Sleep

7 Supplements That Help You Sleep Better and For Longer

Posted on 13 November 2020

As you grow older, you may notice that you do not sleep as well as you used to. Older adults tend to find it harder to get to sleep and spend less time sleeping during the night. The quality of this sleep is also reduced: sleep becomes more fragmented and more easily interrupted, while the amount of time spent in slow wave sleep (a deep sleep phase thought to be important for memory consolidation) is shortened.

The progression of sleep stages over 9 hrs in a younger adult (top) and an older adult (bottom). NREM 4 represents what is considered to be the deepest sleep state. Relative to younger adults, older adults demonstrate: longer sleep latency, a greater number of transitions to lighter stages of sleep and wakefulness, more time spent awake after sleep onset, more fragmented sleep, and less time in slow wave sleep, especially within the early sleep cycles.
Mander, B., Winer, J., & Walker, M. (2017). Sleep and Human Aging. Neuron94(1), 19-36. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004

Poor sleep quality appears to accelerate ageing at the cellular level: sleep loss is associated with shorter telomeres and possible increased cellular senescence, both of which are key mechanisms underlying the ageing process. Changes in sleep patterns in old age may also include a propensity to fall asleep during the day.

It is still not entirely clear whether older adults simply need less sleep, or whether they find it harder to get the sleep that they need. There is no doubt that sleep deficits lead to physical and cognitive impairments. Many studies have found impaired sleep to be associated with poorer performance in memory tasks in both younger and older adults. Furthermore, interventions aimed at improving sleep quality have been found to benefit memory, suggesting that sleep disturbance may cause cognitive impairment rather than the other way around.

Minimising your exposure to blue light in the evening, avoiding late caffeine consumption and maintaining regular sleeping and waking times are all ways in which you can help maximise your sleep quality. There are also many supplements that research suggests can help you to sleep better. What follows are 7 such supplements and the research behind them.

1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the brain, and is well known for its role in regulating sleep. Light suppresses melatonin production, while in the absence of light melatonin levels rise and promote sleep.

Regulating Circadian Rhythm (and why that's important) ~ The Paleo Mom

How Does Melatonin Benefit Sleep?

Melatonin supplementation improves sleep quality, mainly by decreasing the time taken to fall asleep and increasing total sleep time. Melatonin also appears to be highly effective in treating insomnia.

  • A meta-analysis of 19 trials including 1683 subjects with primary sleep disorders (sleep problems not caused by another medical condition or drug) found that melatonin reduced sleep latency by an average of 7.06 minutes. Sleep duration was increased by 8.25 minutes on average.
  • The same meta analysis also concluded that melatonin significantly increased sleep quality.
  • Another meta-analysis of 10 studies found melatonin to be effective at preventing or reducing jet-lag if taken close to the target bed time. Melatonin may be beneficial to nocturnal shift workers for this reason.

Forest plot depicting reduction of sleep latency in melatonin compared to placebo. Meta-analysis demonstrated a significant benefit of melatonin in reducing sleep latency. WMD = weighted mean difference; CI = confidence interval.

Ferracioli-Oda, E., Qawasmi, A., & Bloch, M. (2013). Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders. Plos ONE, 8(5), e63773. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063773

Melatonin may have further protective effects in the brain due to its potent antioxidant properties. It may also carry a number of other benefits that are being investigated, including anticancer and anti-obesity properties.

  • In test tube studies, melatonin appears to be a powerful antioxidant, outperforming resveratrol and vitamin C in preventing DNA damage from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress and the resulting damage and inflammation is theorised to be a driver of the ageing process.
  • Some studies suggest that melatonin can promote significant weight loss in obese patients. One study in diabetic rats also found melatonin supplementation to be associated with an increase in brown fat, a tissue that burns fat to produce heat.
  • Melatonin appears to protect against stomach ulcers caused by aspirin or helicobacter pylori infection.
  • In a meta analysis, supplementation of various daily doses of melatonin was associated with reduced mortality in cancer patients with solid tumors, with a risk ratio of 0.66 after a year.
  • Taking 3 mg of melatonin was associated with improved memory retention during periods of stress.

In summary: Melatonin supplementation has been well studied and is effective in promoting sleep onset, extending sleep duration and improving sleep quality. Melatonin may also have a wide range of additional health benefits.

2. Magnesium

Magnificent Magnesium: Benefits, Form and Uses - Illinois Chiropractic  Society

Magnesium is a mineral present in many foods, and is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body. Studies suggest that almost 50% of people in the USA and Western Europe have below ideal magnesium intake. In the central nervous system, magnesium has a calming effect, and low magnesium levels are highly associated with stress.

How Does Magnesium Benefit Sleep?

Magnesium supplementation appears to reduce the time it takes to reach a sleep state, increase total sleep time, and reduce sleep disturbances.

  • One study found that older adults taking magnesium for 8 weeks had reduced sleep latency, were less likely to wake prematurely, and spent more time asleep over the course of the night.
  • An animal study found that rats placed on a magnesium-deficient diet showed decreased levels of melatonin in their blood during the dark cycle.
  • In elderly subjects, a creeping magnesium dose of up to 30mmol/day for 17 days was associated with a significant increase in slow wave sleep, a sleep phase associated with memory consolidation. 

Magnesium also appears to have multiple additional benefits aside from sleep promotion, most notably a reduction in blood pressure and blood sugar.

  • A 2012 meta-analysis of 22 trials including 1173 participants concluded that magnesium supplementation produced a small but clinically significant reduction in blood pressure. On average, systolic blood pressure fell by 3-4 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 2-3 mm Hg. A later meta-analysis supports these findings.
  • A meta-analysis of 18 trials found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved blood sugar levels in diabetics, and also improved insulin sensitivity in those at high risk of diabetes.

In summary: Magnesium appears to induce relaxation and sleep. It may also protect against high blood pressure and diabetes.

3. GABA

Which Neurotransmitter Is Involved in Drug Addiction? - Master Center for  Addiction Medicine

GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA reduces the activity of neurons throughout the nervous system to produce a calming effect. 

How Does GABA Benefit Sleep?

Scientific studies suggest that GABA can have stress-reducing and sleep-enhancing effects. Supplementation with GABA may both help people to fall asleep quickly and increase the duration of slow wave sleep. The benefits of GABA seem to be geared more towards the early stages of sleep.

  • A recent meta-analysis of 14 studies suggests that oral GABA supplementation is effective at reducing biomarkers of stress and inducing relaxation.
  • The same meta-analysis suggested that oral GABA supplementation for a week or longer can reduce the time it takes to get to sleep, and may also increase the duration of slow wave sleep. GABA does not appear to be particularly effective at maintaining sleep.
  • There are, however, some reports of improved objective sleep quality with GABA supplementation. In one study, taking 300mg of GABA daily was associated with improved sleep efficiency (the amount of time in bed spent asleep) in insomnia patients.
  • Several small studies suggest that various doses of GABA (ranging from 25mg to 100mg) may reduce physical and cognitive fatigue during problem-solving tasks.
Kim, Suhyeon & Jo, Kyungae & Hong, Ki-Bae & Han, Sung & Suh, Hyung Joo. (2019). GABA and l -theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharmaceutical Biology. 57. 65-73. 10.1080/13880209.2018.1557698.

In summary: GABA appears induce relaxation, help you get to sleep faster and reduce stress and fatigue overall. While more evidence is needed to better understand the effects of GABA supplementation, existing research seems promising.

4. L-Tryptophan

Safely Using L-Tryptophan to Fight Insomnia

L-tryptophan is an amino acid used in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin. As already discussed, melatonin promotes sleep in response to low light levels. Serotonin, while best known for its role as a ‘happiness neurotransmitter’, also appears to be necessary for sleep.

How Does L-Tryptophan Benefit Sleep?

Tryptophan is used to treat insomnia and sleep apnea, and its sleep promoting effects are well established.

  • Multiple studies suggest that L-tryptophan is effective for accelerating sleep onset in those with insomnia. In younger individuals experiencing short bouts of insomnia, a single dose 1g – 15g was effective in accelerating sleep onset. For more established insomnia, dosing for longer periods was sometimes needed.  
  • One study looked at data for 29,687 individuals in the NHANES study to assess the effects of natural daily tryptophan intake on sleep. They found that a higher daily tryptophan intake was associated with longer self-reported sleep duration.
  • The same study also found that L-tryptophan intake was associated with lower self-reported levels of depression. 

In summary: L-tryptophan appears to accelerate sleep onset and improve sleep duration. As L-tryptophan boosts serotonin levels, it may have the added benefit of improving mood and aiding weight loss (as serotonin suppresses appetite).

5. 5-HTP

5-HTP, or hydroxytryptophan, is a naturally occurring amino acid. Like tryptophan, it is used to synthesise the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.

How Does 5-HTP Benefit Sleep?

Studies in both humans and animals suggest that 5-HTP can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improve sleep quality. 5-HTP appears to be particularly effective when combined with GABA.

  • In a small trial of patients with insomnia, GABA + 5-HTP accelerated sleep onset by around 10 minutes on average – significantly more than placebo. Treatment also significantly increased sleep duration by nearly 2 hours.
  • A review of treatments for sleep disorders concluded that 5-HTP may be beneficial in treating disorders such as sleepwalking and sleep terrors.

In Summary: The existing evidence for the sleep-promoting effects of 5-HTP are encouraging, especially when combined with GABA. Unfortunately, there is a lack of human trials investigating the benefits of 5-HTP.

6. Valerian Root

Valerian Root Extract | Valerian Uses & Quality | NOW Foods

Valerian is a herb that has been used since ancient times to promote relaxation and sleep. It inhibits the breakdown of GABA, the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, and thereby produces a calming effect.

How Does Valerian Root Powder Benefit Sleep?

Research suggests that valerian is an effective and safe supplement for improving sleep quality.

  • According to meta-analysis, the available evidence suggests that valerian root could accelerate sleep onset, increase sleep duration and improve sleep quality, though more human studies would be welcomed.
  • One study suggested that taking valerian allowed adults with insomnia to reach slow-wave sleep 36% faster and to remain in slow-wave sleep for longer. As previously mentioned, slow-wave sleep is a deep sleep phase thought to be important for memory consolidation.

In addition to its effects on sleep, valerian root may also help you relax. 

  • In one study, a combination of valerian and lemon balm powder was associated with reduced anxiety ratings in adults taking challenging mental tests.
  • Valerian was associated with reduced anxiety in individuals with generalised anxiety disorder.

In summary: Valerian root powder inhibits the breakdown of GABA and may promote relaxation and sleep. While there is anecdotal evidence for the benefits of valerian, more robust human studies are needed to confirm its effects.

7. Chamomile

5 Ways Chamomile Tea Benefits Your Health

Chamomile is a herb that has been consumed for centuries as a remedy for several health conditions. Its tea is a caffeine-free alternative to green or black tea that appears to offer a variety of health benefits, which include improved sleep quality. Chamomile contains apigenin, a compound that binds to GABA receptors and may thereby produce a calming effect.

  • One study found that elderly patients taking 8400mg of chamomile extract twice per day slept significantly better than study participants who did not take chamomile extract.
  • In another study, individuals who consumed 270mg of chamomile extract twice per day spent 1/3 less time awake at night and fell asleep 15 minutes faster than those who did not consume the extract.

In addition to its effects on sleep, chamomile also appears to have a wide range of additional health benefits due to its high content in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

  • Chamomile is associated with reduced incidence of stomach ulcers and protection against diarrhea in rodents. More evidence is needed to confirm these benefits in humans.
  • In one study of 537 people, drinking chamomile tea 2-6 times a week was associated with lower incidence of thyroid cancer.
  • Drinking chamomile tea was associated with a significant reduction in blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • The same study also noted reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (‘bad cholesterol’) in those who drank chamomile tea.

In Summary: Chamomile activates GABA signalling and may thereby promote relaxation and sleep, but this needs to be confirmed with more human studies. Chamomile is rich in antioxidants which may provide a variety of health benefits.


References

Sleep and Human Aging: DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004

Meta-Analysis: Melatonin for the Treatment of Primary Sleep Disorders: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063773

Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag: DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001520

Melatonin, xanthurenic acid, resveratrol, EGCG, vitamin C and alpha-lipoic acid differentially reduce oxidative DNA damage induced by Fenton reagents: a study of their individual and synergistic actions: DOI: 10.1034/j.1600-079x.2003.00041.x

Role of melatonin in mucosal gastroprotection against aspirin-induced gastric lesions in humans: DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-079x.2010.00755.x

Effects of melatonin and tryptophan on healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers with Helicobacter pylori infection in humans: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22204799/

Melatonin in the treatment of cancer: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and meta-analysis: DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2005.00258.x

Melatonin improves memory acquisition under stress independent of stress hormone release: DOI: 10.1007/s00213-008-1344-z

Melatonin Supplementation Lowers Oxidative Stress and Regulates Adipokines in Obese Patients on a Calorie-Restricted Diet: doi: 10.1155/2017/8494107

Melatonin increases brown adipose tissue mass and function in Zücker diabetic fatty rats: implications for obesity control: DOI: 10.1111/jpi.12472

The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23853635/

Magnesium and stress: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507250/#

Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans: DOI: 10.1055/s-2002-33195

Dietary magnesium deficiency decreases plasma melatonin in rats: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17172005/

Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis: DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.4

Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Blood Pressure: https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.116.07664

Effect of magnesium supplementation on glucose metabolism in people with or at risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials: DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.154

Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review: doi: 10.3389/fnins.2020.00923

Safety and Efficacy of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid from Fermented Rice Germ in Patients with Insomnia Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial: doi: 10.3988/jcn.2018.14.3.291

GABA and l -theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep: DOI: 10.1080/13880209.2018.1557698

Relieving Occupational Fatigue by Consumption of a Beverage Containing γ-Amino Butyric Acid: https://doi.org/10.3177/jnsv.57.9 Evaluation of L-tryptophan for treatment of insomnia: a review: DOI: 10.1007/BF00175180

Tryptophan Intake in the US Adult Population Is Not Related to Liver or Kidney Function but Is Associated with Depression and Sleep Outcomes: DOI: 10.3945/jn.115.226969 A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep: DOI: 10.1097/MJT.0b013e31819e9eab

Therapeutic Symptomatic Strategies in the Parasomnias: DOI: 10.1007/s11940-018-0508-3 Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis: DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.02.026

Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study: DOI: 10.1002/ptr.1027

Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress: DOI: 10.1002/ptr.1787

Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality: DOI: 10.1055/s-2000-7972 Investigation effect of oral chamomilla on sleep quality in elderly people in Isfahan: A randomized control trial: doi: 10.4103/jehp.jehp_109_15

Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: A randomized placebo-controlled pilot study: doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-11-78

Assessment of some Herbal Drugs for Prophylaxis of Peptic Ulcer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177631/

Antidiarrheal and antioxidant activities of chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) decoction extract in rats: doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.01.015.

The effect of Greek herbal tea consumption on thyroid cancer: a case-control study: DOI: 10.1093/eurpub/ckv063

Effectiveness of chamomile tea on glycemic control and serum lipid profile in patients with type 2 diabetes: DOI: 10.1007/s40618-014-0170-x

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