Do you find it impossible to catch a full night of restful sleep? Maybe you’re tossing and turning, with your mind racing due to all the stress of the day. If so, you’re not alone. Good sleep is harder and harder to come by with 83 percent of Americans reporting they have trouble falling asleep.
Fortunately, there are a number of safe and natural supplements that can help you sleep. Some promote a restful night by increasing relaxation and targeting neurotransmitters, whereas others help you cope with stress and lower cortisol. Finally, others, like melatonin improve hormone levels involved in sleep. What follows is a list of eight of the most powerful nutrients you need for a good night’s sleep.
#1: Vitamin D
Ensuring you maintain optimal blood levels of vitamin D3 year-round is a good place to start. A recent two-year study from the University of Texas found that when vitamin D-deficient subjects who suffered from insomnia took vitamin D daily, normal sleep was restored.
Why D3 Works: The part of the brain responsible for sleep has a large concentration of vitamin D3 receptors, and the entire sleep-wake cycle is disrupted if the receptors are deficient. Vitamin D3 also influences many other hormonal processes in the body that affect body rhythms, including reproduction, metabolism, digestion and cardiovascular health, all of which influence fatigue and sleep regulation.
How To Take It: Supplementing with 2,000 to 5,000 IUs daily in order to achieve a blood value between 50 and 80 ng/ml will do the trick for most people. Be sure to check vitamin D levels with a blood test periodically to account for seasonal differences.
Magnesium calms the nervous system and fights inflammation, high levels of which contribute to poor sleep. A recent study of people with poor sleep, as measured by a sleep quality index, found that taking a magnesium supplement improved sleep quality by 60 percent and also decreased inflammatory stress markers.
Why Magnesium Works: In addition to having a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, magnesium allows for healthy levels of serotonin, the brain chemical that elevates mood and has a calming, satisfying effect on the brain.
How To Take It: Everyone needs to ensure baseline magnesium levels are up to par with an intake of 10 mg/kg of bodyweight a day (400 to 1,200 mg). For sleep, try a topical magnesium cream, which is readily absorbed for restful sleep. Another option is to try magnesium that is bound with L-threonate, a derivative of vitamin C, which can cross the blood brain barrier to promote relaxation. Magnesium L-threonate has been found to help people cope with stress and anxiety that can promote insomnia and reduce sleep quality.
Melatonin is a hormone that is released by the pineal gland in the body in response to darkness. It is inhibited by light exposure, which is why many people have trouble sleeping after exposing themselves to the blue light from their phone or computer before bed.
Why Melatonin Works: Melatonin can directly influence your body’s core temperature as well as the sleep-wake cycle, making optimal levels at nighttime critical for sleep.
How To Take It: Melatonin should only be taken at night right before bed. The optimal dose will vary based on your unique situation. One analysis of 19 studies found that taking between 0.5 and 6 mg of melatonin before bed improves sleep quality and quantity, and reduces insomnia. Doses up to 100 mg appear to be safe and beneficial for improving sleep.
The compound 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is used to synthesize both melatonin and serotonin, both of which can aid sleep.
Why 5-HTP Works: Because it elevates the calming, feel good neurotransmitter serotonin, 5-HTP is recommended for people suffering from stress and high cortisol levels. A 2004 study found that supplementation with 2 mg/kg/bodyweight of 5-HTP for 20 days significantly reduced “night terrors” in children, improving sleep quality.
How To Take It: 5-HTP may be most effective when blended with other compounds that promote sleep such as melatonin).
Taurine is an amino acid that can help calm anxiety and running thoughts that keep you awake.
Why Taurine Works: Taurine raises the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect on the nervous system. GABA allows the brain to shut itself down so that you can have a restful night.
How To Take It: Taurine is only available from seafood, red meat, and eggs – but unless you eat these foods at every meal, you probably won’t get enough taurine. Plus, taurine is easily depleted with stress or intense exercise, so athletes and committed trainees need extra. Vegetarians are at high risk of taurine deficiency. Try 1 to 3 grams of taurine before bedtime.
Inositol is a form of sugar that is found in citrus fruits and nuts, among other plant sources. It contains negligible calories and may aid sleep by calming anxiety and quieting mental chatter that keeps you up at night.
Why Inositol Works: Inositol activates the serotonin and orexin pathways in the brain that stop your mind from racing – think of it like sweeping up the floor of your brain to create order.
How To Take It: Inositol comes in powder form. Take it in water about 45 minutes before you want to go to bed. Good results have been reported with doses of 2 to 10 grams. Pairing it with magnesium may enhance the relaxation effect for better sleep.
#7: Valerian & Lemon Balm
Medicinal plants such as valerian and lemon balm have been shown to help people with insomnia go to sleep and stay asleep due to their calming, anti-anxiety properties. Individual efficacy is hit or miss with each herb – some people have good results, while others don’t.
Why Valerian Works: Both lemon balm and valerian activate GABA, calming the brain in the same way as taurine, although these herbs may have a more sedative effect. This can be useful in certain situations, such as in menopausal women with insomnia or if excess stress and insomnia are affecting your ability to sleep.
How To Take It: The ideal dose appears to depend on your level of stress and severity of insomnia. One study from Iran found that insomnia was improved in response to a dose of 160 mg of valerian and 80 mg of lemon balm.
Not to be confused with L-threonate, which we talked about in #2, L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea. Research shows that it can reduce mental and physical stress, improve cognition and aid in sleep.
Why L-theanine Works: L-theanine increases levels of GABA and boosts serotonin in the brain. It’s also been found to reverse caffeine-induced sleep disturbances. Anyone can benefit from taking l-theanine, but people who can’t sleep and can’t give up caffeine will find it most useful.
How To Use It: It’d be great if you could just rely on green tea for l-theanine, but because green tea contains caffeine, it’s a no-go. Pure l-theanine supplements are available, as are formulated sleep aids in which l-theanine is combined with herbs such as lemon balm and valerian for more powerful results.
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