Do you have problems sleeping? Does it take you a long time to fall asleep? Do you constantly wake up from your sleep and find it hard to go back to sleep? Do you feel you can’t stay asleep throughout the night? Do you wake up feeling tired and unrested? Then maybe it’s time to consider taking some dietary supplements for better sleep.
Good sleep can be defined as sufficient and restful sleep that has you waking up refreshed and revitalized, physically and mentally, and sustains you throughout your daily activities without severe productivity-altering drops in energy levels. Who wouldn’t like sleep like that?
There are a few ways to ensure you have the highest chance of getting a good night’s sleep. One, a sleep schedule: sleep structure is a form of sleep hygiene and conducive to more restful sleep. Two, clean eating and a clean lifestyle: excesses of any kind are not favorable to sleep quality, but rather conducive to insomnia and other sleep problems. Three, help in the form of dietary supplements to boost your sleep performance.
What to take for good sleep at night?
1- Magnesium supplements
If you are struggling with insomnia, taking magnesium supplements can help. Magnesium exerts a range of measurable biological effects that are beneficial for and conducive to better sleep. For one, magnesium has a sedative effect on the nervous system, decreasing nerve cell activity (source) which induces a state of relaxation that favors sleep.
More specifically, taking in larger amounts of magnesium, such as doses normally available in OTC magnesium supplements (300 mg, 350 mg, 400 mg, 420 mg, 450 mg), closes calcium channels and reduces calcium in neurons which decreases nerve cell activity. The resulting chain of effects is favorable to falling asleep and getting good sleep.
Magnesium is further recognized for its benefits for muscle cramps – taking magnesium supplements can help reduce the frequency of painful muscle cramps, muscle contractions and spasms which can affect sleep quality.
More important, magnesium acts on the cardiovascular system in a way that benefits restful sleep. According to research, ‘in the heart, magnesium plays a key role in modulating neuronal excitation, intracardiac conduction, and myocardial contraction by regulating a number of ion transporters, including potassium and calcium channels’ (source). These activities translate into regulatory benefits for heart rhythm and blood pressure that are conducive to a state of calm and relaxation which favors sleep.
Not just this, but magnesium is scientifically proven to help lower anxiety and help with depression which are known to affect sleep quality and duration. ‘Since magnesium has the ability to modulate glutamatergic neurotransmission through its action at the N-methyl-d-asparate (NMDA) receptor’ and ‘anxiety and depression are also similarly mediated by altered glutamatergic neurotransmission’ (source 1, source 2, source 3), supplements can help with the condition impacting sleep quality.
Learn more about the many different magnesium forms and which to choose to ensure you get high absorption rates and measurable benefits.
2- Potassium supplements
If you are having trouble sleeping well, you can consider taking potassium dietary supplements to help with sleep. As research finds, ‘the benefits of dietary potassium may be primarily through its effect on blood pressure’ which is carried out via the electrolyte properties of the mineral (source).
More specifically, potassium achieves an effective lowering of blood pressure numbers that are too high. This results in a state of physiological relaxation that is conducive to sleep, among more important benefits such as lower risks of cardiovascular events such as heart attack.
Taking potassium together with magnesium for sleep is even better as the two work in a synergic manner to exert a cardio-regulatory action that actively promotes the regulation of cardiovascular parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate and heart rhythm, inducing physiological relaxation conducive to better sleep.
Moreover, research studying the association between the DASH diet score and sleep quality found that one of the benefits of the DASH diet is better sleep, that is, longer sleep duration and improved sleep quality (study). DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is a diet plan that consists of eating foods that are naturally high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, but low in sodium, added sugars and saturated fat.
3- Vitamin D
Did you know that you need vitamin D to sleep well? Vitamin D, dubbed the ‘sun vitamin’, is best known for the extensive role it plays in the immune system response, maintaining optimal bone and teeth density and, more recently, also fertility. However, the functions of vitamin D in the human body are much more diverse. For example, did you know there are receptors for vitamin D in the brain?
Vitamin D is defined as a hormone-like vitamin. In its biologically active form, vitamin D functions as a hormone and binds to and activates vitamin D receptors throughout the body, including in the brain. ‘Several studies have suggested its action on different biological mechanisms, such as (…) sleep-wake cycle modulation’ (source).
‘Studies have demonstrated a possible action of vitamin D in the regulatory mechanisms of (…) sleep (…). The supplementation of vitamin D associated with good sleep hygiene may have a therapeutic role (…) in sleep disorders’.
According to research, ‘vitamin D receptors and the enzymes that control their activation and degradation are expressed in several areas of the brain involved in sleep regulation. Vitamin D is also involved in the pathways of production of Melatonin, the hormone involved in the regulation of human circadian rhythms and sleep. Furthermore, vitamin D can affect sleep indirectly through non-specific pain disorders, correlated with alterations in sleep quality, such as restless legs syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome’ (source).
A meta-analysis of relevant studies also suggests that ‘vitamin D deficiency is associated with a higher risk of sleep disorders’ (source), which underlines the importance of correcting deficiencies of the vitamin to ensure good sleep.
In a study on the impact of vitamin D deficiency in sleep in children, a deficit of the vitamin ‘was associated with objectively measured decreased sleep duration and poorer sleep efficiency. Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency was associated with delayed bedtimes, suggesting that vitamin D and circadian rhythm could be related’ (source).
Correcting vitamin D deficiency optimal sleep can be achieved successfully with the help of dietary supplements, or by practicing sun exposure. Sunlight exposure is known to trigger vitamin D production by the body, and also affects brain serotonergic activity resulting in the production of neuro-hormones such as serotonin and beta-endorphins (source). These neurohormones induce a feeling of physical and mental wellbeing and boost mood, without being stimulating, which can have beneficial effects for sleep. See what are other benefits of sun exposure.
4- B vitamin supplements
Good sleep, as in sufficient, quality sleep, has vital nutritional implications and B vitamins are one class of essential nutrients important for sleep quality and adequate sleep duration. B vitamins are known to cross the blood-brain barrier and are carried into the brain. ‘Then the vitamins are accumulated by brain cells by separate, specialized systems’ (source).
B vitamins are needed by the brain and nervous system for cognition, supporting learning and memory, as well as regulating the activities of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are essentially chemicals released by nerve cells that regulate physiological functions body-wide. For example: activity in muscles, including the heart muscle (e.g. heart rate), activity in the endocrine system and hormone production, but also appetite, mood and sleep.
According to research, ‘adequate levels of all members of this group of micronutrients are essential for optimal physiological and neurological functioning’ (source).
Since the sleep-wake cycle is regulated in the brain, including the production of the sleep hormone melatonin involved in the regulation of human circadian rhythms and sleep, it stands to reason that helping the body meet its daily demands of all B vitamins with the help of dietary supplements can help improve poor sleep patterns and also potentially help with sleep problems such as insomnia.
It’s important to notice that ‘evidence suggests that supplementation with the entire B group of vitamins is a more rational approach than selecting one, two or three compounds from this sub-group of vitamins’ (source). So if you do have sleep problems and are considering B vitamins to help you sleep better, do go for a B vitamin complex with all B vitamins.
Just as important, because deficiencies are very common, it will help to choose a B vitamin complex with high amounts of the micronutrients – since B vitamins are water-soluble, excesses or what your body does not use will be eliminated via urine without side effects to you.
As research findings put it, evidence ‘clearly shows both that a significant proportion of the populations of developed countries suffer from deficiencies or insufficiencies in one or more of this group of vitamins, and that, in the absence of an optimal diet, administration of the entire B-vitamin group, rather than a small sub-set, at doses greatly in excess of the current governmental recommendations, would be a rational approach for preserving brain health’ (source) and optimizing all aspects of brain health, including mechanisms that regulate sleep, mood and cognitive performance.