Lack of sleep or insomnia can be caused by a number of factors and have drastic effects on energy, mood, health, and general ability to perform tasks during the day. Between work, school, and a social life, it is next to impossible to find time to wind down and relax. And what little sleep you actually can get is often not very restful. Luckily, there are some supplements that can help improve your sleep and keep you in fighting shape.
In this always-on-the-go world, relaxation seems like a pipedream. High levels of stress can lead to issues like anxiety and insomnia. Fortunately, there are a number of natural products and supplements that can help aid in relaxation which in turn will make it easier to fall asleep. Since being able to relax and to sleep is extremely beneficial to overall health and well-being, why not consider some of these all-natural supplements?
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is an amino acid that is produced in the brain from glutamate (another amino acid) and thiamine (vitamin B6). Generally, people who are having difficulty resting and sleeping have an over-active or “excited” brain. GABA acts as the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the body, meaning that it helps to reduce this excitability. There are a number of other benefits to this supplement including support for muscle-building chemicals.
Valerian root is a perennial herb that acts as a non-addictive natural sedative. This supplement also helps to support a healthy neurotransmitter balance. Clinical research has shown valerian root to have a number of benefits including the ability to reduce nervousness, tension, and anxiety. Valerian root may also be able to help alleviate mild to moderate mood swings and insomnia. For some users, valerian root requires 10 to 15 days of continued use before noticeable effects occur.
The main benefit of 5-HTP supplementation is an increased production of serotonin. This occurs both in the brain and the liver. Since serotonin is reported to have a wide range of effects on the brain, 5-HTP is often used to help deal with addictive behavior, anxiety, mild depression, and relaxation/sleep issues. It is thought that stress and poor-eating habits actually cause the body to release higher levels of serotonin. Supplementation with 5-HTP can help to restore a healthy balance, allowing the body to more easily relax.
Melatonin has long been thought to be one of the most effective supplements for sleep and relaxation. Melatonin plays a vital role in controlling and restoring the natural circadian rhythms of the body. Many people who are engaged in stressful work or who have irregular schedules find that this supplement helps to induce relaxation and improve sleeping patterns.
It can be difficult in this high-stress world to find a way to wind down and relax at the end of the day. Because of this difficulty, many people end up with poor sleep quality, stressed moods, and an overall feeling of being overwhelmed.
Luckily, there are some ways that you can take the bull by the horns and change how you relax after a hard day. When it comes to natural relaxation and sleep aids there are two supplements that stand out among the rest: valerian root and melatonin.
For starters, melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone in all living plants and animals, although it serves a different purpose in each.
For mammals, melatonin is the hormone that, in combination with circadian rhythms, helps to regulate and normalize sleep patterns. Research has shown melatonin is beneficial not only with helping to regulate sleep but also to decrease anxiety, alleviate headaches, and more.
While melatonin is naturally produced in the human body, sometimes your melatonin levels become imbalanced so supplementating it can go a long way to improving sleep. Now let’s take a look at valerian root.
Valerian Root and High Stress
The root of the valerian plant has been supplemented for a very long time (we’re talking 16th century long time), and has served many different purposes over the years.
Today, valerian root is a common supplement for those who are looking to curb anxiety, reduce stress, and fight sleeplessness. While melatonin is a hormone found in the human body, valerian root certainly is not, therefore it works in a much different way.
Through binding with GABA (A) receptors via valerenic acid, the valerian root extract is able to exert most of its effects. While this may not mean much to you, it is important to note that valerian root is working in a synergistic manner with your brain and its constituents.
Most research involving valerian root has been focused on its ability to lower anxiety levels and it has shown that the extract does act as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety).
In addition, research involving sleep and and lack thereof has shown to be promising but ultimately inconclusive. Interestingly enough, the most profound and conclusive effect found to stem from supplementing valerian root is its ability to induce lucid dreaming, although this study involved a rather high dosage.
Sleep and relaxation supplements are not by any means in short supply, but when it comes to natural options that have been studied and proven to be effective, melatonin and valerian root really hit the nail on the head.
The facts are there now it’s up to you to decide which one is right for you. Remember always pay attention to the packaging of your supplement for dosage instructions and make sure you always listen to your body, because if you don’t who else will?
Melatonin and Valerian Root: Where to Find the Best Quality?
Valerian Root and Melatonin are fairly common supplements and can be found at many health-food or drug stores. Therefore, the prices are standardized in the industry. At most, you may pay a dollar or so more from store to store.
However, quality can vary greatly. Many less-than-ethical companies will use low quality supplements in order to boost their profit margins. Because of this quality difference, it is important to use a supplier that features third-party testing. Third-party testing uses an unbiased tester to assure quality and purity of supplements. Some sites use third-party testing on some supplements but not all of them.
Melatonin vs Valerian Sources:
Getting enough sleep and rest are two very important links in the chain when it comes to fitness, and too often their importance is overlooked. Some people may have trouble getting to sleep at night while others may suffer from poor time management. Simply put, recovery is just as important as nutrition or training when it comes to being the best you can be. While getting as much natural rest as possible should be your goal, sometimes you need a little push in the right direction. I’ve broken down the top 5 supplements to aid in sleep and relaxation to help you get the best recovery possible and supercharge your next workout.
- Melatonin is a hormone secreted in the brain that regulates sleep. In two separate studies long term supplementation of melatonin has shown to decrease insomnia and regulate sleep in both older adults as well as youth. The supplementation of melatonin has not shown any side effects or symptoms of withdrawal.
- Melatonin Dosage: Start with 500mcg (0.5mg) and work up to 3-5g, stick with lower dose if effects are strong and proceed from there.
- L-Theanine is an interesting supplement that has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and reduce mental and physical stress. In one study supplementation of L-theanine was shown to reduce the subject’s heart rate and salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) responses to a stress related task in comparison to a placebo control group.
- Theanine Dosage: Start with 100mg and work your way up to 200mg according to results and personal preference.
Valerian Root benefits
- Valerian root or valeriana officinalis is an herb that is commonly found in green tea. While supplementing this herb will not put you to sleep, instead relaxation and ease of mind are more inclined to ensue. Although this herb has been used throughout history only recently have we started to understand how it works. Animal research has shown that the main benefits of valerian supplementation come from the way in which the valarenic acid in the herb interacts with the GABA receptor, binding to it and ultimately reducing anxiety levels significantly.
- Valerian Dosage: Take 400-900 mg within two hours of going to bed.
ZMA for Sleep
- ZMA is a patented formula that contains zinc aspartate, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B-6 (which is typically pyridoxine).While ZMA is one of the least researched supplements in my top 5, there is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that suggests the formula is effective at both inducing sleep and raising testosterone levels. Magnesium has been linked to effectively inducing sleep in individuals who are deficient in the mineral according to a German study done in the 90s.
- ZMA Dosage: Take supplement before going to bed at least two hours after your last meal. Do not take with calcium as this can block the absorption of zinc.
- Tryptophan is an essential amino acid in the human diet and is part of the 22 standard amino acids. The supplementation of tryptophan has been shown to increase sleepiness and decrease sleep latency (how long it takes for you to fall asleep) after a dose of 1 gram or more. Contrary to popular belief, turkey does not contain a more significant amount of tryptophan than other meats and should not be seen as a source for supplementation.
- Tryptophan Dosage: Start with 1g and work your way up to 5-15g depending on personal preference.
Even if you do find time, winding down from a stressful day can be difficult when tomorrow’s worries are on your mind. Luckily, there are many supplements that can aid in relaxation. While they each work on their own, many times a combination of supplements will do you amazing things.
Sometimes, it can be greatly beneficial to stack supplements to achieve a greater and more desirable effect than the sum of its parts. This is known as a synergistic effect.
Oftentimes, one will hear that two particular supplements or nootropics will have synergistic effects. A common example of these phenomena is a racetam paired with choline. Individually, they are powerful nootropics, but when paired together they complement each other very nicely.
5-HTP for Vivid Dreams
A great relaxation stack that synergizes well is pairing 5-HTP, valerian root, and melatonin. These supplements work great on their own, but oftentimes people will find the effects to not be strong enough. 5-HTP is known to be a precursor to serotonin, which is a vasoconstrictor that stimulates muscle relaxation which regulates the brain in learning, mood, and sleep.
Taken alone, 5-HTP gives a sensation of relaxation and has reportedly been known to increase the vivid nature of dreams which suggests an increase in recall memory.
Valerian root is another great addition to the relaxation stack because it is known to reduce anxiety and is also known to be possibly mildly sedating. 
It is usually brewed in tea, but can be taken as a general supplement as well. Similarly to 5-HTP’s effects, people have reported valerian to be responsible for more vivid dreams.
Finally, melatonin is a great addition to any relaxation stack. Most people only take melatonin before bed (as it is the chemical in the brain responsible for being “tired”), but can also be taken during the day for general relaxation.
As the safest of the three compounds in the relaxation stack, melatonin can be taken daily without any worry of side effects. In addition, it is also anecdotally reported that “less is more”. This means that melatonin seems to be more effective when taken in smaller doses (<5mg). It is greatly attributed to decreasing insomnia, adrenaline (hence the relaxation), and blood pressure among other great health benefits.
For those days when you just need to relax and those nights when you can’t fall asleep, consider stacking 5-HTP, melatonin, and Valerian.
How to Assure that you Buy High-Quality Supplements
I know that it can be a crap-shoot when picking a supplement supplier. With the prevalence of brick and mortar stores and online stores, it can be confusing and frustrating trying to find the best deal.
While finding the lowest price for a particular supplement may be tempting, it can often lead to purchasing a lower-quality supplement. Some shady manufacturers will use low-quality supplements in order to increase profit margins.
It is your best bet to stick with a supplier who uses third-party testing to assure supplement quality.
What is Valerian Root?
Valerian Root, also known as Valeriana Officinalis is a root typically brewed with tea that is usually used as a sleep aid. It is known to be an agonist of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. GABA receptors are the “downers” of the brain which regulate neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system. Basically, what this means is that Valerian Root tends to be a sedative tea and anxiolytic.
It is also known that Valerian root significantly decreased insomnia in human trials and acts as a good sleep aid. It is generally advised to avoid taking Valerian Root in the mornings to avoid the sedation effect.
Valerian Root has been reportedly used since ancient Greek and Rome, and has always been used as a calming tea. They used it as a remedy for insomnia and was also used as a general medicine to heal the sick. It is also known that Valerian flowers were used in perfume during the sixteenth century. Because it works with the GABA neurological system, it is shown to be “sedative, anticonvulsant, [a] migraine treatment, and pain reliever” (Wikipedia). It is also possible that Valerian Root is nontoxic even after long term use. People oftentimes combine valerian with other herbs to mix into a tea for a synergistic effect. A popular combination is with Valerian root and Ashwagandha.
Valerian Root Adverse Effects
Like most compounds, some people experience side effects, especially with long-term use. There are occasional side effects of “headache, excitability, uneasiness, and cardiac disturbances”. It is for this reason that it is suggested that users start at a low dose and try it in isolation (not mixing it with other compounds in case of adverse effects) and work their way up to an ideal dose. An ideal dose is typically around 300-600mg per day.
Many supplement enthusiasts use valerian root during the daytime as a natural remedy to treat general anxiety. Similar to L-theanine, it sedates the body which eliminates adrenaline and the physical feelings of fear and nervousness.
One large shortcoming of Valerian Root is despite its use throughout history all over the world, it has very few clinical studies done in western science. As a matter of fact, most studies point to the inefficiency of Valerian root over other methods of calming and relaxation. It is generally recommended for those who are more natural-oriented and herbal enthusiasts.
Even though those who use it during the daytime experience a decrease in anxiety, it is recommended to be taken 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.
: Thorpe, Benjamin; Northern Mythology, Vol. 2, pp. 64–65
: Michael F. Caron, RPh * *Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Boston. Valerian: A Practical Review for Clinicians