What Supplements can help with Sleep?
Supplements can be a great short term solution to getting good sleep but most are best used for short periods while working on sleep hygiene that will ultimately be more beneficial in the long run (more on sleep hygiene here!). There are circumstances where sleep supplements may be helpful such as when traveling time zones or during stressful life periods. As with any supplement or medication, always speak with your own healthcare practitioner before adding anything into your regimen to assess safety or for interactions with medications. I have been a poor sleeper since I worked swing shift in the ICU over a decade ago and having kids in the past few years hasn’t helped. I have personally worked rigorously on sleep hygiene in the past several months which is more helpful than anything but I have also used and do utilize sleep supplements from time to time.
These are just a handful of the many sleep supplements out there. I don’t recommend all of these at one time but based on a patient’s symptoms and medical history we may select a couple of these for short term use while working on perfecting their sleep hygiene. Here are a few of my favorites!
Magnesium: There are many forms of magnesium out there. For sleep purposes, magnesium glycinate or l-threonate are best. Magnesium won’t make you drowsy but helps with relaxation including relaxation of the muscles and mind by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (aka “rest and digest” mode). As a bonus, magnesium is great for many other functions including: reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, reducing migraine severity and frequency, and may help with stress/anxiety. High doses of magnesium can cause GI distress or diarrhea and is not recommended for those with kidney disease.
L-theanine: This naturally occurring amino acid found in Green Tea has a calming effect. This is why many people who drink Green Tea don’t experience the jitteriness of coffee or other caffeine drinks but may experience a calm altertness and ability to focus. L-theanine can also be taken in supplement form and similar to magnesium, it does not cause sedation or drowsiness but may help calm the mind and body and promote more restful sleep. L-theanine can lower blood pressure especially in those on blood pressure medications so use with caution .
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb used for centuries around the world. An adaptogen is a substance used to enhance the body’s resilience to stress. It is best known for its stress reduction and anti-anxiety effects but may have benefits beyond that including enhancing athletic performance, fertility, increasing testosterone, helping with inflammation and autoimmune disease and more. As with many supplements, more studies are needed in these areas. Ashwagandha does have good evidence for sleep in that it helps to improve sleep quality and duration but best not use long term.
Glycine: Glycine is an amino acid (building block of proteins) that acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. It is thought to lower excitability of certain receptors in the brain, thereby improving sleep. Glycine’s role in sleep may also include its effect on lowering body temperature which we need to happen each night in order to achieve restful sleep.
Apigenin: This bioflavonoid compound is found abundantly in plants and most notably, chamomile, which has long been used to promote rest and relaxation in the form of tea. In higher dose supplement form it can have anti-anxiety, sedative and sleep enhancing qualities. Another benefit of apigenin is its known anti-cancer benefits which can be derived at lower doses by consuming a diet high in plants!
Melatonin: While I have melatonin on this list of sleep supplements. It is one that I rarely recommend for sleep. Known as our master sleep hormone, melatonin is a neurohormone released by the pineal gland in the brain to help promote sleep. Given that it is a hormone, the idea of taking it long term in the form of a supplement doesn’t seem like the best idea. I do think it can be useful on occasion and in certain situations like travel that involves multiple time zones and we now know it is a powerful antioxidant and used short term in cases of illnesses or disease it can have anti-inflammatory effects but I don’t recommend it for daily use, especially in children.
There are so many great supplements out there that may help with sleep but they can’t take the place or morning sunlight exposure, exercise, limiting screen use and all of the sleep hygiene techniques that will help get best quality sleep!
If you are looking for help with sleep or health and want an individualized approach, schedule a free 15 minute consultation below to discuss how Functional Medicine can help!