Struggling to nod off, consistently waking up in the middle of the night, or shortchanging your sleep time can all add up to a nightmare. Yet it’s estimated that up to 70 million Americans experience some form of sleeplessness. When you don’t sleep enough, your body pays the price. Sleeplessness spills over into other areas of life, leading to more unhealthy habits like overeating, moodiness, and making poor decisions.
Ready to sleep, perchance to dream? Here are the supplements that can introduce you to healthy nights of consistent, satisfying sleep.
Ah, the fragrance of lavender. A nice whiff can cause relaxation, which is why some people spritz a little lavender essential oil on their pillow before going to sleep. Known as a calming herb, lavender can also be helpful in supplemental form to relieve anxiety and increase deep sleep. A myriad of studies have shown that lavender works as a mild sedative. One double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in International Clinical Psychopharmacology reported an anxiolytic effect from lavender. If you’ve ever been kept awake with anxious thoughts, lavender is a welcome antidote. But keep in mind that lavender supplements have concentrated food-grade plant oils, unlike other commonly found essential oils that are not safe for internal consumption. So look for a sleep supplement that incorporates food-grade lavender along with mandarin, lemon balm, and ravintsara for a refreshing night’s sleep.
You’ve probably heard of melatonin for sleep. After all, it’s the source of nearly 28,000 studies. But why is it so critical for proper sleep as well as good health? Melatonin brings the body gently into sleep. As the day starts to get dark, the body produces melatonin—a hormone-like “molecular handyman”— produced mainly by the pineal gland in the brain. An important Brazilian meta-analysis confirmed melatonin’s three-fold benefits for sleep: decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing total sleep time, and increasing sleep quality. But because melatonin levels can decline due to things like aging and stress, getting a supplemental source of melatonin can have a positive impact on overall health. Taking a 3 or 5 mg chewable an hour or two before bedtime is a good starting point. Be aware, however, that some supplemental forms of melatonin can completely cycle through the body in as little as two hours. Fortunately, a timed-release form of melatonin can be an aid in staying asleep. Look for a 10 mg sustained-release version—listed on supplement labels as EP120. As you explore melatonin, you’ll soon learn it’s an important nutrient for a wide variety of needs, including immune function, blood sugar control, IBS, healthy cholesterol, and, yes, deep, satisfying sleep!
Ravintsara grows as a tree and a shrub in the Madagascar rain forest. The name ravintsara translates to “the tree with good leaves.” And it’s the oil found in the leaves and that the indigenous people of Madagascar have long relied on to help alleviate insomnia and ease nervous tension. Ravintsara is rich in an anti-inflammatory compound—1,8-cineole—that balances cognition and reduces anxiety. A word of caution though: pay attention to the spelling of ravintsara. It is not the same as ravensara. Although they are both from the Lauraceae family, they have different uses, outcomes, and even odors. Ravensara is not safe for use in children and needs dilution when used as an essential oil. Ravintsara, on the other hand, is safe for children and adults with no contraindications against its use. Choose one that is a supercritical CO2 extract of the oil for best results. It’s also excellent for improving respiratory health, relaxing the nervous system, and falling asleep faster. While ravintsara is often used as a traditional aromatherapeutic oil, taking it as a supplement in combination with lemon balm, lavender, and mandarin is excellent for relieving stress and providing rejuvenating sleep.
Is stress keeping you awake? If so, it’s time to discover a specially cultivated echinacea extract. While you might associate echinacea with immune health, an extract called Echinacea angustifolia works differently. Not known to directly induce sleep, this special extract has been shown in clinical research to reduce the feelings of stress and anxiety. This calming effect on the brain can help you fall asleep more easily. Plus, it’s safe for children as young as four years old. Echinacea angustifolas can help restore deep, restful sleep as well. In a clinical trial in Phytotherapy Research, Hungarian researchers found this specialized root extract of the herb significantly reduced stress and anxiety within three days of use. Standardized anxiety testing further showed the calming effect persisted for two weeks after treatment. In a series of scientific studies, this specific brain-targeted echinacea formula, known as EP107, showed no signs of drowsiness after use, which is often the case with prescription antianxiety drugs. These same compounds can also help with restless legs and insomnia. Just remember, not any echinacea will deliver these results. It must be a specific extract called Echinacea angustifolia root extract EP107 standardized for a unique, proprietary alkamide profile.
Magnesium is a nutrient that plays many roles, including regulating muscle and nerve function. With use in over 600 cellular reactions throughout the body, it’s also been shown to play a supporting role in helping regulate the neurotransmitters directly related to sleep. Magnesium can help with sleep in several ways: it makes it easier to fall asleep, improves the quality of sleep, and reduces the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. This syndrome, which awakens someone from sleep with twitching or jerking in the legs, can interfere with sound sleep. Supplementing with magnesium appears to improve subjective measures of insomnia such as sleep efficiency, sleep time, sleep onset latency, and early-morning awakening. Magnesium’s ability to help activate mechanisms that play a role in quieting and calming the nervous system is key. It has also been found to help with anxiety and depression—which often affects the ability to sleep. There are several types of magnesium, so look for a product with magnesium citrate with added calcium and zinc to further aid with restless legs and muscle cramps that can disturb sleep. Another form of highly absorbable magnesium, called chelated magnesium, can also help with leg cramping and nervous system function. A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial found chelated magnesium reduced cramp frequency and intensity. A combination of vitamin B6 (in the pyridoxal-5-phosphate [P-5-P] form) and zinc (in the glycinate chelated form) as part of a magnesium complex for higher absorption can be very effective for tackling troublesome sleep patterns.