Trouble Sleeping? These Tips (+ Supplements) May Help
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
March 1, 2021
Did I catch your attention when you read “help with sleep”? If so, you’re not alone. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported that 35.2% adults report less than 7 hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period1 and the Sleep Association Reported that 50-70 million US adults have a sleep disorder.2 I think it’s safe to say that we’re a tired nation.
Adults should be getting 7 ½ - 9 hours of sleep each night. It’s not just a luxury or “nice to have”. It’s critical and the consequences of short sleep duration are profound. Adults who got less than 7 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period were more likely to report 10 chronic health conditions (heart attack, coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, COPD, cancer, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes) compared to those who got enough sleep.1 Struggling with cravings was also a connection. Lack of sleep makes cravings worse; it’s a biochemical fact that after a poor night’s sleep your body craves more sugar and carbohydrate dense foods (chips, French fries, bagels). A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2020 reveals a link between sleep deprivation and high-calorie food cravings, particularly in women.4
Now onto the good news: our favorite sleep solutions! For some people, it’s just a matter of getting to bed earlier to get enough sleep. If that’s you, try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to start getting ready for bed. (And then leave your phone in the kitchen!) However, for many individuals it’s difficulty falling and/or staying asleep that’s the issue. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness we always, always recommend food first! When it comes to better sleep, I recommend focusing on reducing the number of processed foods in your diet and eating a diet of real foods (food you find in nature) as a first solution. Listen to this informative Dishing Up Nutrition episode for nutritional solutions for sleep.
Supplements to Help You Sleep
Here’s a trifecta of supplements I recommend to my clients. Start at the top and work your way down if extra help is still needed.
My first go-to for sleep is magnesium, our most powerful relaxation mineral. Magnesium is involved in over 300 different processes in the body and most people are deficient because our bodies use it up very quickly. And, guess what? Stress depletes you of magnesium …I think we could all be deficient after the past year.
Research has shown magnesium supplementation helps with sleep.3 Many individuals report feeling more relaxed before bed, falling asleep easier, and sleeping deeper. Have you been dreaming more? That’s a sign of deeper sleep.
I recommend starting with at least 200 mg of magnesium and increasing as needed up to 800 mg. If you’re also struggling with constipation choose Mixed Magnesium, it contains magnesium citrate which pulls fluid to your stool to loosen it. If you don’t struggle with constipation choose Magnesium Glycinate that comes in 100 mg tablets or the 75 mg capsules that are easier to swallow than the tablets. Magnesium doesn’t just help with sleep - read more about other benefits of magnesium.
If you tried magnesium and it didn’t do the trick, don’t worry I’ve got more ideas for you. If you’re struggling with racing thoughts before bed or waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, 5-HTP may be the answer for you. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, a very calming neurotransmitter (feel good brain chemical). Other symptoms of low serotonin can include anxiety, panic attacks or phobias, feeling worried or fearful, carbohydrate cravings, obsessive thoughts or behaviors, perfectionism, irritability, depression, excessive self-criticism. If this sounds like you, take 1-4 capsules (up to 200 mg) daily, at least 15 minutes before a meal. To help your sleep take it before bed. This should be taken on a regular basis to notice positive effects. If you’re on an anti-depressant medication discuss this with your medical provider before taking.
L-theanine may be another solution to your sleep problems. L-theanine stimulates the production of GABA, another very calming neurotransmitter. Symptoms of low GABA can include anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, feeling worried or fearful, panic attacks, unable to relax, feeling stressed and burned-out. If you fit some or all of these symptoms L-theanine may be worth trying. Take 1-3 caps (up to 600 mg) daily, at least 15 minutes before a meal. To specifically help you sleep make sure to take before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night you can also take one then to help calm your brain and fall back to sleep. Clinically, individuals report feeling much calmer within 30 minutes of taking L-theanine. It can also be used on an as needed basis for anxiety.
If you want to learn more about sleep, we have plenty of other articles and podcasts discussing sleep. You’re sure to learn something new! Sleep is complex and there isn’t a one size fits all solution. If you’re still struggling with sleep, I urge you to make a one on one nutrition counseling appointment. I and all the other dietitians and nutritionists help clients with sleep on a daily basis, which often improves other health factors as well.