10 Best Vitamins for Sleep
Vitamins for sleep? Believe it. Research shows vitamin deficiencies are often a root cause of sleep disruption, and one or more of these vitamins may be all that’s standing between you and restorative sleep.
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If it’s 2 a.m. and you’re reading this article in hopes of finding a solution to your endless tossing and turning, you’re not alone: According to the American Sleep Association, between 50 and 70 million U.S. adults suffer from some form of sleep disorder, including insomnia. Even if you’ve done everything within your power to clean up your sleep habits (here are some tips), it may not be enough. The thing is, chronic sleep deprivation can have serious health consequences.
Studies have shown that sleeping less than seven hours per night doubles your mortality risk and sleeping less than six hours quadruples your risk. Americans spent $41 billion on sleep aids and remedies in 2015. “That’s more than they spend on any other ailment, making sleeplessness the biggest epidemic facing the nation today,” according to David Friedman, a doctor of naturopathy, clinical nutritionist, and chiropractic neurologist whose celebrity list of patients have included John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Val Kilmer, and Paul Newman.
But there may be more to blame than your stressful lifestyle, graveyard shift work, or staying glued to your smartphone while lying in bed. “An often overlooked factor in sleep problems is a vitamin deficiency,” say Arielle Levitan, MD, and Romy Block, MD, authors of the book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. “We need adequate levels of key nutrients to get good quality sustained sleep.” Following are some of the best-known vitamins and minerals that could help you get the ZZZs you need.
Vitamin CAlex Staroseltsev/Shutterstock
You probably already know of vitamin C’s importance to your immune system, but did you also know it’s vital to sleep? “According to a study published in PLOS ONE, people who have low blood levels of vitamin C had more sleep issues and were more prone to waking up during the night,” says Shawn Stevenson, BS, FDN, author of SLEEP SMARTER: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success. A proponent of the “food first” method of attaining your nutrients, Stevenson suggests eating bell peppers, citrus fruits, kiwi, Brussels sprouts, and mangoes. You could also pop a yummy orange-flavored vitamin C gummy for extra assurance. Here’s a description of the four stages of sleep and why each is important.
Iron helps transport oxygen throughout your body, which is why a deficiency can leave you feeling fatigued. Remember how Popeye eats spinach and becomes strong and powerful? Yep, spinach is packed with iron. An iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome, a condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an urge to move the legs when falling asleep. Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block explain that an iron deficiency is common—particularly among women—and recommend you discuss with your doctor the possible need for a multivitamin that takes into consideration your diet, health history, and other factors. There are many great and unexpected food-based sources of iron you may be missing out on too, such as hemp hearts and oysters.
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This essential mineral assists your body in producing the sleep hormone melatonin. Magnesium also relieves muscle tension that can prevent restful sleep; it can even help ease tension by encouraging production of an amino acid known as GABA, which that relaxes the nervous system. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, Medical Advisory Board Member at the Nutritional Magnesium Association, estimates that more than 75 percent of Americans aren’t getting the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium. (Are you? Here are 10 signs you’re not getting enough magnesium.) Dr. Dean recommends aiming for a 600 mg dosage via a magnesium citrate powder that you can dissolve in drinking water. Your body can easily absorb the mineral in this form—just sip it throughout the day with an extra gulp at nighttime. However, you shouldn’t supplement if you have kidney failure or an excessively slow heart rate; instead, enjoy foods with higher magnesium content, such as green leafy veggies, pumpkin sesame seeds, spirulina, and Brazil nuts.
Vitamin B12 keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps the body create energy. Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block explain they see many patients—particularly vegans, vegetarians, and older adults—who are deficient in vitamin B12. “Low vitamin B12 levels can cause neurological complaints, including fatigue, sleep disturbances, numbness and tingling, and mood swings,” they say. They recommend getting 250 to 500 mcg daily to help diminish symptoms of deficiency. Side effects of too much B12 can include a rash, stomach pain, and dizziness. Don’t miss these 11 silent signs you’re not getting enough B12.
L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid—your body uses amino acids to build proteins. You need tryptophan to make niacin, a B vitamin vital to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps produce healthy sleep patterns. Since your body cannot make tryptophan on its own, Stevenson says it must come from your diet (such as eggs, poultry, chia seeds, and sweet potatoes) or in supplement form. As for the long-standing belief that it’s the tryptophan content in turkey that makes you so tired after Thanksgiving? Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not the turkey that’s making you tired (learn more here). In fact, you’ll ingest just as much tryptophan eating chicken or Cheddar cheese. According information from Healthwise via the University of Michigan Health Department, 1 to 2 grams of tryptophan taken at bedtime can help with sleep disorders and insomnia.
At night, the pineal gland of the brain produces a hormone called melatonin, aka the “hormone of darkness.” Melatonin helps regulate the body’s day/night circadian rhythm, including the timing with which other hormones are released. Countless studies show that taking a melatonin supplement can help you get your beauty rest. Dr. Friedman recommends starting with a low 1 mg dose and says it’s crucial to time it right for your sleep pattern — if you are able to fall asleep, but have a hard time staying asleep, try taking a controlled-release formulation 30 minutes before going to bed; if you have a hard time falling asleep, a better option is a quick-release sublingual or liquid form, taken an hour before bed. If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t take melatonin to go back to sleep, as this will throw off your internal clock. Instead, consider a late-night snack of tart cherries, walnuts, ginger root, asparagus, or pineapple, which have small amounts of melatonin. Or try this magical juice, which could be the secret to a good night’s sleep.
Vitamin DAfrica Studio/Shutterstock
While vitamin D has numerous roles in the body—from helping with calcium absorption to aiding in immunity. Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block point to research that shows a link between low levels of vitamin D and poor sleep quality. For instance, a 2017 study in Nutrients demonstrates an important link between levels of vitamin D and sleep disturbances. Likewise, another study observed sleep improvement with vitamin D supplementation. Since your body can only produce this fat-soluble vitamin when sunlight hits your skin, it’s common to take it in supplement form. The U.S. RDA is between 800 and 2,000 IUs of vitamin D3; however, Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block find many patients need higher doses to maintain normal serum levels. It’s important to talk with your doctor about your individual nutrient needs, as too much vitamin D can lead to constipation, nausea, vomiting, and kidney stones. These are the 28 vitamin d benefits that could save your life.
This mineral was found to be helpful for those having trouble staying asleep, says Stevenson of a study in the journal Sleep. Additional research has shown a potential link between potassium and slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of the sleep cycle. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat bananas daily: You can also choose from avocados, crimini mushrooms, salmon, leafy green vegetables, and beans to ensure you’re receiving an adequate intake of potassium. Here are 10 foods higher in potassium than bananas. Of course, supplements are available, too.
Calcium is another mineral that directly impacts our sleep. Stevenson cites a study in The Journal of Sleep Research that found calcium deficiency could disrupt the dream cycle of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). When the researchers brought calcium levels up to normal, the volunteers regained normal REM sleep. You can get the mineral from dairy or you can also eat more foods like kale, mustard, collard greens, sardines, and sesame seeds to boost your calcium intake. Here are 7 surprising calcium sources for people who can’t have dairy. Or, select a supplement that meets The National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements recommendation: adults ages 19 to 50 consume 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, while those 51 and older should get 1,200 milligrams.
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Omega 3s are healthy fats that include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). A University of Oxford study linked higher levels of omega-3 DHA—found in algae and seafood—with better sleep. Lead author, Professor Paul Montgomery of Oxford University said: “Various substances made within the body from omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to play key roles in the regulation of sleep. For example, lower ratios of DHA have been linked with lower levels of melatonin.” If you don’t enjoy salmon or are worried about the damaging effects of mercury in our oceans (learn more here), you may want to try these seven omega-3 foods that don’t include fish. Another option is a supplement with a 1:1 ratio of EPA and DHA.