Should I Take a Supplement to Help Me Sleep?
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Fifty to 70 million people in the United States suffer from some type of sleep disorder.
- Harvard University School of Public Health estimates as much as 5 percent of obesity in adults is caused by a lack of sleep.
- Snoring affects as much as 48 percent of the American population, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Forty percent of people reported falling asleep at work unintentionally in the last month.
Needless to say, sleep disorders are concerningly widespread, so much so that nine million Americans take prescription drugs each year to help them fall asleep.
With prescription drugs, however, come a few risks—namely becoming dependent or addicted. At the very least, many who use sleeping pills find themselves experiencing unpleasant side effects, such as gastrointestinal problems, prolonged drowsiness, daytime memory and performance challenges, or various other allergic reactions.
Beyond Prescription Meds: 7 Natural Ways to Improve Your Sleep
1. Sleep deprivation in the short-term
Though it sounds counterintuitive, sleep deprivation is one of the methods used in Cognitive Behavioural Insomnia Therapy (CBiT), a type of therapy that helps build good habits associated with bedtime.
Here’s how short-term sleep deprivation works:
- Calculate how many hours of sleep you get on average. Let’s assume this number is five.
- Decide on a consistent bedtime and wake up time that gives you five hours of sleep. For example, if you wake up at 6 a.m., this means you will go to bed at 1 a.m. and get up at 6 a.m.
- No matter how tired you are, go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. until you experience seven consecutive days feeling little to no restlessness when you’re trying to fall asleep.
- Once you achieve this, set your bedtime back 20 minutes to 12:40 a.m. Repeat the above. Go to bed at 12:40 a.m. and wake up at 6 a.m. until you experience seven good nights of sleep.
- Repeat again. Now your bedtime is 12:20 a.m. Keep repeating until your bedtime is such that you’re getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, or however many hours you deem is optimal for your body.
2. Lose the clock and the app
It’s pretty common for us to sleep with our phones, or next to a clock, which we often check when we’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
Often this causes even more problems. For one, the clock can be a source of anxiety, as we start to worry that it’s 1 a.m. and we still haven’t fallen asleep. Or, maybe we’re asleep and then wake up and check our clock. Now the bright light wakes us up, even more, making falling back asleep even harder.
The same is true of many sleep tracker apps out there. While they can tell us valuable information, such as how deeply we’re sleeping, or how much REM sleep we’re getting, they can be a source of anxiety if our sleep isn’t where we want it to be. This stress and pressure we put on ourselves to have better sleep than the night before can contribute to even more stressed out sleep.
3. Create the right environment
Simple things like the amount of light and the temperature of our rooms often have a huge impact on our sleep.
Much research suggests a super dark room helps us stay in a deeper sleep, so some find blackout blinds incredibly valuable. Second, although the instinct is often to keep our rooms warm, especially through the winter months, there’s evidence a lower sleeping temperature contributes to better sleep.
If you’re considering supplements, melatonin is highly recommended, as it’s natural. Melatonin is a hormone we create ourselves in the pineal gland of our brains. It also happens to control our sleep and wake cycles.
Melatonin works along with the body’s circadian rhythm—i.e. our body’s internal clock. Essentially, when melatonin levels begin to increase, it signals our body that it’s time to sleep.
Various factors can cause low levels of melatonin at night, such as smoking, exposure to too much light in the evening, or not getting enough natural light during the day.
While melatonin is found in some food we eat, such as meat, grains, fruits, and vegetables, it’s only found in small amounts. Thus, melatonin as a supplement is wise for many, as it helps normalize our internal clock.
Magnesium is required for various functions in our body, including nerve and brain health, muscular function, heart function, memory, and temperature regulation. Further, it is needed for improving insulin sensitivity, as well as for maintaining healthy bones.
Finally, magnesium is often used for improving sleep, and magnesium deficiency is linked to insomnia.
If you’re looking into magnesium supplements, it’s important to note the difference between salts and chelates. Salt form magnesium is cheap to make and cheap to buy. Chelates, on the other hand, which bind to amino acids, are more expensive.
Bottom line: Go for the chelates, as your body is more easily able to both absorb and digest them.
ZMA contains zinc monomethionine and aspartate, magnesium aspartate, as well as Vitamin B6. Although more research needs to be done, there’s some evidence ZMA helps with sleep.
Breaking it down: Zinc is known to help with your immune system and muscle function, and magnesium is important for both your metabolism and sleep management. Aspartate has been shown to increase the absorption of minerals, hence helping you absorb the zinc and magnesium components of ZMA more efficiently.
Calcium levels are at the highest in your body during your REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). What this means is that if you don’t get enough REM sleep, you can end up becoming calcium deficient.
Supplementing with calcium has been shown to help you create more melatonin, which your body needs for quality sleep.