Ultimate Guide to Natural Sleep Supplements
This article aims to be a complete and unbiased guide on everything you need to know about natural sleep supplements – How they work, the research, and the supplements themselves.
Over 80 million Canadians and Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Many adults and parents of children with sleep problems worry about the long term side-effects and potential addiction/dependence of pharmaceutical sleep medications. We provide excellent alternatives for people looking for natural supplements that are actually effective for adults and children with various sleep disorders.
Before we dive into the details about each of the various supplements, let’s first discuss how they work to combat insomnia.
How the various sleep supplements work
Sleep is a complex process. In order for a person to fall asleep, stay asleep, and enjoy a high quality sleep, several processes need to take place. If even one of these systems isn’t working properly, a person may find that he or she is unable to sleep well.
As with medications for insomnia, different sleep supplements work differently, and on different mechanisms. Here are the major mechanisms involved in sleep.
** The perfect night’s sleep is achieved through the simultaneous optimization of several different mechanisms. This is what motivated our research team to create our premium natural sleep formula – Sleep-X.
GABA is the body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Inhibitory basically means it “blocks” or reduces many of the brain’s messages like fear, excitement, worry…
GABA significantly slows down brain activity, making us feel very calm and relaxed.
Supplements and medications which work to increase the effectiveness of the GABA system are commonly prescribed as anxiolytics (anti anxiety) or for helping with sleep.
Popular medications which work on the GABA system are benzodiazapines like Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.
There are many natural supplements which also work very well on the GABA system, like L Theanine for example. Many more are listed below.
GABA supplements and medications work by either increasing the amount of GABA available in the brain, or by increasing the effectiveness of GABA.
GABA medications and supplements can be extremely calming and relaxing – they can make it much easier for us to fall asleep, and help us to sleep longer.
Melatonin is the body’s natural “sleep hormone”. It’s both a natural hormone which is made in the pineal gland, and a supplement we can take.
Melatonin is very powerful and something we need to be careful with. It’s even sold only with a doctor’s prescription in several countries – The UK is just one example.
Melatonin regulates the body’s sleep/wake cycle, or “internal clock”.
We generally have naturally high levels of melatonin at night, and low levels during the day. High levels of melatonin signal the body that it’s time to sleep.
Melatonin supplements are often sold to help with jet lag, because our natural biorhythms get all messed up when we cross several time zones.
If for some reason you don’t sleep much one night, you still may be wide awake in the middle of the following afternoon. This is because your natural melatonin levels are very low during that time – so even though you need sleep, you won’t feel too sleepy because of the low melatonin levels.
Going to sleep around the same time each night is important largely because of our melatonin cycles. We want to make sure we are sleeping when our melatonin is naturally high, and we are awake when it’s low.
Darkness signals us to produce and secrete melatonin, and light signals us to release very low levels of melatonin. This is one reason it’s a terrible idea to look at a TV or computer screen at night and it’s much better to try to be in total darkness before and during sleep hours.
Melatonin is single best selling sleep supplement. It is often sold on its own, and often in doses which are quite high. Our research has shown that it is best to use lower levels of melatonin and combine it with other natural supplements to attain the best quality sleep.
We’ve had incredible feedback from SleepX which is a combination of melatonin plus several other sleep enhancing supplements.
Serotonin is often referred to as the body’s “happy hormone”. Serotonin enhancing medications and supplements are often prescribed as “anti-depression” medication. We’ve all heard of Prozac and other popular SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like Zoloft, Amitriptaline, and… prescribed for depression because they make us feel better and happier.
What is also true, but less well-known, is that anti-depression medications are also often prescribed for helping with sleep.
When our serotonin levels are optimal and we’re feeling happy and content, we are able to sleep better and more easily.
Supplements like 5 HTP and L Tryptophan are popular and effective for naturally increasing serotonin levels. In addition to being effective natural sleep aids, they are effective for decreasing anxiety and reducing symptoms of depression for many people who take them. Many people who experience general daytime depression and anxiety enjoy supplements like these at night because they not only get a much better night’s sleep, but they also feel calmer and happier the following day. We often hear this from customers who take SleepX
Did you know that popular brand name over-the-counter sleep aids are most often just an antihistamine? That’s right, they are the same medications that are commonly used for allergies.
Diphenhydramine is the most common one. It is the generic name of Benadryl and ZZZQuil, and the active sleep ingredient in Tylenol PM.
This is not to say that antihistamines don’t work for sleep, it’s just important for consumers to know what is going on and not be fooled by clever marketing. If an antihistamine is really what you want for occasional sleeplessness, you can purchase the generic form of the drug for a cheaper price.
One of the downfalls of using diphenhydramine for sleep is the tolerance builds up very quickly, in as short a time of 3 days. So it’s very important to take this only occasionally as taking it every day could give you serious side effects, not to mention it has been shown to be no more effective than a placebo for sleep after 3 days of use.
Cortisol is the body’s “stress hormone”. When we are in the “fight or flight” mode, our bodies produce high amounts of cortisol to prepare for some serious action.
When you are in a heated argument with someone, you are excited while playing in a competitive sport, or when you feel scared when you are walking alone at night, you will have naturally high levels of cortisol to prepare you for that situation.
In today’s highly stressed society, a huge % of us have far more cortisol than we need. And high levels of cortisol make it almost impossible to sleep. Imagine trying to sleep right after getting in a huge shouting match with your spouse or boss.
So for many people who have both sleeping difficulty and high levels of cortisol, finding a supplement to help lower cortisol naturally may work wonders for helping them sleep. We have an organic ashwagandha which has been scientifically shown to help significantly reduce cortisol and help people sleep. Our ashwagandha also has wonderful health benefits when taken during the day.
Now let’s look at the sleep supplements themselves
L Theanine – An amazing amino acid. It works quickly and can be taken before bed to help you stay asleep all night and improve overall sleep quality. People who take L Theanine for sleep report waking up very refreshed and with no grogginess. L Theanine can also be taken during the day to help improve mood and decrease anxiety. It increases deep and relaxing alpha brain waves and improves the quality of, and time spent in REM sleep. Read more here about L Theanine and Sleep. It’s also a key ingredient in SleepX
L Theanine and Sleep – Effective dosage: 100 – 250 mg
Melatonin – Melatonin is the most widely known and most purchased sleep supplement. As mentioned above, melatonin is a naturally produced hormone that tells the body when it’s “bedtime”.
People who have jet lag, work shifts, or are night owls often benefit from melatonin. Many people use very high doses of melatonin, which is worrisome for a lot of health care practitioners. Often a low dose of between 1-2 mg is very effective for sleep. Too high a dose can lead to grogginess in the morning, dependency, and other potential side effects. We use a low but effective dose of very pure melatonin in our SleepX.
Melatonin dosage for sleep: 0.5 – 10 mg (**Be careful**)
5 HTP & L Tryptophan – 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan are both quite effective sleep aids. Many people also take them during the day to help with depression and anxiety. They work similarly to SSRI medication and they increase the serotonin levels in the brain. Some people prefer one over the other but both are effective. We actually use a combination of both 5 HTP and L Tryptophan together for maximum effectiveness in SleepX.
5 HTP dosage for sleep: 25 – 150 mg (**Be careful**)
L Tryptophan dosage for sleep: 50-220 mg (**Be careful**)
If you are currently taking anti-depressant medication and/or anxiety medication, you are advised to speak to a health care practitioner before taking L Tryptophan or 5 HTP to avoid too much serotonin in the synapses.
Passionflower – Passionflower has been used as a sedative, a sleep aid, and a muscle relaxant for thousands of years. We put it in SleepX. It’s also in our daytime anxiety formula Zen+.
The type of passionflower used is of great importance. The different strains of the plant and the concentration of active ingredients in the finished product make all the difference. We use a highly potent passionflower extract of 20% flavones. The majority of other passionflowers on the market are 3.5% at the most. So the amount you take in milligrams really depends on the product you are using. Some people also like to make a tea out of passionflower.
Read more here about passionflower for sleep.
Dosage of passionflower for sleep – really depends on the plant and the extract ratios of active ingredients (somewhere between 50 mg and 1 gram)
Magnesium – Magnesium is a great sleep aid. Many experts believe that well over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium. Proper magnesium supplementation can also provide a whole host of other health benefits in addition to helping with sleep. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, so getting enough magnesium is essential for overall optimal health.
There is a lot of misinformation about magnesium. You need to understand the form you are getting – many forms don’t absorb well in the body. Most of the cheap magnesium supplements are in the form of magnesium oxide. Not only does it absorb very poorly in this form, but it also causes diarrhea. The best form to use is “magnesium bisglycinate”. It absorbs the best and won’t cause loose stool. Read more here about magnesium bisglycinate. We use it in both SleepX and Zen+. It is very calming and helps relax tight muscles as well.
Magnesium dosage for sleep – Depends on how deficient you are. Range between 20 – 100 mg of “Elemental” magnesium.
Ashwagandha – Ashwagandha is a powerful adaptogen, a class of herbs which brings the body back to homeostasis. Ashwagandha is known for being very relaxing, and has been shown in double blind scientific studies to reduce both depression and anxiety. Many people use it before bed as a sleep aid. We don’t include it in SleepX, but we do sell the most relaxing form of organic ashwagandha as a single. Many people take it alone, or in combination with SleepX.
It’s also nice for both men and women to take before bed as it also helps rev up libido and improve sexual satisfaction and performance. The mechanism of action is very complex, but one of the things it does is it blocks cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone”. Read more here about ashwagandha
Ashwagandha dosage for sleep – 300 mg of KSM-66 organic ashwagandha. (Other forms of ashwagandha are much less potent and some people need over 1 gram of them to feel something)
Kava Kava – Kava Kava can be an effective sleep aid and anti anxiety herb. We personally don’t offer it because it’s very difficult to source a high quality form of it. Many farmers have stayed away from it as it was taken off the market for many years as it had a lot of bad press for supposedly causing liver problems. That claim has recently been largely overturned and it’s selling again. We don’t comment on the proper dosage of kava kava or the type of strain for sleep as this is outside of our experience, but we wanted to mention it as some people do enjoy this herb for sleep.
Valerian – This is one of the most well-known herbs for sleep. It has been used effectively for thousands of years as an anti-anxiety and sleep aid. We personally don’t use it because it’s similar to passionflower, but we have found a much better form of standardized passionflower to use instead, and valerian has the added challenge of smelling like feet. Even a little of it can really stink up a bottle. Some people do swear by it but we prefer passionflower.
Chamomile – Chamomile is a well-known herb for sleep that is often used in tea form. We actually prefer it in this form. It’s not the strongest sleep aid out there, but a hot cup of chamomile tea is rather calming and does help put people in the mood for sleep. It is also sold as a dry herbal supplement to take in capsule form, but these don’t seem as effective as the teas.
Lemon Balm – Lemon balm is another herbal sleep aid which works similarly to passionflower and valerian. Again, we prefer passionflower as we have sourced an incredibly pure and potent extract of it, and in our own research we’ve found it to be more effective than either valerian or lemon balm. But it is worth mentioning as some people do seem to like it for sleep. Finding a quality source of lemon balm with high amounts of active ingredients can be a challenge as well and should be something to keep in mind.
Tart Cherry – Tart cherry extracts are getting more popular for all kinds of things ranging from sleep to arthritis. The way it appears to work as a sleep aid is to help raise the natural levels of melatonin. It’s certainly not one of the stronger sleep aids, but it is a nice natural one. Tart cherry in concentrated juice form is delicious as well.
B Vitamins – Vitamins B3 (in niacinimide form) and vitamin B6 are also useful for help with sleep. Both vitamins help with the synthesis of serotonin. They work well with 5 HTP and L Tryptophan as well. We use B3 (niacinimide) in SleepX.