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7 Supplements That Promote Optimal Restorative Sleep

By on August 30, 2018 in Sleep Aids with 0 Comments

Woman sleeps on a floating mattress in the forest

We all long to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, restored and ready to tackle whatever the day has to throw at us. The unfortunate reality, however, is that 1 in 4 Americans battle with insomnia each year.

In addition, 40% of us only manage to grab six hours or less each night. Perhaps the starkest revelation from this Gallup poll is that in 1942 only around 11% of Americans slept for six or fewer hours.

A fast-paced modern world full of on-demand entertainment, smartphones, and ever increasing work obligations have combined to create a perfect storm of sleeplessness. This is alarming because optimal sleep is linked to a range of positive outcomes, like superior job performance and improved memory.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the herbal helpers that might help you to overcome your sleep problems without resorting to medication.

1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland. It is a vital part of our sleep-wake cycle and disruption can prevent us from enjoying the rejuvenating benefits of a good night of sleep.

A 2006 study set out to investigate the role of supplemented melatonin in combating tinnitus. This condition presents as persistent ringing in the ears and in severe cases can significantly impair sleep quality.

The researchers found that 3mg of melatonin per day for four weeks was associated with a reduction in the severity of tinnitus and an improvement in sleep (1).

These findings were backed up by a further study, which found 3mg of melatonin was capable of substantially reducing tinnitus symptoms. The reduction appeared to be greater for men than for women (2). It is thought that the alleviation of tinnitus symptoms can help individuals to fall asleep faster and remain asleep with fewer disturbances.

One study of older and middle-aged adults with insomnia found that 2mg of a prolonged release version of melatonin could reduce the time taken to fall asleep and improve sleep quality. The researchers also noted improvements in morning alertness and discovered no harmful withdrawal effects resulting from treatment (3).

Finally, elderly patients with insomnia saw improved sleep quality and reduced symptoms of insomnia when supplementing with melatonin (4). No negative effects on morning alertness were discovered.

How to take melatonin:

  • Consider a prolonged release supplement to extend the action of melatonin in the body
  • Start with a small dose of 0.5mg and work your way up to a dose that is effective for you
  • Generally, the maximum dosage is 5mg, but don’t dose excessively, to begin with — taking more won’t result in falling asleep faster
  • Take the supplement around 30 minutes before you intend to go to bed

2. Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba leaves flourishing in the wild

Ginkgo biloba is a tree native to China that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Recently, the scientific community has taken an interest in investigating the potential uses of extract based supplements.

Interestingly, ginkgo biloba appears to help reduce one troubling aspect of sleeplessness in particular: repeated waking during the night.

When given a 240mg supplement over the course of four weeks, depression patients in therapy saw improved sleep through a reduction in waking during the course of sleep (5).

Another study administered 240mg of an extract to otherwise healthy persons and found improvements in subjective assessments of sleep quality (6).

Although more high-quality research is needed, the initial results from these trials show great promise.

How to take ginkgo biloba:

  • Start with 120mg and work your way up to a maximum dose of 240mg
  • Take ginkgo biloba with your evening meal to help improve sleep while minimizing any possible stomach discomfort

3. Valeriana officinalis

Better known as valerian, this herb is native to both Europe and Asia and has long been utilized for its sedating and anxiety-reducing properties.

Supplementation of valerian at a dosage of 450mg for 8 weeks in cancer patients undergoing therapy was able to improve the speed at which subjects fall asleep and also appeared to have anti-fatigue properties (7).

Participants struggling with their sleep were given either 450mg or 900mg of valerian before bed in another trial. Researchers found that those taking valerian supplements were able to fall asleep faster and enjoy overall higher sleep quality (8). However, the larger dose was associated with drowsiness the next morning, indicating that 900mg may be an excessive quantity to supplement for most people.

How to take valerian:

  • Work your way up to a dose of approximately 450mg
  • Take your supplement around an hour before going to sleep
  • If you experience stomach discomfort, try taking the pill with food

4. Kava

Dried and partially powdered kava root

Kava is a plant native to the Pacific Islands and its consumed widely throughout the area for its sedating effects. It has also seen use as a safe and natural option for treating short-term anxiety.

The plant’s usefulness in improving sleep quality appears to stem from these anxiety-reducing effects. Worry and stress often leave people ruminating in bed for longer before falling asleep and may also increase instances of waking during the night.

A study involving patients with stress-related insomnia found that 120mg of kava extract reduced both stress and thereby insomnia too (9).

In another trial, 61 individuals suffering from anxiety were given 200mg of kava daily for 4 weeks. The group taking kava saw greater improvements in sleep quality and anxiety reduction than a control group given a placebo (10).

How to take kava:

  • Doses of up to 300mg of extract daily appear to be effective for anxiety reduction
  • Lower dosages may confer benefits on sleep so start low and build up to what works best for you
  • When purchasing a supplement it is important to identify the kavalactone content as this is the active ingredient
  • Consider taking a supplement containing 250mg of kavalactones just prior to sleep
  • If you experience stomach discomfort, try taking your dose with food

5. Magnesium

Collection of supplement capsules on a wooden table

Magnesium plays a pivotal role in every cell of all living creatures. It is naturally present in many foodstuffs including nuts and vegetables. Dietary recommendations around the world vary from around 300mg to 400mg per day.

Estimates of deficiency in the United States range from 1 in 6 people to a staggering 1 in 2 people. This is a troubling statistic for many reasons, not least because magnesium deficiency hinders the beneficial effects of vitamin D in the body.

This important mineral also appears to play a role in improving the sleep quality of people who otherwise struggle to enjoy a restful night.

Magnesium taken for 20 days was found to improve sleep in elderly people in one trial (11).

Meanwhile, another study found that 320mg of magnesium supplemented daily for 7 weeks improved sleep in people over the age of 50 (12). The supplementation also appeared to have beneficial effects on indicators of inflammatory stress.

How to take magnesium:

  • In general, people supplement magnesium at a dosage of 200-400mg per day
  • Avoid supplements that contain magnesium L-threonate as this form of the mineral contains less of the useful elemental magnesium
  • Magnesium citrate is generally the gold-standard form in achieving optimal results from your supplementation
  • Take your dose in the evening with food to minimize any potential gastrointestinal side effects

6. Lavender

Lavender is a flowering plant cultivated across the world for many purposes. Insomniacs and people with anxiety appear to benefit from supplementation through the reduction of symptoms and a reduction of instances of waking during the night. Some evidence suggests that otherwise healthy people may also experience improved sleep quality when taking lavender supplements.

80mg of silexan (a lavender oil preparation taken as a supplement) taken for 6 weeks reduced anxiety and symptoms of restlessness in people with anxiety disorders (13). It is thought that sleep quality may improve secondary to a reduction in these symptoms.

A further study conducted using the same supplement found lowered anxiety and improved sleep quality in patients with pre-existing mild anxiety symptoms (14).

One trial involving 42 female college students with insomnia found that lavender aromatherapy improved sleep quality compared to baseline (15). An additional aromatherapy study noted reductions in symptoms of insomnia and indeed improved overall sleep quality (16).

How to take lavender:

  • As a supplement, take lavender at a dosage of between 80-160mg and ensure the brand you purchase has a standardized quantity of linalool at around 40%

7. Panax ginseng

Panax ginseng is a plant species native to mountainous regions of East Asia. Ginseng has been incorporated into traditional forms of medicine for centuries but high-quality scientific research on the topic has emerged only recently. It has been shown that the leaves of the plant possess a higher concentration of active chemical compounds than the roots that are more typically used in China.

Panax ginseng is of particular interest to people who struggle to sleep in new environments, for instance when traveling. Just one week of supplementation appears to improve sleep impairment associated with being in a new and unfamiliar location (17). This effect may be mediated by a reduction in anxiety.

How to take Panax ginseng:

  • The typical dose is 200-400mg daily
  • Take the supplement once per day
  • Check the Ginsenosides content of the brand of supplement you purchase and ensure it is standardized up to at least 2-3%

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About the Author

About the Author: Tom Andrews BSc is the editor of MentalWellnessToday.com. He devotes his time to psychology and mental health research and also enjoys climbing, hiking, and team sports. Tom is a contributor to several other highly regarded health magazines and blogs.

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