Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Sleep is vital to function optimally. It has a great influence on nearly every aspect of health and wellbeing, including mood, memory, brain function, hormonal production, and the immune system.
Many experts will even argue that sleep is the most essential physiological requirement to sustain good health.
Despite all these benefits, modern day lifestyles have meant that sleep quality and quantity are at an all-time low .
~40% of Americans report having problems falling asleep or experience excessive daytime sleepiness .
Insomnia is defined as a sleep disorder in which people struggle to fall sleep, or struggle to sleep for a sufficient amount of time.
Such problems often result in a sense of restlessness during the day, alongside fatigue, mood swings, and irritability.
Not only this, but sleep disorders such as insomnia often increase the risk for psychiatric disorders, as well as neurological and cardiovascular diseases .
Here are some supplements that could potentially prevent or treat insomnia.
Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that is produced by the pineal gland in the brain.
It is best known for helping to control sleep-wake cycles and regulating the circadian rhythm – the bodies internal clock.
Under normal circumstances, melatonin production is determined by the amount of light that a person is exposed to each day, typically low in the mornings and rising in the evenings after the sun has set.
Exogenous melatonin is also available in supplemental form and has become one of the most frequently requested non-prescription sleep aids .
Current evidence suggests that supplementing with melatonin before bed may reduce the time it takes for people with sleep issues to fall asleep by effectively “resetting” their bodies sleep-wake cycle .
Melatonin is thought to serve as a mediator between the thermoregulatory and arousal system in humans .
The 3 major physiologic effects of melatonin administration are :
- Promotion of sleep onset
- Maintenance of sleep
- Phase-shifting of circadian rhythms
Interestingly, the use of melatonin can even reduce or completely block the phase shift alterations in circadian rhythms induced by bright light , as night-time exposure to bright lights would usually cause phase shifts in the human circadian rhythms.
Even better, large meta-analysis’ have concluded that melatonin significantly improves sleep in subjects with primary sleep disorders compared to placebo, specifically improving sleep-onset latency, total sleep time, and overall sleep quality .
It seems that between 0.1mg and 0.3mg are the doses needed to be taken before bed to affect sleep onset and maintenance qualities, although larger amounts of 0.5mg may be required for a “phase-shifting” effect such as when trying to adjust to jet lag .
2. Valerian Root
Valerian root is also one of the most commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplements in the United States and Europe, sometimes described as "nature's valium".
Studies demonstrate that certain components of valerian root may inhibit the breakdown of a neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).
GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, with a principal role in reducing neuronal excitability. In other words, it can decrease central nervous system activity and induce sedation.
Valerian root consumption has this effect by causing the release of the neurotransmitter from the brain whilst simultaneously blocking it from being taken back into nerve cells .
The major constituent of valerian root that causes these metabolic changes is valerenic acid and its derivatives, although there are likely other components responsible for the sedative effects .
A key benefit of valerian root supplementation is that there are few reports of drowsiness the following day, which is a common side effect of prescription sleeping aids.
600mg before bed seems to be the best dosage, with a measurable improvement in sleep alongside no detriments to reaction times, alertness, and concentration the morning after ingestion .
This sleeping aid has even been recommended by many experts in this field and also within scientific journals that are studying potential treatments for mild insomnia .
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant cation (positively charged ion) in the body and is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions.
Importantly, it is an essential cofactor for many enzymatic reactions, most notably those involved in energy metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis.
However, population data clearly show that despite its importance in metabolic functioning, dietary intake is commonly lacking in most countries and subgroups .
The direct effect of magnesium on neural function and sleep behaviors is not fully understood, although its roles in ion and potassium channels likely means it is important for neural transmission at the cellular level.
Several studies have also acknowledged the role of magnesium in the regulation of central nervous system excitability, with experts stating that it is an antagonist of GABA and therefore critical for sleep regulation .
Controlled clinical studies have also confirmed the role of magnesium in treatment of insomnia and show that magnesium supplementation results in significant improvement of subjective and objective measures of insomnia compared to placebo .
More recent and in-depth analysis’ of magnesium supplementation on sleep have also found its importance for increasing spindle power during non-rapid eye movement, changing delta power in the third sleep cycle , and causing a significant cortisol reduction in the first half of the sleep .
Insomnia is defined as a sleep disorder in which people struggle to fall sleep, or struggle to sleep for a sufficient amount of time. Unfortunately, due to modern day lifestyles, the amount of people suffering from this sleep condition is constantly increasing.
To help with insomnia, many supplements are available that can work to reset ones circadian rhythm, or relax the central nervous system and induce sedation.
Although more clinical research is needed on those with insomnia, the supplements with the most promising research are melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium.