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4 Supplements for Sleep

05/18/2021 | 13 min. read

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Chances are you have heard someone touting a good night’s sleep as a recommendation for…  something. Sleep is supposed to make our days better, and most of us know that we want to have “a good sleep cycle.”

But what does that mean, and how do we make it happen?

Benefits of Sleep

The good news is that when someone recommends better sleep to help with whatever was bothering you, they were probably right! We’ve all hopefully felt like gold the day after finally getting a good night’s sleep.

But what else can sleep do besides just make us feel better and more rested?

Quality sleep has so many benefits that it’s almost hard to keep track.

Let’s start with the basics:

  • Boost your immune system – This is especially important in today’s climate of international travel and jobs with high levels of contact.
  • Maintain weight – This is probably a goal on many of our lists. We either want to lose weight or at least maintain the good healthy weight we have.
  • Increase benefits of exercise – When we find the time to do proper exercise for health benefits, proper sleep can make those efforts pay off.
  • Strengthen your heart – A healthy heart is essential to basic longevity and is a key factor to living a quality life, no matter our age.
  • Increase productivity – This might be one your boss likes, but honestly, we should all appreciate this! Being more productive can mean more time for the things we love.
  • Improve mood – This is probably the one that most of us can personally attest to!

 

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

Most adults need seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night. (Kids and teens need even more – in the eight to ten-hour range). Remember, this is just an average, and every person is different, but this is the number to start with.

While many people claim to be night owls or morning people, the average person does best when sleeping at night and being awake during the day. A bad sleep cycle can put us into reversed cycles and leave us with poor quality sleep when we do get it. The human brain is hard-wired to sleep in the dark at night.

You may have heard of sleep cycles, but what are they? A human doesn’t go to sleep, stay asleep the same way all night, and then wake up. Instead, sleep changes over time, with some sleep being “lighter” and some being “deeper.” Waking up from a lighter cycle in your sleep will help us face our day feeling energized, refreshed and happier.

Waking up from a deep sleep cycle is like… well, you may already know, not the best feeling. We often hear it as “waking up on the wrong side of the bed,” but it should be “waking up on the wrong side of the sleep cycle.” Pulling ourselves out of deep sleep into wakefulness is not ideal, and it’s often mentally difficult, leaving us grumpy and short-tempered all day.

The average adult has a sleep cycle that brings them to light sleep about every two hours. If you’re struggling to wake up in the mornings, try sleeping an even number of hours! If you sleep an odd number of hours (five, seven, etc.), you might be using your alarm to pull your brain directly from deep sleep into wakefulness.

Sleeping an even number (six, eight, or ten hours) should have you waking up easier and have you alert and ready to face the day faster!

Disrupted Sleep

Lack of sleep or improper sleep can leave us moody and grumpy. It can lower our ability to complete tasks. And, worse, it can impair our ability to do normal daily jobs. We’ve mentioned “quality sleep” several times. So what is good sleep? What exactly are we aiming for?

Non-restful sleep, or sleep that doesn’t come, and general lack of sleep all have negative consequences, and they can be severe.

Getting a restful night of sleep has several key features:

  • Fall asleep easily
  • Sleep regularly, at roughly the same times every night
  • Sleep through without waking
  • Wake up feeling refreshed and better for the time we spent in bed.

While many of us have learned that we can sleep less during the week and make up for it on the weekends or just “later,” this isn’t ideal. While we can certainly do this on occasion, this will erode our ability to achieve the qualities of good sleep listed above.

Ultimately, the better you sleep, the better you will sleep! So setting a schedule and sticking to it can help you feel more rested each day. It may be tempting to get off schedule on the weekends, but if it’s making Mondays (or the start of your work week) more difficult, it’s time to ask if it’s worth it.

Learning to Sleep Better

Many of us know that if we want a child to sleep regularly, our best bet is to give them a bedtime routine. But did you know that bedtime routines work just as well on adults? Sleeping poorly is sometimes a thing we train ourselves into, and we can train ourselves out of a lot of it, too.

If you’re not getting proper sleep, now is the time to give this a try.

Taking time to wind down before starting to head to bed is an excellent idea. Letting the hormones in our bodies balance and coming to a restful state is very helpful. So avoid eating full meals or drinking caffeine late in the day. Drinking alcohol within five hours before going to sleep is thought to be detrimental to quality rest.

Maybe you don’t need anyone to read you a story before bed anymore, but establishing a routine and keeping it consistent can have many benefits. Doing the same activities in the same order every night—even things as simple as brushing our hair, our teeth, and washing our face, and taking medicines—trains our brains that we’re getting ready for bed, and this is how we fall asleep.

Maintaining a consistent schedule is a must as we learn how to sleep better. This can be adjusted a little as we become better sleepers, but early on, it’s best to be as rigid with this as we can be.

Once we’ve let our bodies and minds begin to relax and do our bedtime routine in order, it’s time to retreat to our bedrooms.

Bedrooms should be a relaxing, quiet, and dark place. This makes sense, but for many of us, the TV is on in the bedroom, we may have reading lights, and even the dreaded alarm is staring at us, letting us know just how long it has been that we haven’t fallen asleep.

It will take longer at first. Daily exercise—even just a little—can help. But let’s do all the things to make it work better. Turn the alarm clock away. It will still buzz at you in the morning. If you’re using your phone, turn off all the notifications and put the phone face down. Don’t check it.

Many people read right before bed to help them fall asleep. This is not only a great method but an entertaining one as well! If you’re reading a paper book, be sure to use a soft colored light that’s not too bright. Remember, light is a “daytime” signal to our brains, and we are trying to fall asleep easily here. If you’re reading on a tablet or device, you can do three things.

First, set the colors to any option other than the default (black letters on white background); every other option is better for your brain. Second, turn the brightness down; you shouldn’t need it in your dark bedroom. Lastly, use the blue light filter; almost all devices have this built into the settings.

Even if you don’t fall asleep right away, force yourself to stay in bed for your allotted time. Then get up with the alarm. This might not feel good the first several mornings, but it usually pays off very soon. Don’t nap!

If we didn’t sleep well the night before, napping is a reset button, but it puts us right back where we started and can erase all the effort we’ve made at learning to sleep well. So stay awake, and hopefully, that will help with falling asleep more readily the next night.

But what if you’ve tried all of these things and they didn’t work?

First, be sure you tried them all at the same time. Doing just one isn’t enough to alter a sleep cycle for most of us. Second, you might just need a little more help. This is where supplements can come in.

 

Supplements to Help You Sleep

While there are plenty of sleep aids on the market, a few are well known, and a few are not as well known. They can each help in different ways, and you might find that you like one better than another or that your body prefers a particular combination.

The sooner you find the right one for you, the sooner you’ll be getting more restful, beneficial sleep and start feeling better. So let’s look at what some of the key sleep supplements do so that you can make good decisions right out of the gate!

 

Melatonin

Melatonin is probably the most well-known sleep supplement on the market. But most people don’t know enough about how it works to see if it’s the right one for them.

Melatonin is a human hormone produced in the pineal gland. It’s primarily responsible for setting your body to a circadian – or daily – rhythm and managing your sleep cycle. For people with swing shift jobs and other requirements of not sleeping in a regular pattern, melatonin is what you are fighting when you try to sleep at a non-regular time.

Melatonin is naturally produced in the human body as the day darkens. Melatonin production starts in a healthy individual several hours after the daylight fades and peaks in the early morning. It fades away during the bright parts of the day.

Once we see this cycle and its dependence on darkness, it becomes easy to see that bright houses, games, and tv, and all our manufactured light and noise works against our natural sleep cycle. If you live in a community or even with a spouse, children, or a roommate, you might not have the option of turning your house dark and quiet at a prescribed hour. Taking a melatonin supplement can help our body go back to what’s considered a more normal hormonal cycle.

It also has other benefits as well as helping with sleep. It may support eye health and immune function. Many people also see it helps with jetlag. This may be because sleep provides all these boosts, and melatonin provides better sleep, but the two are intertwined in complex ways, and sleeping better is the goal!

 

GABA

GABA is another supplement that will not only help with sleep but offer other wide-ranging benefits as well.

GABA stands for Gamma Amino Butyric Acid and, while that’s a mouthful, it has enough benefits to be worthy of such a big name. Like melatonin described above, GABA is a human-made hormone that our bodies depend on. GABA isn’t as well known, especially among lay persons, but it has too many benefits to be ignored.

GABA’s main job is to reduce the activity of neurons in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord.) Don’t you want a lot of activity in your brain and other nerve cells? Actually, what we want is the right activity. Think of your neural system like a motherboard for a moment: we don’t want all the circuits going off all the time.

Instead, we want the right messages getting through quickly and easily while the other signals stand down and wait their turn. GABA is the hormone that helps conduct the system, making it smooth and fully functional.

Because of this central role, GABA’s benefits can be very broad. It can help with relaxation, pain relief, and stress reduction. Both directly and indirectly, GABA is tied to a more calm, balanced mood. Thus, this supplement can be tied to better, more restful sleep.

If we add GABA to another supplement like L-theanine, we can boost the effects even more. L-theanine is an amino acid often found in green teas and some mushrooms. L-theanine also supports a calm and restful mood, and that helps us fall asleep faster and easier.

When combined with GABA, these two can work together to help us fall asleep faster, get more restful sleep, and stay asleep longer.

 

Passionflower

If we add Passionflower to the mix, we’ve got an even more potent one-two-punch for sleep! Passionflower is a genus of plant: Passiflora. There are approximately 500 kinds of passion flowers. However, Passiflora incarnata is the one we’re focused on.

What are the potential benefits of taking passionflower extract? Like Tamarind, passionflower has wonderful benefits in treating stomach problems. It also helps relieve insomnia and anxiety and seems to boost the levels of GABA in the system. As we’ve already seen, GABA has wide-ranging effects, including mood soothing and relaxation.

Passionflower supplements should be taken daily for a while to see the benefits. Many people report calmer, better sleep with fewer irregularities around day seven of taking this supplement.

A combination of tamarind and passionflower can help boost GABA, relieve gastrointestinal issues that may be interfering with sleep, and help us achieve a calmer mindset to help us get to sleep faster.

 

Final Thoughts

There are lots of ways to achieve these goals. Remember that insufficient sleep may be something we inadvertently trained ourselves to do. We might have done this with an irregular schedule, or we might not have known the best ways to get ourselves to sleep in the first place, so we simply did a bad job because we didn’t know better.

 

Sleep Goals

In the end, we should all have several goals for our sleep.

  • Fall asleep quickly. We want to lay down to go to sleep, and when we do, we want it to work right away!
  • Stay asleep longer. No one wants to wake up in the middle of the night. Consistent, continuous sleep each night is the goal.
  • Wake up feeling rested. This is what sleep is for! We need to rise refreshed and ready to face the day.

If we trained ourselves into it, we should be able to train ourselves out of it! First, set up a schedule that you can keep. After a while, you’ll be able to alter it a bit, but for best benefits, plan to stick to it for several weeks to get started. Add a supplement! The three listed here are great to help get you back on track to sleeping like a baby.

Healthy Directions Staff Editor