Amino acids are molecules that our bodies extract from protein-containing foods. They have a range of vital functions within the body and brain, including essential neurochemical production.
Therefore, an increasing number of people are using amino acid supplements. They believe they can help to improve health and wellbeing, including important processes like sleep.
So, is using amino acids before bed a good idea? Are there any proven benefits or just exaggerated claims? Here’s our complete guide to amino acids for sleep.
Amino Acids for Deep Sleep
Getting enough sleep is necessary for optimal health. It impacts our physical and emotional wellbeing and how we interact with the world around us. However, many people fail to get the recommended 6–8 hours of sleep each night. There are a variety of reasons for this, including:
- Sleep apnea
- Restless legs syndrome
- Mental health disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Nightmares and other dream disorders
- Shift work
Insomnia is a widespread problem. It may involve difficulty falling asleep or waking during the night. The condition may stem from psychological stress or physical discomfort such as chronic pain. However, sometimes, there is no apparent cause making it a challenging problem to overcome.
Lack of sleep causes a litany of health issues. The most obvious are tiredness and reduced concentration during the day. These symptoms can strain relationships, decrease work productivity, and increase the risk of accidents.
Moreover, poor sleep can affect metabolism and raise the risk of developing chronic health conditions, including:
Therefore, people who suffer from sleep disorders may be keen to try any avenue that could provide some relief.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the potential of amino acids for sleep. These are substances that our bodies either produce internally or extract from the protein in food.
There are 20 naturally-occurring amino acids that play a key role in health and wellbeing. Some of them influence sleep directly, while others play a role in synthesizing other sleep-inducing chemicals. We will look at some of the most popular options and how they work below.
Amino Acids and Sleep: A Complex Relationship
The sleep-wake cycle relies upon a range of different neurochemicals. When they exist in a healthy, balanced state, it should be easy to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
For example, melatonin is a hormone that triggers feelings of drowsiness in response to darkness. Meanwhile, the serotonin system appears to play a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Both melatonin and serotonin come from the same amino acid, tryptophan. Other amino acids, such as tyrosine and phenylalanine, are responsible for producing neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
It seems that deficiencies of particular amino acids could contribute to sleep problems.
It seems that deficiencies of these particular amino acids could contribute to sleep problems. However, excesses of amino acids, in general, could be equally harmful.
For instance, sleep-wake disorders may alter branched-chain amino acids’ metabolism, causing them to build up in the body. This could reduce the ability to absorb tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine.
Since these substances play a role in producing vital sleep-inducing neurochemicals, a lack of them could cause sleeplessness. Therefore, individuals should be well-informed before taking amino acids before bed. Getting the balance right is essential.
So, what are the best options? Let’s take a look.
Melatonin for Sleep
Although it is not technically an amino acid, melatonin is one of the most popular sleep supplements available. According to the National Health Interview Survey, 5.2% of respondents had used melatonin at some point. Of those people, 27.5% reported doing so for insomnia.
Some of the other reasons why people use melatonin sleep aids include:
- Jet lag
- Shift work
- Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder
- Certain childhood sleep disorders
- Pre- and post-surgical anxiety
Despite its popularity, there is sparse scientific evidence to support melatonin use for chronic insomnia. While it appears to be safe for short-term use, its long-term side effects are unknown.
5-HTP for Sleep
L-5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a direct precursor to serotonin. Since the serotonin system plays a crucial regulatory role in the sleep-wake cycle, many people use 5-HTP for sleep disorders. However, there is limited evidence to support this.
A 2008 study looked at the effects of different 5-HTP doses on sleep in mice. It found that high doses increased non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep when the researchers administered it at the onset of darkness. When they administered it at the beginning of the light period, 5-HTP appeared to increase wakefulness. It then increased NREM during the subsequent dark period.
A later 2018 study supports these results. It found that 5-HTP, combined with the amino acid GABA, reduced caffeine-induced sleeplessness in fruit flies, mice, and rats.
However, a 2012 review suggests that taking 5-HTP long-term could do more harm than good. It states that taking 5-HTP alone could cause serotonin dominance and deplete dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine levels. It then highlights the need for balance between serotonin precursors and precursors to these other neurotransmitters.
Tryptophan and Sleep
As we explained earlier, tryptophan is necessary for both serotonin and melatonin production. It also plays a role in synthesizing other essential compounds, such as vitamin B3 (niacin). Research suggests that it may aid in the treatment of numerous conditions, including sleep disorders. It appears to be safe, up to 4.5 g daily, as part of a healthy diet.
Using tryptophan for sleep is by no means a new idea. Studies from as early as the mid-20th century suggest that it can increase subjective feelings of sleepiness and reduce the time taken to fall asleep. It appears to be most effective for mild insomnia or difficulty falling asleep in otherwise normal sleep cycles.
Final Thoughts on Amino Acid Sleep Aids
Amino acids play an essential role in many physiological processes, including sleep. Therefore, some people are choosing to use them as food supplements. Among the most popular choices are tryptophan, 5-HTP, and melatonin. Other potentially beneficial amino acids include GABA, tyrosine, and phenylalanine.
Although amino acids are natural substances, it is necessary to exercise caution with supplementation.
However, although amino acids are natural substances, it is necessary to exercise caution with supplementation. There is a lack of human research on the subject, and the long-term effects are unclear. In fact, inappropriate use could potentially cause more harm than good.
Interested individuals should contact a knowledgeable physician or dietician for further advice regarding amino acids and sleep. This is especially important for those with chronic medical conditions, taking other medication, and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
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