People tend to focus on the what
of supplement use. What supplements should I be taking? Why will this supplement benefit my health? Why might this supplement not be a right fit for me? How much should I take daily?
All good questions.
But most people don’t spend enough time thinking about the when
of their supplement regimens. Like the timing of medications more broadly, the timing of daily supplements can have a major impact on their effectiveness. But for a lot of us, daily routines for taking supplements come down to convenience. Knowing what supplements can help sleep
is one part of the process—knowing when to take them ensures you get the most benefit from the sleep supplements you and your doctor choose to include in your routine.
[caption id="attachment_160115" align="alignnone" width="800"]
Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine. This is not medical advice; it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician at your next appointment.[/caption]
The best time to take sleep supplements depends on a combination of factors: the characteristics of the supplement, how it functions in your body, as well as your circadian rhythms and individual chronotype. Knowing your individual chronotype
is the foundation for making determinations about the specific timing of supplement use, and how to time all your daily activities and routines.
Following are six of the most common, popular natural supplements for sleep—how they work to improve nightly rest, and the optimal time to take them.
First, a couple of guidelines that apply broadly to the use of sleep supplements, for best results.
- Once you’ve identified your optimal dosing time (based on your chronotype—find out yours at chronoquiz.com), take your supplements at that time every day. Our bodies—and our circadian sleep-wake cycles—thrive on consistency. Establish the routine and stick to it.
- Take your supplements consistently for the duration of their use. Often, people fall into the trap of taking a sleep supplement only when they think they “need it.” But the cumulative impact of a sleep supplement taken over time can be a key element of its effectiveness.
Note that consistently doesn’t necessarily mean indefinitely. Melatonin
, for example, is highly effective in short-term use as a treatment for jet lag—in that case, you’ll want to take melatonin every day, at the same time, for the duration of your trip. When you talk with your doctor about adding a sleep supplement to your routine, be sure not only to discuss the sleep issues you want to address, but also to plan with your physician for the timing of your daily dose and the duration of time that you’ll use the supplement to improve your sleep.
Melatonin: a key sleep hormone
This hormone, produced naturally by the body in response to darkness, is essential for sleep. As a supplement, melatonin is one of the most-used sleep supplements. Indications are that use of melatonin for sleep issues has risen sharply during the pandemic
How melatonin works:
People are often surprised to hear that melatonin is not a sedative. Melatonin doesn’t directly induce sleep—but it is an important sleep facilitator
. Melatonin production is triggered by exposure to darkness, and melatonin is a powerful regulator of circadian rhythms. Melatonin aids sleep by helping to strengthen the body’s circadian sleep-wake cycles
. Stronger sleep-wake cycles translate into a more consistent--and ultimately more restful and refreshing--sleep routine. Melatonin also paves the way for nightly rest by suppressing the activity of neurons that signal the body to wake up and be alert
, irregular sleep-wake cycles and excessive exposure to light in the evening hours can all inhibit the body’s natural melatonin production.
How melatonin may help sleep:
Melatonin functions as a circadian pacemaker, and taking melatonin supplements at the right time can help adjust sleep-wake cycles. Research shows that melatonin can shorten the time it takes to fall asleep
, and may help to improve sleep duration and sleep quality. Studies also show melatonin may increase REM sleep
. REM sleep is important for memory processing, regulation of mood, and to refresh the regions of the brain associated with learning. Supplementing with melatonin can be one way to address:
When to take melatonin:
When using a melatonin supplement, it’s important to get the timing right. Take your melatonin too early, and its effects will peak too soon. Take it too late, and you may feel drowsy the next morning. If you are using melatonin in pill form, I recommend taking your supplement 90 minutes before bed. If you’re using a liquid melatonin, take it 30 minutes before bed. For all types of melatonin, adjust the timing in 15- or 30-minute intervals until you find your optimal time for falling asleep at your optimal bedtime and waking up feeling rested, but not overly drowsy as you begin your day.
For jet lag
, I recommend taking melatonin 90 minutes before bedtime in your new time zone—and make sure to get a dose of bright light exposure first thing the next morning, to help your circadian rhythms reset to your destination time. To shift your circadian rhythms during travel, and avoid jet lag, I recommend using the app Timeshifter
. Plug in your destination, flight schedule, and chronotype and the app provides a sleep and activity schedule designed to help your body adjust to your destination time zone.
Magnesium: a deep-sleep mineral
Magnesium is an important macro-mineral for overall health. A lot of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets: about half of adults in the United States have a magnesium deficiency.
How magnesium works: Magnesium plays a widespread role in the human body
, helping regulate and many essential functions. One of magnesium’s most important roles is to enable healthy enzyme function. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 different enzyme-related reactions
in the body’s cells. This mineral helps regulate blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and helps to control the body’s stress response. Getting sufficient magnesium helps the body maintain healthy levels of GABA
, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, as well as elevating and stabilizing mood.
How magnesium may help sleep:
This mineral has a range of scientifically backed connections to sleep. Magnesium is involved in regulating the body's circadian rhythms and plays a role in melatonin production.
Low levels of magnesium are linked to low levels of melatonin. Research shows supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality
, especially in people who sleep poorly
. Magnesium can also help insomnia that’s linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome.
This mineral can help reduce stress
, and improve symptoms of mild-to-moderate anxiety
and mild-to-moderate depression
. Easing stress and improving mood, in turn, can help you rest better.
When to take magnesium:
There are several different forms of magnesium available, and all have different effects and benefits for the body
. Among the most common magnesium supplements for treating magnesium deficiency and sleep issues are magnesium citrate
, magnesium threonate, and magnesium glycinate
(a combination of magnesium and glycine, an amino acid that also has sleep-promoting properties).
The optimal timing of magnesium supplements for sleep depends on the form. For magnesium supplements in capsule or tablet form, I recommend taking them 1-2 hours before bedtime. Magnesium on an empty stomach can cause upset, so consider taking your nightly magnesium with a light snack. If you’re using magnesium in liquid form (a powder mixed into water), I recommend drinking your magnesium 30 minutes before bedtime.
There’s one additional factor to consider:
If you don’t have trouble falling asleep, but do have problems waking up at night, I recommend you push your magnesium doses closer to bedtime—taking capsules or tablets no more than an hour before bedtime, and liquid right before you go to bed.
Valerian and hops: a relaxing, sedating herbal pair
This well-studied, herbal supplement duo is known for sleep and stress relief. The root of the valerian
plant has an ancient history as a sleep aid and a natural remedy for nervousness and anxiety. Hops has been used for centuries to treat sleep and anxiety as well.
How valerian and hops work:
Both valerian and hops help to boost production of GABA
, a calming brain chemical that promotes sleep. Valerian appears to function primarily as an anxiolytic—an anxiety reducer. Hops also has sedative properties: therapeutic doses of this plant lower body temperature, which contributes to drowsiness. Hops contains a flavonoid that functions like the hormone estrogen in the body, and some research has shown that hops can reduce hot flashes, night sweats and other symptoms of menopause that often interfere with sleep
How valerian and hops may help sleep:
You can use valerian and hops separately to treat sleep problems. Valerian has been shown to help people fall asleep more quickly
, reduce restless sleep, increase sleep amounts, and improve symptoms of insomnia
. Research also shows valerian is effective in treating sleep problems linked to menopause
. Hops itself can increase sleep time
. Studies show these herbal supplements pair well together: according to research, hops may be more effective for sleep when in combination with valerian
When to take valerian and hops:
Valerian is often consumed as a tea
, or in tinctures and dry or liquid extracts, as well as in capsule or tablet form. Hops is most often taken in capsule, tincture or powder form. I recommend taking valerian 90 minutes before bedtime, in whatever form you and your doctor select. If you are taking valerian and hops together, take them at the same time, 90 minutes before bedtime. Because of their sedating effects, valerian and hops should not be taken during the day, when you need to be active and alert.
Vitamin D: a sleep-fortifying vitamin
How vitamin D works:
Many of us know vitamin D
for its role in bone health. It’s also important for regulating mood, supporting immune function, and helping to control inflammation. Vitamin D has attracted lot of interest for its potential benefits for sleep
—and for the sleep consequences that come with a vitamin D deficiency.
The body makes its own vitamin D, in response to exposure to sunlight. For this reason, vitamin D isn’t considered a vitamin at all, but rather is classified as a hormone. Besides sun exposure, people also receive vitamin D through foods
—fatty fish and fish oils, egg yolks, as well as fortified foods like dairy and juice—and also from supplements.
Vitamin D may influence our sleep at least in part by helping to regulate our circadian clocks. Studies have shown that vitamin D may activate two circadian clock genes,
which in turn control our 24-hour circadian rhythms. Light and darkness, we know, are the primary regulators of our internal circadian clocks. Sunlight is also our single best source of Vitamin D. It appears that Vitamin D may be a part of the mechanism by which sunlight keep our circadian clocks—and our daily sleep cycles—running in sync.
How vitamin D may help sleep:
Vitamin D affects both how much sleep we get and how well we sleep. Research has found vitamin D deficiency linked to short sleep duration
and poor sleep quality
. One recent study found the links between insufficient sleep and lack of Vitamin D to be especially strong in adults ages 50 and older. More than half of the people included in this study were deficient in Vitamin D. That aligns with other research that shows up to 50% of Americans may be lacking sufficient Vitamin D
Research shows a connection between vitamin D deficiency and risk of sleep apnea
. A lack of vitamin D may also affect the severity of sleep apnea,
with lower D levels linked to more severe cases of OSA. Some good news on the sleep apnea front: research investigating the standard treatment for sleep apnea—CPAP, or continuous, positive airway pressure—has found that long-term CPAP use may lead to significant increase in vitamin D levels
, along with significant improvements to sleep apnea symptoms.
When to take vitamin D:
In the case of Vitamin D, the timing is less important that what you take with your supplement. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin—the body needs the presence of fat in order to absorb D from supplements. It’s best to take vitamin D with a meal, or a snack that includes about 5 grams (roughly a teaspoon) of fat. You can schedule your daily vitamin D dose at any meal of the day, to help prevent a deficiency and to gain the benefits and protections this vitamin delivers to sleep.
Magnolia bark: a gentle sedative
The bark of the magnolia tree has long been used in traditional medicine to treat sleep issues
, protect memory, reduce stress, and help with digestive problems and weight loss. Despite its long history, this natural sleep remedy sometimes gets overlooked.
How magnolia bark works: Magnolia bark
is packed with potent natural compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation
and lower anxiety
, as well as improve symptoms of depression. Improving these conditions can help sleep. Inflammation contributes to problems with sleep, as do anxiety and depression. Bioactive compounds in magnolia bark appear to lower levels of stimulating, alerting, and stress-inducing hormones adrenaline
. Magnolia bark also boosts levels of GABA, a calming, sleep-promoting neurotransmitter. This supplement interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, activating cannabinoid receptors that trigger calming effects on the body and mind
How magnolia bark helps sleep:
Magnolia bark has sedative properties, increasing drowsiness.
Magnolia bark appears to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase time spent in both non-REM and REM sleep
When to take magnolia bark for sleep:
Magnolia bark is often taken in capsule and tincture forms. I recommend taking magnolia bark 90 minutes before bed. Because of its sedative effects, magnolia bark should not be taken during the day, when you need to be active, alert, and focused.