Improve Your Sleep with These Natural Supplements
Natural supplements can be an effective tool to improve your sleep, when used in combination with other components of sleep hygiene. As they can have a powerful effect on your body, always consult with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who can guide you as to their proper use and can consider whether they may interfere with other health conditions you have or other medications you may be taking.
Supplements are commonly used to get a better night of sleep. It is important to note, that the choice of which particular supplements will help your sleep, will depend on what is causing you to have sleep problems in the first place. Medical and psychological causes for loss of sleep, should always be ruled out first by your physician.
Melatonin – This sleep hormone is made naturally by your brain, and it is released in response to darkness. It is what contributes to the feeling of sleepiness. However, exposure to artificial blue light in your home in the evenings from your lightbulbs, computer, tablets, smartphones, and televisions, for example, is suppressing the release of this important sleep hormone. In this way, melatonin regulates your sleep/wake cycle. Keep in mind that as you get older, your body produces less melatonin.
Melatonin supplements are not recommended for everyone (ex. Pregnant or nursing moms), so be sure to check with your healthcare practitioner before use. Never give any sleep supplement to your child or teen without first consulting with his/her physician.
Melatonin can be useful for shift workers, people with jet lag, people who fall asleep too early or too late, and those who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is also beneficial for those who experience the winter blues (medically known as Seasonal Affective Disorder), and if you experience cluster headaches.
Melatonin supplements are sold over-the-counter in natural food health stores, as well as pharmacies in North America. Like most supplements sold in North America, they are not regulated, so you may need to try various ones to find those that work best for you. To aid you in comparing and contrasting various melatonin supplements, it can be helpful to use a sleep diary. Record the time you feel sleepy, if you wake up at night, what time you wake up in the morning, how you feel (refreshed or not) when you wake up, and so forth.
You can also buy various doses of melatonin, as high as 10 mg, but do not assume that the more, the better. Higher doses are associated with morning grogginess, headaches, dizziness, vivid dreams and nightmares, and other side effects.
It is wiser to start with a lower dose, and adjust it upwards gradually, only if needed. This is where speaking and consulting with a healthcare professional, who is knowledgeable on the topic of sleep supplements, can help you tremendously.
In other words, there is no one solution for all. Studies are focusing on determining how much melatonin should be taken, and when to take it. Generally speaking, though, between 2/10 of a mg and 5 mg supplementation 60 – 90 minutes before bedtime seems to work best for those using it. However, be prepared also to experiment with what time works best to take a certain dosage of melatonin. You do this by taking note of when that particular dose of melatonin starts to make you feel sleepy.
In addition to different doses of melatonin, pay attention to whether the brand you are trying is instant release. These are better if you have trouble falling asleep. However, if you have trouble staying asleep, you may find time-release melatonin more effective for you. Some people need a combination of both types, if they have trouble both falling and staying asleep.
GABA and L-theanine – These are two supplements that will be spoken of together, because they have similarities in common, as well as differences.
L-theanine – This supplement is sold in health food stores, and over the counter in pharmacies. L-theanine is actually found naturally in tea leaves. It is an amino acid, that has structural characteristics similar to glutamate, which is another amino acid in your body. Glutamate is a precursor to GABA. GABA is a chemical messenger in your brain that sends messages to other cells in your brain. GABA will be discussed in more detail a little bit later, but the important thing that you need to know now is that l-theanine increases the production of GABA.
A lot of research has been done with l-theanine, demonstrating that it can calm your mind, and increase concentration and focus, without causing drowsiness. It is also good for relaxation and reducing stress. Green tea contains the most l-theanine, but it is also found in black and oolong teas. It is not found in rooibos tea, which originates from a red bush native to South Africa. It is also not found in herbal teas, which are not made from tea leaves.
Research has also shown that l-theanine works harmoniously with caffeine. In other words, when you consume tea that contains both ingredients – l-theanine and caffeine – you will feel mentally more alert, calm, and less affected by the caffeine in the tea. This is unlike coffee, which only contains caffeine, and can make you feel jittery. Even if you decide to drink decaffeinated tea, you will still receive the benefits of the l-theanine as no difference exists in concentrations of l-theanine between caffeinated and decaffeinated versions. Choosing the decaffeinated version is the wiser option if you drink a lot of tea, or if you like to relax with a cup of tea in the evening before going to bed.
L-theanine is relatively safe, but it can lower blood pressure, so as with anything, always speak to your doctor and pharmacist before using.
GABA – This is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, but for simplicity sake, it’s called GABA. Like already mentioned, GABA is a chemical made by your brain that sends messages to other cells (it’s a neurotransmitter) in your brain. Like l-theanine, it provides a calming and relaxing effect on your cells. Unlike l-theanine, however, it is not found in tea. As mentioned previously though, GABA’s precursor, glutamate or glutamic acid, is found in food. Examples of foods that contain the precursor to GABA include ripe tomatoes, walnuts, kefir, sea vegetables, tree nuts, bananas, citrus fruits (oranges), brown rice, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut. By including more GABA-producing foods in your diet, you can actually increase the amount of GABA in your brain, which will allow you to relax and feel calmer. Vitamin B6 is also very important in the production of GABA.
Related to this, studies have shown that less GABA is found in the brains of people who suffer from insomnia. Therefore, sufficient levels of GABA in your brain appear important in ensuring that you fall asleep easily, as well as have a refreshing sleep. Without enough GABA, deep, restorative sleep is not possible.
GABA supplements do not appear to be absorbed readily by the body, and it is possible to overdose on GABA supplements. Therefore, if you want to increase your GABA levels, foods that help produce it (like those mentioned above), are probably your best bet.
L-theanine works in collaboration with GABA by improving GABA’s effectiveness in calming your mind.
B Vitamins – The B vitamins play an important role in many functions in your body. The eight B vitamins – B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate), and B12 (Cobalamin)– are known as the B-complex.
Although each of the B vitamins has its own role, they do still work together. Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12, in particular, play an important role in quality sleep. For example, if you are deficient in Vitamin B6, your body produces less GABA, which is an important chemical messenger known for relaxation and calmness in the brain for sleep. Vitamin B12 is another “sleep vitamin” that helps in the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) required for good sleep. Vitamin B9 is also important for those people who suffer from a condition known as “restless leg syndrome” during sleep.
Magnesium – This mineral plays an important role in your mood, metabolism, maintenance of your bone and heart health, as well as promotion of healthy sleep. Magnesium is also involved in your body’s reaction to stress, and it is helpful in reducing anxiety as well. Insomnia has also been linked to low magnesium levels. Magnesium plays an important role in ensuring you enter the deep, restorative stage of sleep. In addition, magnesium increases levels of GABA – the chemical in your brain that produces a calming effect on your cells so that you can fall asleep. This is just a small sampling and explanation of how important it is to have adequate levels of magnesium in your body at all times.
Magnesium is not produced by your body. Therefore, you must get it in food sources or through supplements. Food sources include dark leafy vegetables, dairy, broccoli, almonds, sunflower seeds, and others. Unfortunately, many people do not get enough magnesium through their diets alone. As a result, supplementation may be indicated. Always speak to a physician knowledgeable in sleep disorders, a naturopathic doctor, and/or pharmacist to provide you with advice as to whether you should be supplementing with magnesium. This is especially important if you have any pre-existing health conditions, or if you are already on medications as magnesium could potentially interact with them. The healthcare practitioner will also be able to provide you with a dosage level, if it is determined that you would benefit from magnesium. Magnesium citrate is absorbed decently, and is a good option over magnesium oxide, which is not.