People struggle with sleep for many different reasons, and we often turn to psychological or environmental explanations. But our biology also impacts how well and for how long we sleep. The most obvious example is that we rarely get a good night’s sleep when we go to bed hungry. However, we don’t have to feel hungry for our sleep to be impacted.
Our body’s sleep and wake systems depend on a complex set of chemicals and nutrients, ranging from metals like iron to neurotransmitters like gamma-Aminobutyric acid. A deficiency may result in insomnia or poor sleep. Sleep supplements replace or increase the amount of these biologically important substances.
As a general rule, if you struggle to sleep, supplements should not be your first recourse. Many of the supplements we are about to discuss are found in a healthy diet or are synthesized by your body. It is better to start with sleep hygiene improvements, changes to your sleep environment, light therapy, and ensuring that you avoid food and drink that disrupt sleep.
If you have long-term insomnia, you should also consider seeking advice from a medical professional. They will be able to offer valuable advice about insomnia treatments, including supplements.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain. It plays an important role in the circadian rhythm; your body reacts to melatonin by reducing nervous system activity, lowering your temperature and blood pressure, and triggering other pre-sleep processes. If you produce insufficient melatonin at bedtime, you may struggle to fall asleep.
Fortunately, melatonin is available as a supplement, and it’s widely used to trigger the wind-down process and promote a healthy sleep routine.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that inhibits neurological activity. It has a calming effect and helps people to relax before they go to sleep. GABA-deficiencies are associated with difficulty falling asleep (sleep latency) and reduced sleep duration.
Your body produces GABA naturally, and it can also be consumed in fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir. There is some evidence that taking GABA as a supplement reduces sleep latency and increases sleep duration, especially when it is taken alongside l-Theanine, another amino acid that is available as a supplement (and is also found in green tea),
If you eat a diet with plenty of red meat—or beans and nuts for vegetarians—you’ll likely get all the iron you need, but some people suffer from iron deficiencies which can lead to anemia. Iron deficiencies have been linked to poor sleep, and iron supplements have been shown to improve sleep duration and reduce sleep disturbances.
Calcium is one of the ingredients of melatonin and tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make melatonin. People with calcium deficiencies often have trouble regulating sleep. If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet, you may experience poor sleep, especially the absence of REM sleep.
Magnesium is essential to many body functions, including in the nervous system and muscles. There’s not a lot of evidence that magnesium helps with insomnia, but it is associated with lower blood pressure and reduced heart disease.
Like magnesium and calcium, zinc is an essential component of many bodily functions, and zinc deficiencies result in a wide range of adverse conditions, ranging from reduced immune function to poor healing. Some studies have shown that zinc is also part of our sleep regulatory system. It is not yet known how zinc affects sleep regulation, but there is evidence that zinc supplementation improves sleep for people with zinc deficiencies.
In this article, we looked at six popular supplements and their relationship to sleep regulation, sleep latency, and sleep quality. Melatonin is a widely prescribed supplement for insomnia, and there is strong evidence that melatonin supplements have a significant impact on sleep duration and quality.
Deficiencies in essential minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc can impact sleep, but they also have many other negative health consequences. The best way to increase the intake of minerals is through a healthy diet, but supplementation is a reliable method for combating deficiencies and the disturbed sleep patterns they cause.