4 Proven Supplements to Improve Sleep Quality Naturally
Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD
Sleep is crucially important for overall health and testosterone production. After all, the majority of your T is being produced while you’re sleeping, and several studies show how reduced sleep can significantly lower testosterone levels. Not to mention the fact that you’ll just feel like shit if you sleep too little, everyone knows that.
There are many things you can do for free to naturally improve your sleep time and quality, such as:
- reducing your exposure to bright “blue light” before sleep
- going and getting out of bed at the same time every day
- a diet that supports hormone function
- sleeping in a completely dark room
- and of course, regular exercise
But what about supplements? Surely there are some over-the-counter options that can significantly improve sleep quality? And, Well, yes there is:
Perhaps one of the most well-known and dirt cheap natural sleep aids there is is a high-quality magnesium supplement.
Magnesium is a mineral that can be found in all of the bodily tissues, and it regulates over 300 enzyme functions. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the most important dietary micronutrients for our health. Heck, there’s even research showing how magnesium supplementation can increase testosterone levels.
NOTE: According to this study, 68% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), sets this number to 60%.
When it comes to improving sleep, magnesium is superb. It’s involved in muscle relaxation, and works as an agonist to the brain GABA-β receptors (the receptors which after activation, produce sedative-like effects in the body).
The evidence on the effectiveness of magnesium for sleep parameters is very interesting. A double-blind randomized clinical trial with 46 elderly subjects, found that 500 mg’s of daily magnesium taken for 8 weeks, significantly increased sleep time, sleep efficiency, and melatonin production, while simultaneously reducing cortisol levels and sleep onset latency.
In another study, increasing dosages (10mmol-30mmol) of effervescent magnesium tablets were given to 12 elderly subjects 3 times a day for 20 days, resulting in: significantly lower cortisol levels and improved sleep parameters (measured by brain EEG).
One study consisting of 100 subjects also showed improved sleep quality with a daily dose of 320mg magnesium citrate (this is roughly the RDA of magnesium).
There’s a good amount of evidence suggesting that magnesium can be particularly effective at increasing sleep quality in humans. A dose range of 300-900 mg/day seems to be effective, and magnesium glycinate (affiliate link) is considered to be the best OTC supplement form with highest bio-availability in the body.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is a herbal supplement (commonly root powder or extract) widely used in the Indian herbal medicine, aka. Ayurveda.
It has some good research behind its back and apart from being able to increase testosterone levels (big article about that coming this week), there’s evidence that ashwagandha supplementation could also promote optimal sleep by serving as an agonist to the brain GABA-receptors which promote sedative effects and relaxation in the body. Ashwagandha can also suppress the stress-hormone cortisol and reduces symptoms of anxiety & stress.
It’s one of the “better” supplemental herbs out there and one of my all-time favorites. I take few caps of KSM-66 extract before hitting the sack almost on a nightly basis, and I can honestly feel the difference in my sleep quality (additionally you can dissolve some ashwagandha root liquid to chamomile tea for a similar effect).
Anyhow, don’t take my word for it, there’s research on this too. For instance, in mice, 100-200 mg/kg of ashwagandha is as effective as 500 mg’s of Diazepam (powerful prescription sedative and sleep drug) in inducing sedation (study, study). Few other studies on mice and rats have found that ashwagandha increases sleep quality relative to placebo.
As for human studies, combined with few other herbs, 2000 mg’s of ashwagandha was able to improve sleep quality. In a study that used a fairly high dose (up to 1250mg) of KSM-66 ashwagandha (water extract) improved sleep quality was also reported.
If you count out the rodent studies, ashwagandha doesn’t have as good scientific evidence behind its back as magnesium does, but still, the evidence is there and ashwagandha should deepen your sleep to some extent.
I have used the herb (both extract and pure root powder) for years now, and my personal experiences are in line with the research. Without a doubt, the best kind of ashwagandha you can find is high-quality standardized KSM-66 extract like this (affiliate link).
Short on cash but still would like a little something that helps you sleep like a baby? Then consider gelatin.
Gelatin is the odorless, colorless, brittle stuff that is used when you make jelly. It’s, in fact, the connective tissue that is derived from collagen of various meat industry by-products (animal hearts, brains, skin, etc).
Why would gelatin be good for sleep you ask? Well, let me explain:
In our modern society, we tend to consume only the muscle-meat of animals, which gives us plenty of the amino acids tryptophan and methionine, but very little of glycine. We could use more of that glycine though, since it’s an important amino-acid needed for the synthesis of various bodily enzymes, along with being a sedative (kind of like a “downer”) neurotransmitter in the body.
The last part of that sentence is the reason behind glycine’s ability to improve sleep quality. It’s a sedative neurotransmitter.
And what would be the best source for glycine then? That would be, connective tissue. And besides eating bones and organs, the simplest way of getting more of that connective tissue would be gelatin (which is 22% glycine by weight).
Besides the many theories of the importance of glycine and the warnings about not getting enough of it in our modern diets, there’s actually some research on its ability to improve sleep. For instance, 3 grams of glycine taken 1-hour before hitting the sack, was able to reduce morning fatigue and improve self-reported sleep quality in this human study.
In another study, 3 grams of glycine taken before bed-time, not only increased self-reported sleep quality and day-time cognitive abilities but also resulted in reduced onset sleep latency and faster time to reach slow wave sleep when tested with EEG apparatus (the kind of machine that senses brain activity via scalp electrodes).
The same dose of 3 grams glycine taken 1-hour before bed was also tested successfully in subjects which suffered from mild sleep problems (the day-time cognitive improvements were also noted in the study).
Glycine seems to be very effective at improving sleep quality and day-time cognitive abilities. It’s also cheap and easily accessible in the form of gelatin (affiliate link) or collagen hydrolysate (affiliate link).
Melatonin is the neurohormone that causes and also regulates your sleep.
It’s naturally secreted from the pineal gland in your brain at evening and when you’re in a dark room, and conversely light suppresses the synthesis of melatonin (which is why sleeping in a completely dark room improves sleep quality, and why hitting the sack when the sun goes down and waking up at sunrise would be a good idea).
If you’re doing shift work, supplemental melatonin can be extremely effective, due to the fact that the natural production of the hormone is suppressed during day-time (which is when most shift-workers tend to sleep).
The research on melatonin is solid, which is not a surprise since its usually used as a go-to treatment for insomnia and many sleep related conditions.
Firstly, taking supplemental melatonin is able to increase blood melatonin levels, both at day-time and night-time. Also, supplemental melatonin at doses ranging from 2 to 10 mg’s is fairly effective at reducing insomnia (study, study, study).
In a few studies, melatonin at 2-3 mg doses has improved sleep quality and morning-alertness without any noted withdrawal symptoms or side-effects (study, study).
NOTE: It’s common sense to think that more melatonin would be better for a deeper sleep. However this isn’t the case, and high dosages might actually cause drowsiness in the day-time. It’s recommended that you work the dose up from small amounts first to see what is effective for you.
Melatonin is very effective, especially for reducing the time it takes for the user to fall asleep, aka. reducing onset sleep latency. For shift-workers, it’s almost a must-have supplement. Opt for a non-time released form of melatonin (affiliate link).
Sleep is perhaps the most important thing to optimize for good overall health and healthy testosterone production. Simply put, better (and more) sleep usually makes everything better.
The four supplements above have all been proven effective in improving sleep quality by clinical studies, and are my top recommendations for anyone who seeks to improve their sleep (especially to those who take part in shift-work).