones or TV) at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue light from the screens can keep you up and delay sleep.
Finally, implement a night time relaxation routine. This might include reading a calming book, sipping a cup of tea, meditation, or taking a warm bath.
Nutrition can help too. Not eating a heavy meal before bed is probably one of the biggest things you can do for a quality night sleep. Alcohol, although you might think it helps you fall asleep, is actually a sleep disrupter, so limit your intake. Caffeine should also be avoided least 4 hours before bedtime.
Finally, a few specific supplements can be added to support sleep. Here are a few suggestions based on the type of difficulty with sleep you might be having.
Best Supplements for Falling Asleep
Sometimes falling asleep can be hard, especially when your mind is full of to-dos and stressful thoughts. These specific supplements are meant to help boost relaxation so you can turn your mind off and get some rest.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea. It is particularly high in green tea and is partially responsible for many of the benefits found from drinking this type of tea.
L-theanine increases alpha wave activity in the brain which promotes relaxation. Alpha waves increase during sleep, so in some ways L-theanine helps the brain initiate the sleep process. L-theanine also increases the production of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, GABA, and serotonin, which can all improve mood and encourage sleep.
It is particularly beneficial for those who have difficulty falling asleep due to excessive anxiety. A 2019 study evaluated the use of L-theanine supplements for promoting sleep in people with generalized anxiety disorder. Forty six participants with anxiety disorder received 450-900 mg of L-theanine or a placebo for 8 weeks.
The study found that those who received the L-theanine reported greater sleep satisfaction, when compared to a placebo. It is interesting to note, that even though sleep improved, the anxiety symptoms did not. So, the sleep was improved, even with the anxious thoughts (2).
Another study in kids with ADHD found similar results. Poor sleep is a common comorbidity with ADHD. In this 2011 study, boys ages 8-12 with diagnosed ADHD were given two tablets of 100 mg L-theanine or a placebo for 5 days. The subjects were monitored with an activity monitor during sleep and the parents were also given a sleep questionnaire. Those who took the L-theanine slept longer and sleep efficiency scores increased (3).
How to Take L-theanine
L-theanine is non-habit forming and does not cause grogginess in the morning. It is a naturally occurring amino acid, so there is no major risk of toxicity. The recommended dosage for L-theanine is 200 mg.
You can also get some L-theanine in tea, but be sure to choose decaf if you are going to use it to promote sleep. L-theanine can also counteract the effects of caffeine, so if you over did it on your coffee, try some decaf tea to help reduce jitteriness.
Check it Out: Top 10 L-theanine Supplements
GABA (gamma butyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that helps with lowering stress and promoting relaxation. It works by helping calm down the neurons that help you wake up. It also suppresses norepinephrine and glutamate, two neurotransmitters that promote alertness.
People with chronic insomnia have been found to have 30% lower levels of GABA compared to those without difficulty sleeping. This is also true of people with depression, which is a common cause of insomnia (4).
A 2010 study evaluated the use of an amino acid supplement, which included GABA as well as 5-HTP, in subjects with insomnia. Eighteen subjects received the supplement or a placebo.
Participants filled out various questionnaires regarding their sleep and their heart rate was measured during a 24 hour period. Those who received the supplement fell asleep 13.2 minutes faster than those in the placebo group. They were also able to sleep almost 2 hours longer when taking the supplement (5).
It seems that the combination of GABA and 5-HTP works synergistically to boost serotonin and improve sleep.
How to Take GABA
The dosage for GABA is between 250-3000 mg per day. It is best to start at a lower dosage and work your way up slowly. There have been some reports that high doses of GABA can make anxiety worse, so it’s best to figure out the right dose for you.
Check it Out: Top 10 GABA Supplements
Glycine is a non-essential amino acid that can operate as a neurotransmitter. It impacts sleep in a few different ways.
First, it helps lower core body temperature which has been found to indicate it is time to sleep. It also is needed to activate rapid eye movement during sleep (6).
A 2007 study evaluated the impact of glycine on sleep in participants with chronic insomnia. Subjects took 3 grams of glycine before bed. Glycine reduced the time it took to fall asleep, improved sleep quality and sleep efficacy. It also reduced daytime sleepiness and improved memory during the day (7).
How to Take Glycine
Glycine can be found in a pill or powdered form. The recommended dose is 3-5 grams before bed.
Since glycine is an amino acid, there are no major side effect to taking it for sleep. It will not make you feel groggy our out of it in the morning and is not habit forming.
If you prefer, you can also include high glycine foods in your diet for an additional benefit, such as bone broth.
Check it Out: Top 10 Glycine Supplements
Best Supplements for Staying Asleep
Sometimes you don’t have trouble falling asleep, but then wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to go back to sleep. This can make you just as tired the next day, when your sleep is interrupted.
The important thing is to resist the urge to grab your phone or turn on the TV, as this can only extend insomnia. Alcohol also tends to cause middle of the night waking, so reduce your intake before bed.
Here are a few supplements that can also help.
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by your body in the evening that signals to your brain that it is time to sleep (8). Melatonin levels are high at night, then decrease in the morning.
Note: Melatonin is typically known as a hormone that helps you go to sleep, but it can also help you stay asleep longer. It benefits all aspects of sleep.
A 2013 meta-analysis of 19 studies found that melatonin reduced the time it took to fall asleep by an average of 7 minutes. It also increased total sleep time. Sleep quality was also improved in all the studies (9).
How to Take Melatonin
The dose of melatonin used for most research studies is between 0.5-10 mg before bed. Ideally, you want start at the lowest effective dose and work your way up if needed.
Supplements generally come between 3-5 mg doses. Melatonin is not habit forming, like other sleep aids can be. It also wears off during the night, therefore should not cause daytime drowsiness.
However, melatonin is a hormone and long-term use can throw off your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin. It can also interfere with other natural hormonal cycles if taken long-term.
Therefore, it is mostly recommended for short-term use and particularly beneficial when recovering from jet lag.
Check it Out: Top 10 Melatonin Supplements
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, which in turn helps make melatonin. It has also been found to increase REM sleep (10).
Human research is lacking with 5-HTP and sleep. But, there is some compelling evidence about its synergistic effects with GABA.
The 2010 study discussed above about GABA used a supplement that combined both amino acids to increase sleep time by almost 2 hours. The combination of these two supplements seems to significantly increase serotonin levels in the brain, which boosts melatonin, improving sleep (11).
How to Take 5-HTP
5-HTP does have some side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, particularly at higher doses. This can be minimized by increasing the dose slowly from 50 mg twice a day to up to 300 mg as needed.
Since it can increase serotonin production, it should not be taken with any medications designed to increase serotonin levels in your body, such as antidepressants. As mentioned, it works best in combination with GABA.
Check it Out: Top 10 5-HTP Supplements
Best Supplements to Improve Sleep Quality
Have you ever slept for 8 hours, yet still felt totally exhausted the next day? You don’t just want to fall asleep easily and stay asleep, sleep quality also matters.
Tossing and turning all night is never fun. Ideally, you want to wake up ready and refreshed. Here are a few supplements that can help.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in over 600 chemical reactions in the body. It also is important for relaxation and stress relief. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of insomnia (12).
Many people are deficient in magnesium due to less-than-ideal diets and excessive stress, alcohol, and caffeine intake which deplete magnesium.
Magnesium works for sleep in several different ways. First, it reduces stress and anxiety, helping you relax your brain and fall asleep. It can also help regulate the production of melatonin and GABA, both which are needed for a restful night’s sleep (13, 14).
A 2012 study evaluated the use of magnesium supplements on the sleep patterns of 46 elderly subjects. Participants received either 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo for 8 weeks.
Those who received magnesium had significant increases in sleep time and sleep efficiency.
Subjects were able to fall asleep faster and early morning waking was reduced. They also had higher blood levels of melatonin and renin, two important sleep hormones. Cortisol concentration also improved, which means they were able to naturally wake up in the morning (15).
How to Take Magnesium
Magnesium supplements are safe for most people, but too much can cause diarrhea. Digestive issues obviously do not lead to good sleep. The upper limit for magnesium supplements is 350 mg/day, so aim to stay under that to prevent any digestive problems.
Magnesium can also be absorbed through the skin without any side effects. As part of your bedtime routine, consider a warm bath with Epsom salts, which are made from magnesium. This can promote relaxation and help you fall asleep faster.
Check it Out: Top 10 Magnesium Supplements
Potassium works hand in hand with magnesium. The main way it improves sleep quality is by reducing the frequency of painful leg cramps that can wake you up at night.
One study evaluated the use of potassium supplements on sleep quality. Subjects on a low potassium diet were given 7200 mg of potassium or a placebo for 1 week.
Sleep quality was measured via a monitor. Sleep efficiency was significantly increased in the potassium group (16).
How to Take Potassium
Too much potassium can interrupt heart rate, so you want to be careful with a supplement. You don’t need more than around 100-200 mg per day of supplemental potassium.
The recommended form for a supplement is potassium citrate. If you can, try to increase potassium in your diet. Foods high in potassium include green leafy vegetables and avocados.
Check it Out: Top 10 Potassium Supplements
Valerian is an herb that has been traditionally used as a treatment for anxiety and depression, as well as for promoting sleep.
A 2010 meta-analysis evaluated the effectiveness of valerian on sleep quality in 18 different studies.
All the studies used self-reported measures to determine sleep quality. The analysis found that subjects reported improved sleep quality in all groups. A larger study is needed to evaluate sleep quality caused by valerian more objectively, rather than just using self-reported data (17).
The benefit is that valerian has no reported side effects and is likely safe for healthy adults (18).
How to Take Valerian
The recommended dose of valerian to induce sleep is between 200-300 mg per day. It is recommended to take it regularly for a few weeks before you see a change. Valerian can be found in tea or in capsule form.
Check it Out: Top 10 Valerian Supplements
Passion flower is a common herb that has been used for anxiety and insomnia. It helps promote relaxation by increasing GABA levels in the brain.
A 2011 study evaluated the use of passion flower tea on sleep using diaries and a sleep study.
Forty-one subjects were given either passion flower or a placebo for seven nights, then the opposite a week later. During the week when subjects received the passion flower, they showed significantly improved sleep quality when compared to the placebo week (19).
How to Take Passion Flower
Passion flower comes in several different forms. It can be taken as a tea about an hour before bedtime. The dosage is between 0.25-2 grams of the dried herb in 8 ounces of boiling water.
It can also be found as a fluid extract or tincture. The doses range from 0.5-1 mL depending on the strength of the product. It can also be found in a tablet form. Up to 90 mg a day of passion flower in a capsule is considered safe.
Check it Out: Top 10 Passionflower Supplements
Final Thoughts on Sleep
Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body. A good night’s sleep is necessary for you brain and body to function properly. Without sleep, memory, learning, creativity, and decision making abilities suffer. Adequate sleep is linked to a lower risk of almost every chronic disease, from diabetes to stroke.
Good sleep starts with forming good habits surrounding sleep. Yes, some supplements can help but they can only do so much. If you do decide to take a supplement for sleep make sure you take it on the weekend or on a day when you don’t have much to do the next day, so you know how your body will react.
Never mix multiple supplements or medications for sleep.
Although many of the supplements discussed above are safe at normal dosages, interactions between them have not been extensively studied and could be dangerous.
If you feel like you have tried everything, yet are still having difficulty sleeping, medical intervention may be necessary. Be sure to check with your doctor if you are struggling with chronic insomnia.
ⓘ Any specific supplement products & brands featured on this website are not necessarily endorsed by Ana.
Stock Photos from Mangostar / baranq / Shutterstock
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About the Author
Ana Reisdorf is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with 11-years experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. After graduating from California State University, Long Beach, she began her career as health educator, helping educate patients on a variety of nutrition-related conditions. Email Ana.