Sleep is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of God upon mankind. If we recount the basic needs of the human body and mind, sleep would certainly take one of the top spots. It is impossible to live without it. You can only get so far on coffee and cigarettes before your brain gives up and you hit the pavement; either dead or asleep.
To some ambitious folks, the concept of sleep is particularly irksome. Why must we whirl away half of our life in such a practically useless state, when instead we could be using that time for more conducive tasks. While the other end of the spectrum considers it beautiful bliss; an abyss free from stress and anxiety.
Regardless of your perception, sleep is necessary and a lack of it can cause a lot of issues in your daily life. As we get older, the emotional and psychological repercussions of said issues can add a lot of heft to our overwhelmed psyche.
This worry and stress often manifests itself in the form of sleep deprivation and in some extreme cases, results in insomnia. For older individuals, this can be a harrowing dilemma as the lack of sleep further elevates the problem to intolerable levels.
This is where sleep supplements come into play. When all else has failed, people often resort to pill popping. But do sleep supplements fall within that same category?
Let us consider some of the most popular sleep supplements currently in circulation and stack up the benefits against possible health risks they may pose.
Let us start with the most obvious one. Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland and one of its main functions is to regulate our sleep-wake cycles.
Apart from being naturally made in the body, it is also found in certain foods and therefore consuming these foods as an evening snack can be a natural and safe way to get into a healthy sleeping routine. The foods include Bananas, Barley, Rice, Sweet Corn, Ginger and Tomatoes.
They are also available as supplement pills, either naturally obtained from animal pineal glands or synthetically manufactured.
Melatonin is a tried and tested product that has been proven to work. Typically prescribed to people suffering from insomnia or sleep deprivation due to other reasons. It is also one of the safest options for people who have to take supplements.
However, long term use has shown a few side effects ranging from headaches to dizziness, day-time drowsiness, stomach aches, anxiety and mild depression.
L-Theanine is an enantiomer of the amino acid Theanine. An enantiomer is simply a different molecular form of the same substance.
It has been studied extensively and research has found that it lowers the anxiety level of individuals by making them feel more calm and relaxed. This can help them sleep easier and better.
Green tea is a natural source of L-Theanine and if consumed on a regular basis can vastly improve the quality of your sleep.
In supplement form, it is also quite safe, especially when ingested. However, it is advised not to use this supplement in combination with other medicines as it may interact with them and cause unexpected consequences. Pregnant women are also advised against heavy doses of Theanine, even though there have been no conclusive side effects.
One of the more popular choices on this list, 5-HTP is the abbreviated form of the chemical 5-Hydroxytryptophan. It acts on the central nervous system and thereby increases the synthesis of the neurotransmitter Serotonin inside the body which can aid against anxiety disorders, depression, migraines and sleep disorders; particularly insomnia.
There is a reason Serotonin is lumped into the “Happy Hormones” category, even though it is technically not a hormone.
Serotonin and Melatonin work in tandem with each other. In the absence of light, Serotonin is used in the synthesis of Melatonin inside our bodies. This is a natural process that may be interrupted for a variety of reasons, one of which may be lack of serotonin production in our bodies.
Hence 5-HTP can be a necessary tool in bringing up the levels of Serotonin up to desirable levels which can trigger the formation of Melatonin in our bodies. Melatonin is the “sleep hormone”. It regulates our sleep-wake cycle; our biological clock, as they say.
This can hopefully lead to a healthier sleeping routine, along with less anxiety and stress as Melatonin does have such calming effects.
Speaking of Serotonin, Vitamin B6 is another substance that can potentially raise the Serotonin levels in your body and lead to a more peaceful, joyous sleep.
It also increases the secretion of norepinephrine which, among other things, helps to reduce stress levels in the body and therefore leads to better sleep.
There is an issue with B6 that it has to be first converted into its active form by the body, before it can be properly utilized. This means that a lot of Vitamin B6 that we naturally consume does not help us.
Therefore, it is advised that you take supplements with the active form of Vitamin B6; pyridoxal-5-phosphate.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that the body needs for a wide array of processes and is found in a wide variety of foods. The average requirement of an adult is nearly 350 mg per day.
Now, experts doubt whether magnesium somehow directly affects a person’s sleep cycle. However, there is ample evidence that it lowers anxiety levels and actually helps the individual relax, very much like Theanine.
Therefore, in certain cases, it may be a viable option that can aid in establishing a proper sleep pattern.
As always, it is imperative that you consult a doctor before taking any of the aforementioned supplements.