This is a list of all of the supplements I discuss in my ebook on Sleep Mastery. You’ll find links to all of them on amazon included.
ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium, Vitamin B6)
ZMA is traditionally a bodybuilding supplement, but it also receives attribution from people claiming that they sleep much better after taking it. The issue with these claims is that they’re purely anecdotal, coming from sources such as “bodybuilding.com” and “paleohacks.” That’s not to say these are unreliable sources, only that there aren’t any rigorous scientific studies on exactly what goes on when you take it before sleeping.
In my experience, it does make you sleep better and deeper, but there’s a caveat. This effect tapers off quite quickly, and after a week or so of taking it I noticed no change in my sleep quality from baseline. With that in mind I don’t see any real reason to consistently take it over time (unless you don’t experience the quick diminishing effects) but it could be useful for getting better sleep while jet lagged, or after having not slept enough the night before and needing to recover. It could also be good if you’re just looking to dream more, or make lucidity easier. It doesn’t have any negative effects though, so if you’re taking it as a supplement for working out, there’s no need to worry.
GABA is very similar to ZMA in terms of what you can expect, but there’s more science behind it. GABA is praised by body builders, and lucid dreamers as increasing the quality, depth, and dream frequency of sleep. There is also some research indicating that GABA may play a role in reducing anxiety and stress for those who are taking it, but my suspicion is that this is related to the improved sleep quality. When people are sleeping better they’re naturally less stressed and anxious, one of the best reasons to master your sleep.
GABA unfortunately suffers from the same rapid diminishing returns as ZMA. In my experience, after a week or two I notice hardly any change in sleep quality, and I start to develop a degree of “brain fog” during the day. People who are interested in nootropics, or “smart drugs” frequently recommend against taking GABA for this reason. That said, if you’re trying to learn how to lucid dream or adjust to a new sleep schedule, you might find GABA very useful.
I’ve heard many people insist that 5-htp is good for sleep, but I cannot find evidence for it. The National Institute of Health page on 5-htp supports my findings, putting “treating sleep disorders” as an effect that there is “insufficient evidence” for.
5-htp does, however, have uses for treating depression. It naturally increases serotonin (the happy drug) production, which can combat low degrees of depression, and this could be having a secondary effect on sleep quality. Insomnia is not uncommon in depressed people, and if their mind is more at ease in the evenings as a result of the increased serotonin production then it’s possible that they’re sleeping better. This is purely speculation though.
Unfortunately, there are numerous side effects with 5-htp. Heartburn, nausea, and upset stomachs are not uncommon, but on the higher end you have a chance of giving yourself serotonin sickness, which can cause significant heart damage. I wouldn’t recommend taking it consistently, and would say that there are much better alternatives if you want to improve your sleep and reduce anxiety.
Fish oil has a positive impact on the amount of melatonin you produce, which is the natural chemical your brain secretes in order to regulate sleep. Having a good amount of fish oil in your diet can help you sleep more regularly, better, and wake up easier. Many people have downregulated melatonin production because of not consuming sufficient good fat in their diet, and supplementing with fish oil is a great way to counteract this issue.
Combine the sleep effects with the benefits for your skin, hair, and heart health, and there is little reason not to take fish oil. If you eat a lot of fish you may not need it, but most people can benefit from adding it to their list of supplements. Personally, taking it before bed has noticeably improved my ability to wake up early regularly, and I’ve not noticed any diminishing effects or side effects.
This one was made popular by Tim Ferriss in “The 4-Hour Body.” By his description, Huperzine A raises REM percentage by around 20% while also increasing retention from learning languages and other memorization-intensive studies. This is widely agreed upon by fans of smart drugs (nootropics) and it is also my own experience with the drug.
The problem though is that Huperzine A tapers off in effectiveness very quickly, and once you’re accustomed to it can actually cause short term insomnia when you stop. With that in mind, I’d put it in the same category as GABA for being useful in a one-off situation where you’re trying to leverage your sleep better, in this case to improve memory. It may also have benefits when recovering from under-sleeping the night before, and adjusting to a new sleep schedule or fixing jetlag.
Valerian is one of the few on this list that bills itself as a sleep aid on store shelves. It’s one of the first supplements that comes to many people’s minds when they think of ones to improve sleep, and I think that this association is fair. Valerian is one of the supplements I regularly take because I sleep noticeably less-well without it and have never noticed any diminishing returns or down regulation from taking it constantly.
These results are not unique. The Mayo Clinic has an extensive article on valerian that backs up its benefits to sleep, but also outlines some of its potential risks. The main potential side effects are mild: including nausea and headaches, but in rare cases it can actually have an inverse effect and cause insomnia.
Melatonin is the natural chemical your brain produces in order to regulate when you go to sleep, when you wake up, and how deeply you sleep. There are environmental factors that can influence the amount of melatonin you produce (white light, for example, decreases your melatonin production) but you can also supplement yourself with melatonin to make up for any shortage in production.
The problem should be obvious: as you use melatonin supplements, you decrease your body’s reliance on your natural production of it. As your body adapts to receiving it in supplement form, your brain produces less of it and it becomes harder to sleep without the pills.
The best use for melatonin then is when you’re trying to change your sleep schedule. If you’ve been staying up until 4am but need to start sleeping at 10pm, take some melatonin at 9 to help get the process going. Same idea if you’re adjusting to a different time zone. Just don’t overuse it!
This is one that I’m less familiar with. I’ve used it rarely, and I’ve heard different reviews. WebMD mentions it on their list of 4 natural sleep supplements, stating that its effects are similar to valerian, and it is usually recommended as a way to target stress-induced insomnia because of its calming effects.
The two main downsides are a risk of decreased liver function, and a slight risk of addiction. Kava has euphoric and relaxing effects, and it is possible to develop a psychological addiction to the experience. As with most things I’ve mentioned, you’ll want to use it sparingly if you try it, but I honestly don’t see any reason to use it. It’s hard to get, tastes terrible, and doesn’t work particularly well.
The one time you might consider using kava is if you’re used to having a drink or two in the evening before bed, and want to stop. Drinking before bed is problematic because alcohol within 4 hours of sleeping can decrease your REM by up to 20-30%, and if you’re drinking every night, then you’re never really sleeping that well. Not sleeping very well could lead to being stressed all day and then, you guessed it, needing a drink in the evening. Kava isn’t as potent of a depressant as alcohol, but it still has some similar effects and could be used as a supplement as you try to wean yourself off the evening beer or glass of wine. It also has hardly any calories!
Galantamine is popular among people who are interested in learning how to lucid dream. The typical usage is to either take a Galantamine supplement shortly before going to bed to increase the chance of vivid or lucid dreams, or to wake up after 6 hours, take Galantamine, and then use a dream-induction technique to fall back asleep into a lucid dream. Lucid dreamers report that Galantamine increases the chance of success in both cases.
There is also anecdotal evidence that Galantamine can increase the effectiveness of certain nootropics, such as Alpha GPC and Choline, specifically in how they improve memory retention. There are, however, no peer reviewed studies to back these findings up, not that there are many peer reviewed studies on nootropics in general.