A Guide To Sleep Supplements
Nothing beats waking up naturally in the morning, after a full night’s sleep, feeling well rested, energetic and ready for the day. However, this ideal is hard to come by for many as stress, insomnia, sleep apnea and other challenges make it challenging to get enough, good quality, sleep.
Supplements are a gentle way to support the body in falling asleep with more ease, and staying asleep throughout the night, and don’t come with a long list of potential side effects and dependency issues that come with prescription medication.
There are many sleep supplements that include specific nutrients, hormones and herbal medicines to choose from, either taken individually or in combination. It might take a little experimentation to dial in what really works for you, but when you wake up after that full night’s rest, it will be worth it.
In today’s article I’m going to discuss some of my favorite sleep supplements in detail. Keep reading to learn more about:
- How poor sleep affects health
- Natural sleep supplements including: melatonin, magnesium, glycine, rhodiola and lavender.
By the end of this article you’ll have some effective tools to support your journey to better sleep. Let’s jump right in!
Effects Of Poor Sleep
I likely don’t have to tell you that poor sleep affects everything else in your life. You’ve surely experienced a night of where you didn’t sleep very much that left you feeling tired the next day, with slower thinking and had you reaching for the cookie jar. We know that even a single night of poor sleep profoundly affects metabolism. (Source 1) When this pattern becomes chronic, sleep loss is a major stressor affecting all aspects of health.
As Americans our sleep is getting worse, both in terms of quantity and quality. Why?
There are many behavioral and health-related reasons that contribute to poor sleep including:
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Increased use of technology
- Sleep apnea
- Not prioritizing the time
As we get caught in a cycle of poor habits, it affects the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm. We might stay up late, burning the midnight oil, then have trouble falling asleep and waking up on time in the morning. Instead of going to bed early the next night, we repeat the cycle, often relying on caffeine and sugar to pull us through.
One study found a 43 percent increase in calorie consumption related to staying up late and not getting enough sleep. (Source 2)
Research shows that poor sleep quality and short sleep duration is related to:
- Decreased ability to focus (Source 3)
- Increased inflammation (Source 4)
- Worsening of pain, often due to the increase in inflammation (Source 5)
- Decreased ability to learn new skills (Source 6)
- Impaired glucose metabolism and elevated blood sugar, which can lead to metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes (Source 7, 8, 9)
- Increased risk for cardiovascular disease (Source 10)
- Decreased testosterone (Source 11)
- Decreased exercise performance and muscle gain (Source 12)
- Weight gain (Source 13)
In combination with a regular bedtime and sleep hygiene modifications (I talk about specific solutions here), sleep supplements offer gentle and often highly effective support.
Natural Sleep Supplements
Let’s dive into some natural options for sleep support. These supplements can be taken individually, or in combination, for synergistic effects.
Melatonin For Sleep
Melatonin, known as the sleep hormone, is produced in the pineal gland of the brain in the absence of blue light. This means that naturally, melatonin production increases as the sun sets into the evening hours promoting drowsiness and eventually sleep. (Source 14) In this way, melatonin is a key regulator of the circadian rhythm.
Unfortunately, melatonin production is decreased by artificial light exposure. (Source 15) This is why full spectrum lights and blue light from screens and devices used in the evening may make it harder to fall asleep and why reducing these exposures, or wearing blue light blocking glasses, may help to promote melatonin production in the body.
Melatonin supplementation has been successfully used for insomnia, to improve sleep quality, decrease symptoms of jet lag and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep at night. (Source 16)
Melatonin side effects include fatigue and drowsiness the next day, but this can be mitigated by using the lowest effective melatonin dosage.
How much melatonin should I take? Typical dosages range from between 0.5 and 5 mg taken in the evening before bed. Start at 0.5 mg and add 0.5 mg at a time every few days to adjust your dose.
More is not better.
Take too high of a dose of melatonin and you could experience transient feelings of depression or anxiety. My dad was a perfect example: he was taking 10 mg of melatonin per night and complaining of irritability! Moreover his blood sugar levels were trending higher. Melatonin can reduce levels of insulin and decrease insulin tolerance (Source 26). I do not recommend exceeding 5 mg of melatonin per night, and even that is a very high dose.
Melatonin can be taken alone or in combination with other natural sleep support nutrients. Core Med Science’s Liposomal Melatonin Sleep Aid Formula combines melatonin with GABA and glutathione. This combination is a liquid formula allowing the dosage to be easily titrated to your individual needs.
Magnesium For Sleep
Does magnesium help you sleep? Magnesium is an essential mineral that we need to obtain from the diet. It’s involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. Magnesium deficiency is quite widespread, and increasingly common, in the population due to:
- Decreased magnesium in the food supply because of soil depletion and increases in processed foods
- Low intake of magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, legumes and nuts
- Poor absorption of magnesium, which is more common in the elderly
- Increased loss of magnesium through sweating or exercise
- Prescription medications that deplete magnesium, such as diuretics and proton pump inhibitors
- Chronic disease that alters magnesium balance including diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney failure and heart disease (Source 17)
Magnesium is important for sleep. It helps with relaxation and reduces anxiety. Magnesium deficiency may contribute to excited neurons that make it hard to sleep. This is of note since so many are deficient in this important mineral. (Read more about testing for nutrient deficiencies here).
Magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate are two well-tolerated and well absorbed versions of supplemental magnesium.
Magnesium glycinate combines magnesium with the amino acid, glycine, which is sleep supportive in its own right. Short-term studies show that glycine increases the perception of sleep quality. (Source 18)
That said, magnesium glycinate may not provide a high enough dose of glycine to see these effects. The glycine dosage for sleep is 3 to 5 grams and can be taken in addition to magnesium if desired. This additional glycine may work well when taken 30-60 minutes before bed for those who fall asleep easily, but don’t feel rested in the morning.
Magnesium taurate is my preferred form of magnesium supplementation. Magnesium taurate benefits are far reaching because it is rapidly absorbed and is able to enter the brain more easily than other forms of magnesium, thus allowing for higher concentrations of magnesium in the brain and lower anxiety and related symptoms. (Source 19)
How much magnesium for sleep? The magnesium for sleep dosage recommendations are typically around 200-300mg, taken at night before bed. However, in functional medicine we often recommend even higher dosages, which are very safe. If you take too much magnesium, you might have a loose stool and can back off on your daily dose. It’s important to separate magnesium supplements from other minerals including calcium, iron and zinc, since they compete for absorption.
Rhodiola For Sleep
Rhodiola rosea, referred to simply as rhodiola, is an adaptogenic herb that helps to regulate the body’s stress response. An added rhodiola rosea benefit is that it supports sleep.
In a clinical trial of young men living a high altitude, rhodiola was shown to improve sleep architecture by increasing both deep sleep and REM sleep, and helped to improve sleep quality. Rhodiola also helped to improve oxygen saturation, which may have clinical applications for those with sleep apnea. (Source 20)
In a study of patients with obstructive sleep apnea, rhodiola was shown to inhibit free radicals and improve anxiety and depression over 3 months. (Source 21) Reducing stress and anxiety, certainly helps address the root cause of sleep issues.
Rhodiola supplements may be taken as a tincture (liquid extract) or in capsule form. A recommended dosage of rhodiola is 360 to 600mg daily of an extract containing 1% rosavin. For more potent extracts, use a lower dose. Rhodiola side effects are typically minimal and may include an increase in energy for some. Please check with your doctor or pharmacist before using herbal medicine if you take medications or have a medical condition.
Lavender For Sleep
Lavender is not your typical sleep vitamin in that is typically used topically or as aromatherapy, although it can be taken internally as well.
Much of the research has been done on lavender as aromatherapy showing that inhaling lavender oil for sleeppositively affects the emotional state by decreasing anxious feelings and thoughts. (Source 22) In addition, lavender oil has been shown to promote relaxation, by reducing heart rate and blood pressure. (Source 23) All of these effects can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Lavender has been specifically studied for insomnia and shows that aromatherapy improves both insomnia and depression in college-age women. (Source 24) In a randomized controlled trial of oral lavender use, those receiving the lavender treatment saw improved sleep compared to controls, including reduced anxiety, improved quality of sleep and increased sleep duration. (Source 25)
How to use lavender oil for sleep: Lavender essential oil can be placed in the palm of the hands or added to a massage or carrier oil for inhalation. External use has a high safety profile, although some caution may need to be taken in certain individuals as lavender may have some estrogenic activity. Taken internally, the study above used Silexan, a lavender oil preparation standardized with 25 to 46 percent linalool. The recommended starting dose is 80mg, which can be increased, up to 160mg, after two weeks.
In addition to the supplements discussed here, lemon balm, valerian, GABA and other herbs and nutrients may be additional elements of a sleep formula or used on their own to support a peaceful night’s sleep.
Sleep supplements are best used in combination with lifestyle tools, including a regular bedtime, sleep hygiene practices and reducing blue light exposure after dark. As your sleep improves you may choose to take periodic breaks from supplements to see if your non-supplemented sleep has also improved.
It may be helpful to try sleep support supplements one at a time to determine what works best for you. Often, however, combinations of nutrients are quite supportive and offer synergistic effects. Core Med Science’s Liposomal Melatonin Sleep Aid is one such combination that is both highly absorbable and extremely effective.
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