The 12 best supplements for deeper, longer sleep

Not being able to sleep can be hugely frustrating. Being tired all the time robs you of energy, affects your workplace productivity, and can even harm your health. There are lots of things you can do to increase your chances of getting enough sleep, such as cutting down on caffeine, establishing an effective nighttime routine, and eating sleep-promoting foods. But, even then, you may feel like you need more help. 

Some people turn to sleep medications or may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. None of these options is a good idea. They can result in dependencies, and the side effects could be even worse for you than not sleeping soundly.

The good news is there are several natural and proven supplements that can help you fall asleep sooner and sleep deeper and longer.

Despite being natural, it’s still not a good idea to rely too heavily on these supplements. Ideally, you should be able to sleep without assistance. But, if you are suffering from a bout of insomnia and want to break your cycle of sleeplessness, any one of the following can help. However, long-term sleep problems should be investigated and warrant a visit to your doctor. There may be an underlying problem that needs addressing.

Please note: some of these supplements may not be available in your country. This is because of geographical and governmental restrictions.

1. 5-HTP

5-HTP is a precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin – also known as 5-HT. Serotonin levels naturally decline with age, which is why older people often struggle to sleep soundly. Serotonin is linked to the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. 5-HTP has been shown to be beneficial in treating insomnia, and especially for improving sleep quality and duration. 

2. Melatonin

Melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer. It also enables you to sleep more deeply. It’s been shown to be an effective intervention for insomnia, even in those who have a long history of disrupted sleep.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Levels are typically higher at night and decline in the morning. Because melatonin is a hormone, you should try and use the smallest effective dose and limit your use to just a couple of weeks. Using too much or for too long will cause your body to produce less. The idea is to add to and not replace your natural melatonin production.

3. ZMA

ZMA is the common name for zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B. ZMA is a bodybuilding supplement that is thought to increase human growth hormone by promoting longer, deeper sleep.  

Zinc is responsible for increasing hormone levels, while magnesium and vitamin B can help you sleep better. Most people who use ZMA also report that they dream more; a good indicator they are sleeping well. With minimal side effects, ZMA is considered safe for long-term use.

4. GABA

GABA (gamma butyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it has a suppressing effect on the excitation centers of the brain. In short, it calms your thoughts so that you are better able to relax and sleep.

GABA is also inherently linked to your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the opposite of the stress-induced fight or flight sympathetic nervous system. GABA can help reduce anxiety and relaxes the muscles as well as the brain. Users report that using GABA makes them feel very drowsy, relaxed, and ready to sleep.

5. L-theanine

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that is commonly found in foods linked to sleep, such as turkey, milk, and oatmeal. It increases alpha brainwave activity, which are the same brain waves produced during deep sleep. 

L-theanine also increases the production of dopamine, serotonin, and GABA, all of which are linked to better sleep and improved mood.

6. Passionflower

Available as a tea or in powdered supplement form, passionflower increases natural GABA production. It also contains apigenin, an antioxidant with a strong calming effect. Passionflower helps to quiet brain activity, allowing users to relax and sleep better.

7. CBD oil

CBD oil is cannabis oil without the narcotic effect. In other words, it won’t make you “high.” In contrast, a few drops of CBD oil can help you relax and fall asleep more easily. CBD oil can also help reduce stress and anxiety, is anti-inflammatory, and can reduce pain, all of which can interfere with sleep. As its popularity rises, CBD is becoming more widely available.

8. Valerian root

Valerian root is one of the most commonly used sleep supplements in the United States and Europe. It’s also used as an herbal treatment for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and menopause.

Valerian root has no known side effects other than minor dizziness, which should not prove problematic if you take it close to bedtime.

9. Kava 

Also known as kava-kava, this plant extract has been used for hundreds of years by the people of the Pacific Islands. It has a good anti-anxiety effect and can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.

10. Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a widely used herbal supplement that can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. It is also used to treat restlessness and irritability. Eliminating these symptoms can help set the scene for relaxation and a good night’s sleep.

11. Tryptophan

Tryptophan is the reason that foods like turkey, milk, and bananas help you sleep. Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, which is vital for the production of melatonin – the governing hormone that is so important for a good night’s sleep. This natural substance can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.

12. Ornithine

Ornithine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation and helps your body to eliminate ammonia from the gut. Excess ammonia is thought to trigger feelings of stress. It also improves blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels, a process called vasodilation.

Because ornithine is a naturally occurring substance, there are no reported side effects. Still, it is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Summary

Supplements increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. However, they don’t have miraculous properties. They won’t help you sleep if you have overdosed on caffeine, are in a noisy or brightly lit room, or have a very uncomfortable bed. But, when combined with good sleep practices, a well-chosen supplement may help break a cycle of sleepless nights, allowing you to get back into the habit of sleeping properly.

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