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Question: Which supplements can help me sleep?
Answer: There are several supplements, discussed below, which may help to improve sleep -- as well as several which may interfere with sleep. Use the links to get more details, including dosage, cautions and ConsumerLab.com's ratings of tested products.
Melatonin is one the most popular supplements for sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster, although it will not necessarily help you sleep longer. Some research has shown it may also improve the quality of sleep in people with tinnitus, and improve sleep quality and duration in people with autism. However, be aware that taking melatonin may increase leg movements in restless legs syndrome.
Tart cherries contain a small amount of melatonin, and there is some evidence that tart cherry juices, concentrates and extracts may contain enough melatonin to improve sleep for some people. One study, for example, found that drinking two 8 oz. glasses of tart cherry juice daily moderately improved some measures of sleep, such as reducing waking after falling asleep in older adults.
L-tryptophan and 5-HTP are amino acids which are used by the body to produce melatonin (as well as serotonin). L-tryptophan supplements can increase sleepiness and decrease the time needed to fall asleep in people with mild insomnia, but have not been shown to increase sleep time. They do not appear to be helpful for people with severe insomnia. (Be sure to read Concerns and Cautions for these supplements.)
L-theanine, an amino acid found in black and green tea, can reduce stress and improve sleep quality, but does not cause drowsiness. Interestingly, L-theanine may also help to increase alertness during the day.
One small study found magnesium reduced leg movement associated with waking in people with restless leg syndrome, although this study was not blinded or placebo controlled.
Ashwagandha is sometimes promoted for sleep, although most of the research suggesting this effect has been in animals and not in people. However, as insomnia is often due to stress and anxiety, and ashwagandha may reduce these states, a beneficial effect on insomnia is certainly possible - but not proven.
Valerian is commonly used as a sleep aid, although the evidence behind this use is mixed. One study reported an improvement in sleep for postmenopausal women who suffered from insomnia; however, a review of 37 studies of valerian concluded it was probably not effective for treating insomnia. Like ashwagandha, however, it may have a calming effect and be helpful for stress and anxiety, which can contribute to insomnia.
Prevagen, a branded supplement that contains jellyfish protein, and PQQ, and antioxidant compound, have each been tested in a single study and found to improve sleep -- however neither study was placebo-controlled.
For more information, see the Encyclopedia article about Insomnia, which provides information about information about lemon balm, skullcap and kava and other proposed supplements for sleep.
Also, be aware that some supplements may make it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. In addition to the obvious culprits - such as energy drinks, weight loss supplementsand cocoa products which contain caffeine and/or other stimulants - supplements such as garlic, policosanol(a common ingredient in cholesterol-lowering supplements), DHEA and chromium have been reported to cause insomnia in some people. Vitamin D or CoQ10, taken in high doses or at nighttime, may also make it difficult to fall asleep.