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Supplements for Sleep

by Dr. Randy


For people who have sleep problems there are several supplements that can be helpful. Falling asleep is a complicated mechanism requiring several coincident changes in brain chemicals. Both the initiation of sleep and the continuity of sleep depend upon a healthy balance of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). It is possible to measure these with lab tests, and if there is an imbalance in neurotransmitters that is interfering with sleep, then this imbalance can often be corrected using natural supplements.

Specifically, in order to get to sleep and maintain a good night’s sleep, stimulating neurotransmitters like epinephrine and glutamate must turn off, and calming neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA, and melatonin must turn on. Nutritional support can help to make that happen, and meditation or relaxation techniques can help facilitate sleep onset as well. Various supplements may help sleep in different individuals.

Supplements to improve sleep include melatonin, calcium with magnesium, taurine, 4-amino-3-phenylbutyric acid, 5 HTP, and theanine depending on the specific issues involved with the sleep problem.

An interesting finding that came out of two sleep studies evaluating the effect of melatonin on REM sleep duration revealed that the timing of these supplements may be important. Many doctors suggest taking supplements that assist sleep just before bed. These studies showed that melatonin was most effective in increasing REM sleep when taken around 10:00-11:00 PM. When melatonin was taken erratically or after 11:30 PM it counteracted the beneficial effects on sleep. The authors suggest that this disruption is due to melatonin’s effect on the body’s circadian rhythms. So the timing of supplementation may be just as important as the type of supplements themselves.


Kunz D, Mahlberg R, Müller C, Tilmann A, Bes F. Melatonin in patients with reduced REM sleep duration: two randomized controlled trials. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2004 Jan;89(1):128-34.


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