“Melatonin is the ‘sleep hormone’ in our system and the antagonist to our stress hormone—cortisol—which generates alertness,” explains Dr. Frederick Paz, an internist with Restore Osteo, a seniors-only clinic in Colorado. Melatonin may be taken as a supplement to help promote sleep. When it comes to supplementation, less can be more. Dr. Seema Bonney, the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia, recommends taking 1-3 milligrams two hours before bedtime. Research[ECH1] suggests that melatonin supplementation may help promote sleep in older adults. “Talk to your healthcare provider before using melatonin,” says Dr. Bonney.
You can also take some simple actions to help your body more effectively produce melatonin. “Melatonin is secreted in response to our visual exposure to light,” says Dr. Paz. “More light means less melatonin, which allows for a continued level of alertness.” So when the sun goes down and the evening progresses, try turning down the brighter overhead lights and prioritizing lamps with softer bulbs, switching off the television and stopping use of computers and phones – or even simply dimming the screen brightness.
Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 different enzyme pathways in the body, including helping you to relax. “Many people are deficient in magnesium and a common symptom of magnesium deficiency is poor sleep,” says registered dietitian Amy Archer. One study found that supplementing with magnesium may help improve insomnia in older adults.
Though magnesium comes in several forms, Archer prefers magnesium glycinate, as she says it’s better absorbed than other forms. The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is about 310-420 milligrams for adults and Archer usually recommends that magnesium glycinate be taken a couple hours before bedtime. You could also try a calcium-magnesium supplement, as Dr. Paz notes that calcium may be useful as a sleep supplement as well because it may help muscles relax. “It is also useful in the enzymatic production of melatonin in our system,” he explains. “Both help generate that restful state that we are seeking for better sleep.”
“Good food sources of magnesium include whole wheat, quinoa, and nuts and seeds like almonds and pumpkin seeds,” adds Archer. So also consider adding those into your diet.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is currently being studied for many potential benefits, including its ability to assist with sleep. “Preliminary research suggests CBD can help with several sleep disorders including insomnia, REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness disorder,” says Dr. Bonney. “It can also help patients improve sleep and reduce anxiety.” The dosage is dependent on the person; low doses can be stimulating, while higher doses may be sedating.
If you’ve having a hard time sleeping, try sipping some chamomile tea before bed. “This tea is commonly regarded as a mild tranquilizer or sleep inducer,” explains Dr. Bonney. It’s calming effects may be attributed to the antioxidant apigenin. Apigenin, Dr. Bonney says, binds to receptors in the brain that may decrease anxiety and initiate sleep. “A study in 60 nursing homes found that those who received 400 mg of chamomile extract daily had significantly better sleep quality than those who didn’t receive it.”
“Valerian root has long been known to be useful as a sleep aid, as well as functioning to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression,” says Dr. Paz. “Normally taken in pill form, the valerian root functions to increase the amount of a neurotransmitter, called GABA, in the brain which has been shown to improve the quality of sleep.” Dr. Bonney warns, however, that there may be some side effects (like headaches, upset stomach and feeling sluggish the next morning) and it may not be effective for some people. “In addition, the dosage has not been clearly delineated in the studies, however it appears to be most effective when taken regularly for two or more weeks,” Dr. Bonney says.
Tart cherry juice
Some research suggests tart cherries may be beneficial for sleep. Tart cherries, particularly Montmorency cherries, have melatonin, which help transition your body to sleep. “Eight ounces of juice from tart cherries twice a day was consumed and showed better sleep,” says Archer, in reference to the study.
A glass of warm milk
Although this is sometimes regarded as an old wives’ tale, there is some science behind the idea that a glass of warm milk may help with sleep. This is because milk contains tryptophan. “Tryptophan is an amino acid found in some protein-containing foods,” explains Dr. Bonney. “It plays an important role in the production of serotonin, which boosts mood, promotes relaxation and functions as a precursor in the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone.” Dr. Bonney points out, however, that there is limited evidence that one glass of milk contains enough tryptophan to significantly influence the body’s natural production of melatonin. “It is likely that the perceived benefit may come from the calming bedtime ritual of having a warm glass of milk,” she explains.
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