When you’re caught up in the daily whirlwind called life, it can be hard to fully unwind at day’s end, which in turn makes a good night’s sleep elusive. By some estimates, 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, and it’s no wonder. We all can name countless stress culprits: work-related pressures, relationship issues, and simply not being able to keep up with the to-do list. So you toss and turn at night, wake up tired, and then fuel your systems with caffeine, which not only puts you on edge but further interferes with getting solid shut-eye.
What’s a modern-day worker bee to do? It’s essential to learn to mindfully manage stress and create evening rituals that help you unwind, but a number of supplements can also help dial down body and brain after a hectic day.
Buffer stress. For decades, B-complex vitamins have been recognized as stress busters, in part because they provide some of the building blocks for calm-inspiring neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Large amounts of vitamin B6 in the afternoon or evening can cause vivid, sleep-disrupting dreams, so take in the morning. In addition, omega-3 fish oils lessen anxiety, and a new study found that they can ease feelings of stress, as well.
Dose: High-potency B-complex containing 25–50 mg each of vitamins B1, B2, and B3, once daily; plus 1–2 grams omega-3s daily.
Calm down. Simply sipping a warm cup of any decaffeinated tea can relax you, but make it a cup of chamomile tea and the benefits grow. Prefer a concentrated approach? Two recent studies found that chamomile extracts reduced anxiety along with depression. (Don’t take chamomile if you have ragweed allergies.) If you need something stronger, try L-theanine, a green tea extract that boosts the activity of brain waves linked to calmer feelings and relaxation. Another option is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid and calming neurotransmitter that helps the brain filter out distractions. Some formulas combine both L-theanine and GABA; they’re safe to take together.
Dose: Follow label directions for chamomile supplements. For L-theanine, try 50–100 mg up to three times daily. For GABA, take 500 mg one to three times daily, at least one hour apart from food.
Drift off to sleep. Melatonin, the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm, normally increases in the evening and decreases by morning. It’s a safe sleep aid, but the effective dose varies from person to person. L-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), two forms of the same nutrient, are precursors to both serotonin and melatonin. The herb valerian works well when combined with hops to help you sleep—both are mild sedatives. Don’t take all of these supplements together. If you feel sluggish the next morning, you’ve probably taken too high a dose.
Dose: Take melatonin about an hour before bedtime, and start at a low dose, such as 250–500 mcg. Most people don’t need more than 3 mg (3,000 mcg) nightly, but a few might need 5–10 mg. For L-tryptophan, take 500–1,000 mg before bed; for 5-HTP, try 50–100 mg before bed. For valerian and hops, follow label directions for use.
Supplements to try:
Jarrow Formulas L-Tryptophan provides 500 mg of this amino acid; take on an empty stomach 30 minutes before bed.
Nature’s Way Chamomile Flowers capsules contain 350 mg of dried chamomile buds. NutriCology ZenMind recommends two capsules daily between meals, which provide 550 mg GABA and 200 mg L-theanine per dose.
Solgar 10 mg Liquid Melatonin comes with an eyedropper so you can easily take 5–10 mg (or less) before bed.