March is National Bed Month, a campaign which highlights the importance of a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep can lead to numerous health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, poor immunity and mental health issues (1). Sleep is clearly crucial to our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately more than a third of us don’t get enough of it (2).
According to the latest Great British Bedtime Report, the most popular self-medication for sleep problems is alcohol. In fact, one in four of us is turning to alcohol at bedtime to help get to sleep. This figure has climbed worryingly since 2013 when the survey was first conducted.
Alcohol is one of the worst ways to treat sleep problems, as it blocks REM sleep – the most restorative type of sleep. It can worsen snoring and sleep apnea, and a nightly alcohol habit is likely to contribute to weight gain.
Fortunately, there are several healthier alternatives for those seeking a good night’s sleep. Here are the top three natural supplements commonly used to relieve insomnia and encourage restful sleep.
L-theanine is the reason that many of us enjoy relaxing with a cup of tea. This amino acid, naturally present in tea leaves, has been shown to have calming effects on the brain (3). It reduces levels of the brain’s ‘excitatory’ neurotransmitter glutamate, and boosts levels of relaxing GABA.
Theanine supplements are well absorbed and have been found to enter the brain within 30 minutes. The dose often recommended for improving sleep is 200 to 400mg, taken an hour before bed.
Often deficient in modern diets, magnesium is one of the first nutrients to consider for anyone suffering through restless nights. Magnesium reduces electrical conduction in both muscles and nerves. These muscle-relaxant and sedative properties explain the link between magnesium and improved sleep. Those who supplement magnesium get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer (4).
Dietary magnesium can be increased by eating plenty of leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and unprocessed grains. Many people have success with magnesium oil spray or magnesium salts added to a bath before bed, as magnesium is well absorbed through the skin. Others might prefer an oral supplement. The dose often recommended for sleep is around 400mg, with chelated forms such as magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate or magnesium citrate being the best option.
Taurine is an amino acid that reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while increasing means the production of GABA – our brain’s ‘calm’ chemical is increased. Because this supplement appears to reduce the body’s response to stress, taurine may be of particular interest to those who feel that stress is affecting their sleep. Because magnesium is effective for muscle relaxation and relieving anxiety, taking taurine in the form of a magnesium taurate supplement may be the best choice for stressed individuals seeking a relaxed night’s sleep (5).
1. Why Lack of Sleep is Bad for your Health. NHS. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
2. The Great British Bedtime Report. The Sleep Council. https://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/The-Great-British-Bedtime-Report.pdf
3. L-Theanine: Unique Amino acid of Tea, and Its Metabolism, Health Effects, Safety. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2015
4. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: a double blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012
5. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology 2012