Sleep Like a Baby, with the Best Supplements for Sleep and Insomnia Strategies Part 1 of 2
Improve Your Health and Sleep Better with the Latest Science-Backed Insights!
Today 50 to 70 million Americans have sleep disorders, while one in three reports not sleeping well.
In this two-part series, we’ll explore how we can sleep better, using the top science-backed supplements, sleeping tools, and strategies.
In part one, we’ll go through the best sleep supplements based on science.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Sleeping Problems: Sleepless at Night
Sleeping problems leaving us sleepless at night leaves us vulnerable to an array of long-term health issues.
The following are health conditions due to sleeping problems, keeping us in chronic disease states.
- Cardiovascular Health
- Cognition and Focus
- Insulin (Resistance vs Sensitivity)
- Muscle Growth
The Best Supplements for Insomnia: (Sleeping Pills vs. Supplements for Sleep as Treatments of Insomnia)
A recent Harvard Medical School report warned long term use of common sleeping pills and other sedative medications such as benzodiazepines, antihistamines, anticholinergics, and others as treatments of insomnia, can cause significant damage to the brain.
According to Harvard and other researchers, sleeping pills, antihistamines, and other sedatives used as treatments of insomnia, have been linked to the acceleration of dementia.
Sleeping pills and other sedative medications deliver an anticholinergic mechanism of action.
What this means is sleeping pills block acetylcholine, our primary neurotransmitter involved with alertness, focus, learning, memory, and muscle activation.
So as always as health optimizers, we ask, is there a safer, smarter, better way instead of sleeping pills?
Can health supplements for sleep work as sleeping pills?
#1 Melatonin: (Circadian Rhythm Supplement)
Melatonin is produced from the amino acid tryptophan and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which means it’s a metabolite.
Produced in the pineal gland, melatonin is a circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle hormone, regulating our sleep-wake cycle.
As we rise in the morning, melatonin levels drop, as the sun sets or even as we turn down the lights, our melatonin production increases.
Our circadian rhythm is responsive to our surrounding environment, as in the sun setting or rising and artificial lighting.
Blue light receptors in our retina influence neural pathways in our bodies due to our interaction with light, both natural and artificial.
Melatonin is one of the key regulators of our circadian rhythm, as produced in the pineal gland when not interfered with by blue light.
In the oral form, melatonin can treat insomnia, improving sleep latency and sleep quality when our sleep-wake cycle is interrupted.
Safe for children and the elderly, and also popular for treating jet lag, melatonin is a popular and versatile health supplement.
Recent studies show the potent antioxidant and antiinflammatory actions of melatonin to be effective in protecting and supporting the heart, brain, stomach, along with other major organs, causing many to suggest taking larger doses in the 5 to 10 mg range.
Melatonin continues receiving spotlight as a popular COVID-19 therapeutic for the immune system for its protective effects against the coronavirus as a home therapeutic and in the hospitals.
While some researchers believe melatonin levels gradually drop as we age, other researchers believe cancer, dementia, some mood disorders, severe pain, type 2 diabetes, nighttime light exposure, excessive stress, and smoking are greater factors in suppressing melatonin production.
Do not use melatonin during the day, especially those with or prone to bipolar disorder. Those with inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, should watch high dose melatonin intake above 10 mg.
Take 0.3 mg, or 300 mcg, before bed. Some suggest anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours prior to sleeping. Increase the dose weekly by the same amount or by .5 mg, 500 mcg until you find the lowest effective dose.
Time-release melatonin is said to more closely resemble our natural sleep cycle and may help with staying asleep. Those who have trouble with only falling asleep can consider melatonin in a fast dissolve form.
#2 Kava, (Nature’s Xanax)
As some claim it can replace or help with alcohol substitution, kava is a traditional sedative beverage of the South Pacific indigenous people.
Once popular worldwide prior to fear-based, FDA-led attacks on kava safety in the 90s all but collapsed the kava market, sending former kava buyers running for the hills.
As kava is making a resurgence today, it is being embraced due to its non-habit forming yet potent sedative effects and benefits.
Kava is currently being investigated for its role as a possible treatment for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug addictions.
The case could be made that kava is the true number one supplement for sleep and insomnia.
Also, the top option for stress and anxiety, kava reduced stress and improved sleep quality in a study involving stress-induced insomnia.
Kava is also effective in a study of individuals experiencing sleeping issues due to anxiety, restlessness, and tension.
The sedative effects of kava are due to blocking of calcium and sodium ion channels, increasing GABA-A activity, and inhibiting monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B).
Kava also increases the actions of dopamine and noradrenaline.
Unique in causing reverse tolerance, this means tolerance is initially experienced with kava, causing a user to need to use it several times, prior to realizing full benefits.
Use only 100% certified root extract, as kava stem-and-leaf products have been linked to rare cases of liver toxicity. Kava can cause interactions and should generally be used with caution, especially with other GABA and serotonin acting compounds. For more information on dosing and how to take kava, see our in-depth kava article.
#3 Lavender: (Supplement or Aromatherapy Essential Oil)
Lavender is unique in its effectiveness as both an aromatherapy essential oil and a supplement for both anxiety and insomnia.
As its traditional use is as an aromatherapy essential oil, lavender promotes its effects based on its relaxing scent.
The challenge with aromatherapy essential oil studies is the difficulty in establishing a double-blind study, causing the study quality to be lower quality.
More recent lavender studies have tested oral lavender supplements on anxiety and sleep, with promising results as we see sleep quality improving with insomniacs and those with generalized anxiety.
There is also reason to question whether lavender would also be effective with increasing sleep quality in otherwise healthy individuals.
Lavender has been shown to improve anxiety, stress, and lower intrusive repetitive sleep-interfering thoughts.
It is important to note, lavender sleep and insomnia studies are more recent using a proprietary extract called SilexanTM, which we see improving anxiety, sleep duration and sleep quality.
One word of caution on lavender, which might end up serving to be a typical overstatement we often see in the supplement world, however it is worth keeping in mind.
We have limited evidence to suggest lavender may have hormonal effects on boys and girls.
While one study shows lavender causing no interaction with estrogen-based birth control, we still feel caution is best advised, and topical and oral lavender supplements should be avoided by boys and girls.
In rare cases wherein reactions have occurred, the side effects such as gynecomastia, enlarged breasts in males, has reversed itself when lavender use has ended.
We also have limited evidence of antiandrogenic and estrogenic actions with lavender and tea tree aromatherapy essential oils.
If lavender causes tender breasts, terminate its use immediately.
While it is believed topical lavender causes allergic reactions, this is likely due to a chemical additive called linalyl acetate.
Lavender might be synergistic with lemon balm.
80 mg of SilexanTM, a lavender oil standardized to contain the active component linalool at 25 to 46%, 30 minutes prior to bedtime. If no benefits have occurred in two weeks, one can increase to 160 mg as the maximum dosage. Lavender can also be used in aromatherapy essential oil form burned with candles, heated, placed in an essential oil diffuser, placed on a bandana or scarf, or taken with a hot bath. Research studies test lavender aromatherapy essential oils with essential oil diffusers using 30 minutes of exposure.
#4 Hops, Passionflower, and Valerian (The Three Sisters of Sleep)
Named “The Three Sisters of Sleep”, hops, purple passionflower, and valerian when taken together, have been found to be effective at raising GABA, our primary calming neurotransmitter.
The trio of hops, purple passionflower, and valerian can promote calm and relaxation to increase sleep quality.
Hops, purple passionflower, and valerian have been found in one study equally effective as the prescription medication zolpidem, otherwise known as Ambien in sleep quality improvement.
In Germany, this hops, purple passionflower, valerian formula is the number one prescribed sleep medication.
Hops, purple passionflower, and valerian are also effective as anti-anxiety plants due to their same effects on GABA.
A new form of hops called xanthohumol hops is raising attention in recent studies and could eventually be considered the more potent form of hops for sleep and anxiety sedative effects.
Hops, passionflower, and valerian can be purchased as a combination formula supplement.
#5 Lemon Balm, (Valerian Synergy)
Lemon balm, or melissa, performs with notable effects on anxiety and insomnia in the research studies.
We see an improvement with insomnia in 85% of subjects, with anxiety and insomnia in a small study.
In another sleep study involving menopausal women with insomnia, we see lemon balm with or without valerian improving sleep quality.
Another study shows the same valerian and lemon balm combination improves sleep quality in children.
Lemon balm improves sleep through increasing GABA activity in the brain.
Studies on lemon balm, with or without valerian, are few and smaller, and the usual more studies are needed can be issued here, however the evidence thus far has been promising.
The lowest effective lemon balm dose is 300 mg. The optimal lemon balm form is with standardized rosmarinic acid. Some suggest effects improve with increased dosage with 1200 mg increasing effects up to three-fold. We also see lemon balm used in tea and aromatherapy essential oil forms.
#6 Glycine, (Also in Magnesium-Glycinate Form)
Some researchers believe the daily intake of glycine, a semi-essential amino acid, might be insufficient in some.
While glycine supplements have not been found to improve sleep quality or reduce the time to fall asleep, subjects report experiencing a notable increase in feelings of rest the next day.
In mild sleep deprivation cases, glycine supplements can increase sleep quality, while improving fatigue reporting along with overall well being the next day due to enhanced sleep.
Glycine is often combined with magnesium as magnesium-glycinate and is popular amongst those with sleep and anxiety conditions.
3 grams one hour prior to bedtime is the dose we see in studies.
#7 Magnesium, (Sleep Promoting for Deficient Levels)
Magnesium is an essential mineral we find with high modern insufficiency and deficiency rates.
Needed for an array of actions in the body and brain, magnesium is recognized as the “calming mineral.”
Magnesium supplements show sleep quality improvement in those with poor sleep quality, with no available studies to show the effects of magnesium on otherwise healthy individuals.
We see 500 mg of magnesium used in research studies. Many use magnesium in the magnesium-glycinate form to obtain the calming benefits from both supplements.
#8 Theanine, (Sleep Quality for ADHD)
L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, promotes sleep quality in those who experience sleep disturbance from hyperactivity, such as ADHD.
Sleep duration and sleep latency, however, do not show improvement with l-theanine supplements.
Effectiveness of l-theanine is increased in animal studies, when it is combined with GABA supplements.
Other studies show l-theanine promotes relaxation and focus.
200 mg two times daily. Suntheanine might be more effective, but we cannot confirm this.
#9 Ginkgo Biloba, (Sleep Quality for Depression)
Ginkgo biloba, the world’s oldest cognitive enhancing plant, might also promote sleep.
Ginkgo biloba might increase sleep efficiency, which means less waking in the middle of the night, which might be attributed to its flavonoid actions.
No REM sleep enhancement is seen with ginkgo biloba supplements.
There might be a better effect of ginkgo biloba supplements on individuals with depression.
Animal studies show promising results with ginkgo biloba supplements as well.
240mg Egb-761 taken 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime with best results occurring after four weeks of use.
Vitamin and Mineral Micronutrients for Sleep Optimization
- B-complex (Esp B3, B5, B6, B9, B12) (Best taken earlier in the day.)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
*Neuropathy has been reported with daily vitamin B6 over 200 mg. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends 100 mg as the maximum daily B6 dosage.
Notable Other Sleep Supplements
5-HTP, Chamomile (Apigenin), Niacin/ Niacinamide, Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ), Red Clover Extract, Rhodiola, Tryptophan
Other Sleep Supplements
Ashwagandha, saffron, rhodiola rosea, blue lotus, GABA, trimethylglycine (TMG), magnesium-glycinate, taurine, magnesium-taurate, cannabis (THC), apigenin, black seed oil, niacin B3, niacinamide B3, inositol, lecithin, phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylserine (PS), phosphatidylinositol (PI), CBD, vitamin C, vitamin D, omega-3 (cod liver oil, fish oil, algae oil, krill oil), sceletium tortuosum (Kanna), Panax ginseng (earlier in the day), catnip, magnolia, ornithine, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), tart cherry, kiwifruit, oleamide, palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), picamilon, phenibut, kratom (increases insomnia in some).
Sleepless at Night: Conclusions on Sleep Supplements
As always, consider and cover any micronutrient deficiencies first and foremost, before looking at other treatments of insomnia.
Stay tuned for part two in which we will review the science-tested sleep strategies which can help optimize our sleep quality.
What’s your favorite sleep supplement?
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