Sleep plays a crucial role in fitness performance and recovery. If you’re having trouble sleeping a sleep supplement may be able to help you.
In part two of our sleep series we look at how different supplemental ingredients help increase the ability to fall asleep and sleep quality.
Sleep supplements work by increasing the production of melatonin and/or serotonin. These are the neuro-hormones that make you sleepy and happy.
Your body clock controls how much melatonin is produced. Normally, your body will produce more melatonin in the mid-late evening which is why we begin to feel sleepy as the evening progresses. Melatonin levels remain high for most of the night before dropping in the early morning hours, encouraging our body to wake up.
One of the things that can affect our melatonin levels is light. With so much technology available we’re usually staring at a blue-light screen until we go to bed, or even in bed. Blue light from electronic devices can actually suppress our melatonin levels causing us to feel awake when we should be feeling sleepy. Research also suggests that this melatonin suppression from blue-light can also cause a decline in sleep quality and making it harder to wake up in the morning.
Natural melatonin production slowly drops as we get older. Some older adults produce a very small amount of melatonin or none at all.
Increasing melatonin levels with supplementation may enhance sleep quality and achiever deeper sleep for a longer time.
Serotonin also plays a role in regulating sleep patterns as well as our mood. It is also a precursor to melatonin. Life stresses such as constant travel or an irregular sleep scheduled can decrease serotonin production. When serotonin levels are not in the normal range, sleep disturbances and other sleep issues can result, as well as being a cause of depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.
High levels of serotonin have been suggested to cause wakefulness and lower levels of sleep while low levels of serotonin results in sleep disruption and sleep disorders such as insomnia. Stress is a common cause of low serotonin levels.
Increasing serotonin levels can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and increase calmness, feelings of happiness and overall sense of wellbeing. This usually helps you to relax your mind at night and fall asleep quicker.
Now let’s take a look at how the ingredients in sleep supplements can influence your melatonin levels and/or serotonin levels to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Sleep Supplement Ingredients
L-tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted through a series of reaction. It is a precursor that leads to the synthesis of melatonin in the brain, as well as niacin production and protein synthesis. Melatonin helps to regulate our body’s circardian rhythym. It helps to control your sleep and wake cycles.
It is recommended to take L-tryptophan on an empty stomach before bed to optimize melatonin production and therefore help you fall asleep faster. This is because amino acids compete for absorption and transport into the brain.
5HTP is a natural chemical that is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin.
Our body naturally makes 5HTP by breaking down Tryptophan in the liver. Once Tryptophan is converted into 5HTP in the liver, it travels through the blood stream to the brain. 5HTP crosses the barrier separating the blood stream from the brain, and enters the brain. Once in the brain 5HTP is converted into Serotonin. From there, Serotonin can be converted into melatonin.
It is recommended to cycle on and off 5HTP supplements or only use as needed.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
GABA is a neuro-inhibitory transmitter that can promote drowsiness and produce a calming effect. GABA effectively turns the switch off on arousal hormones such as adrenaline and stops them from acting on your body. Serotonin does inhibit GABA, so it is recommended to use GABA alongside L-tryptophan or 5HTP.
GABA has also been shown to stimulate growth hormone (GH) production, increasing the anabolic benefits of sleep.
Phenibut (beta-phenyl-gamma-aminobutyric acid)
Phenibut is derived from the neurotransmitter GABA. It is used to help reduce stress, relieve tension, prevent anxiety and therefore improve sleep.
Phenibut crosses the blood-brain barrier more effectively than GABA which is why it is more commonly used in sleep supplements.
It has also been show to increase resting and post-exercise growth hormone secretion.
Valerian Root is a native European plant that has the ability to boost the effects of GABA and influence serotonin’s role in the brain. It will not only help you fall asleep but also improve your quality of sleep so you wake up feeling refreshed. Supplementation for 2-4 weeks is needed to maximise benefits.
Written by Gemma