In our most recent blog about sleep, we talked about one of the most popular sleep supplements currently out on the market: Melatonin. We discussed dosing as well as what everyone seems to get wrong about Melatonin dosing. We also discussed the practical applications of Melatonin and how its use as a sleep supplement is highly limited in most situations. This is due to the fact that Melatonin benefits us by helping promote a healthy circadian rhythm. However, it does not help much with sleep onset. Highly delayed sleep onset is one of the more common issues that stands in the way of good sleep, and so for most people, Melatonin will not help much with achieving better sleep. This holds especially true if they aren’t using an optimized Melatonin dosage.
Luckily, Nootropics Depot carries a plethora of other supplements that may help speed up sleep onset (reducing sleep latency), while supporting overall sleep quality. This allows us to get out of bed feeling refreshed on a consistent basis. To simplify things a little bit, we spent some time testing out various ingredients that we carry to determine what would be the best choices for promoting a healthy night's sleep and we narrowed this list down to five great supplements. Before we work on promoting sleep quality via supplementation, it is important to understand the basics of sleep.
"There are multiple theories as to why we sleep such as conserving energy, avoiding dangers at night, flushing toxins out of our brains, consolidating memories and processing daily experiences. Even though there isn’t a clear answer to why we sleep, there are clear answers to why we need to sleep..."
The Basics of Sleep:
Sleep is something we all require on a daily basis. Without it, our overall health (especially our cognitive health) starts to suffer. The interesting thing about sleep is that the scientific community does not have a solid answer to the question "why do we sleep?" There are multiple theories as to why we sleep such as conserving energy, avoiding dangers at night, flushing toxins out of our brains, consolidating memories and processing daily experiences. Even though there isn’t a clear answer to why we sleep, there are clear answers to why we need to sleep. Without sleep, our immune system may weaken and our cognitive functions will quickly become highly limited. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to other various adverse health effects such as decreased metabolic and cardiovascular function. This means that in order to promote optimum health and cognition, we need to ensure that we are consistently getting enough high-quality sleep.
What Are The 4 Stages of Sleep?
The other interesting thing about sleep is that it is not a static process. In fact, sleep occurs in four stages, which are as follows:
STAGE 1 SLEEP
This is when we first start drifting off to sleep, this sleep stage is characterized by very slow eye movements and a gradual relaxation of our muscles. It is very easy to get woken up from this stage of sleep which means if you have a hard time getting to sleep this is likely one of the more delicate stages of sleep for you.
STAGE 2 SLEEP
During this stage of sleep, our brain waves start to slow down, our heart rate goes down and our body temperature drops. It is now quite hard to be woken up and some restorative processes start to take place at this stage of sleep.
STAGE 3 SLEEP
At this stage of sleep, our brain waves have become very slow, our body temperature has dropped considerably and our heart rate is now also quite slow. At this point, it is incredibly hard to be woken up which is great as stage 3 sleep is arguably the most restorative part of our sleep. This contributes the most to us feeling nice and refreshed after waking up.
STAGE 4 SLEEP
The fourth stage of sleep takes an interesting turn. Brain waves speed up and so do our eye movements. This stage is also referred to as "paradoxical sleep", due to the fact that our brain waves during REM sleep bear a lot of resemblance to waking brain waves. Unsurprisingly, this is the stage of sleep where we have the most vivid but also most bizarre dreams.
Under normal conditions, we cycle in-and-out of these four sleep stages multiple times a night. On average, it takes us about 90 minutes to cycle through all four stages. This is why you may sometimes feel very groggy when you wake up, whereas other times you feel very awake when you wake up. If you wake up during stage 3 sleep, you are in quite a deep sleep and you are likely to feel very groggy and tired when you wake up. This is in stark contrast to waking up during stage 1 sleep, which as we mentioned earlier, is characterized by a very light sleep. Waking up during stage 1 sleep can leave us feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. However, since it is quite easy to wake up during stage 1 sleep, awakening can also happen in the middle of the night. When we wake up during stage 1 sleep, it can be quite hard to go back to sleep.
"With this is mind, we want supplements that will kick in fast, and last about 7-8 hours, which is the recommended amount of sleep we should be getting..."
Supporting Our Sleep With Supplements
It is important to be aware of the above sleep stages and our natural sleep cycle when we approach supplementation for sleep. Increasing the depth of sleep during stage 1 sleep can be majorly beneficial when we first fall asleep as well as later in the night. The deeper stage 1 sleep is in the middle of the night, the less likely we will be to wake up during stage 1. That being said, we also want stage 1 sleep to be very light when we are close to waking up in the morning as this will make waking up a much more enjoyable experience. With this is mind, we want supplements that will kick in fast and last about 7-8 hours, which is the recommended amount of sleep we should be getting. To further optimize this process, we could use a sleep timer which will take into account the length of our sleep cycles. For example, a few of us around the office have had great results with this very simple sleep timer.
How To Use A Sleep Timer
To use a sleep timer, simply plug in at what time you want to wake up (or at what time you want to go to bed) and it will give you a time at which you should be setting your alarm the next morning. This alarm time takes into account the average 90 minute sleep cycle and gives you a wake up time that should correspond to your lighter stages of sleep. Anecdotally, waking up has been much easier using this timer, and it also gives you a good idea of how much sleep you are getting.
With the basics out of the way, we can now really start to explore which Nootropics Depot supplements will help support a healthy night's sleep. We will keep referencing back to what we talked about up until now as this will be important for determining what supplements will work best for you. Here is, in our opinion, the 5 best sleep supplement we currently carry that are not Melatonin.
Oleamide for Sleep
Oleamide is a fascinating supplement that recently crossed our path during research and development for an upcoming product on Natrium Health. In fact, we were so impressed by this compound in isolation that we decided to offer it in a bulk powder on Nootropics Depot. Oleamide is actually quite similar to another product we carry called Palmitoylethanolamide. Both of these compounds are categorized as fatty acid amides and both Oleamide and Palmitoylethanolamide occur naturally in the body. In our bodies, both of these fatty acid amides interact with our endogenous cannabinoid system. Oleamide in particular has significant effects on our cannabinoid system, and it appears that many of the Oleamide benefits related to sleep appear to be produced through Oleamide's effects on the endocannabinoid system. This was demonstrated by a simple experiment which administered the cannabinoid antagonist SR 141716 alongside an Oleamide supplement. In this experiment, it was found that Oleamide's effects on sleep were promptly blocked by co-administration of the cannabinoid antagonist SR 141716. This would suggest that the bulk of Oleamide's effects on sleep are produced through the endocannabinoid system. In fact, it has been shown that Oleamide increases the levels of anandamide which is one of our bodies own cannabinoids, and also appears to be the most potent of the bunch.
"It is interesting to note that Oleamide naturally builds up in our cerebrospinal fluid during sleep deprivation, and that large amounts of Oleamide in our cerebrospinal fluid may make falling asleep a lot more likely."
It is interesting to note that Oleamide naturally builds up in our cerebrospinal fluid during sleep deprivation, and that large amounts of Oleamide in our cerebrospinal fluid may make falling asleep a lot more likely. It also appears that right before we fall asleep, Oleamide levels become elevated. This tells us that Oleamide naturally plays a large role in our sleep cycle. So, supplementation of additional Oleamide should help enhance overall sleep quality. It has been shown that taking an Oleamide supplement before sleep can significantly reduce both sleep latency and total sleep time without affecting the amount of time spent in REM sleep. Presently, we don’t know exactly how Oleamide effects our overall sleep architecture, however, it appears to optimize overall sleep architecture which produces highly restorative sleep.
Oleamide Chemical Structure
It is also unclear what stages of slow wave sleep Oleamide specifically acts on, but it has been shown that Oleamide produces an overall increase in slow wave sleep. Since Oleamide benefits include an apparent decrease in the amount of time taken to fall asleep, Oleamide may be increasing the depth of stage 1 slow wave sleep. This may also help explain the decreased likelihood of wakefulness and increased sleep time that is generally seen with administration of an Oleamide supplement.
Overall, Oleamide is a fantastic sleep supplement. Taking an Oleamide supplement may help optimize your overall sleep architecture while making it easier to both fall asleep and stay asleep. In our experience, taking an Oleamide supplement can make drifting off to sleep a lot easier. After some extended supplementation, Oleamide appears to result in significantly more restorative sleep.
Sensoril Ashwagandha for Sleep
Sensoril is an extract of Ashwagandha and has very prominent relaxing effects that we have found can make getting to bed a whole lot easier. In addition to its relaxing effects, Sensoril Ashwagandha also has a potent stress-regulating effect which can be highly beneficial when it comes to sleep as our sleep cycles are highly impacted by increased stress. Increased stress levels tend to quite reliably reduce the amount of slow wave sleep, reduce the amount of REM sleep, increase the amount of awakenings during the night and appears to decrease overall sleep efficiency. Based on this, it appears that stress is highly detrimental on our overall sleep quality. What’s worse, is that sleep is an important regulator of our natural stress response and we can get a negative feedback loop where stress can repeatedly decrease sleep quality. This then increases stress response which then further degrades sleep quality. Based on this, it is very important to get stress under control if we want to maintain healthy sleep quality. If you want to learn more about how Sensoril Ashwagandha benefits your stress levels, we would recommend reading our in depth blog on Ashwagandha.
"Overall, Sensoril would be a fantastic night time supplement to take an hour before bed. It will help calm us down which will make it easier to drift off to sleep and will help keep us asleep too..."
Sensoril Ashwagandha Effects on GABA-A Receptors
Sensoril not only enhances overall sleep quality via its stress management effects, it also has much more direct effects. Ashwagandha has quite potent effects at GABA-A receptors which is a very important receptor that helps calm our brain activity. One of the main classes of compounds in Ashwagandha that are responsible for the bulk of Ashwagandha GABAergic effects are the glyco withanolides. It just so happens that Sensoril is extremely high in glyco withanolides and thus it is a fantastic tool to use when it comes to modulating the activity of GABA-A receptors. GABA is an inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter that helps balance brain activity. This is great as too much activity in the brain can lead to nervousness and increased sleep latency. By using Sensoril to increase GABAergic activity, we can help calm ourselves down before sleep which is going to significantly regulate sleep latency. It may also help enhance slow wave sleep and help decrease night time awakenings.
The Ashwagandha Plant
Overall, Sensoril would be a fantastic night time supplement to take an hour before bed. It will help calm us down which will make it easier to drift off to sleep and will help keep us asleep too. Furthermore, it will help offset the negative effects of stress on sleep. Since Sensoril Ashwagandha benefits include regulating stress levels, this will also allow you to wake up stress free! This is important as one of our main stress hormones, cortisol, tends to be very high in the early mornings. To a certain degree, this is a good thing as cortisol helps get us going in the morning. However, if you are already quite stressed, mornings can be a tricky ordeal. Night time dosing of Sensoril should help dampen this early morning stress response allowing you to get on with your day feeling refreshed and relaxed!
Magnesium Glycinate for Sleep
If you read our recent blog on Magnesium, you will know that Magnesium deficiencies are very common. Generally speaking, it is very important to get in an adequate amount of Magnesium to maintain optimum health. However, Magnesium also plays a big role in sleep and a high-qualtiy Magnesium supplement may help enhance sleep quality. Magnesium can act on GABAergic receptors and it may also help stabilize glutamate receptors. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain whereas glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in our brain. This means that when glutamate activity is high, it may be quite hard to get to sleep and to stay asleep. Magnesium blocks one of the main glutamate receptors called the NMDA receptors. By doing, Magnesium Glycinate increase sleep quality.
"It appears that Magnesium may selectively enhance stage 2 and 3 slow wave sleep, which is great, as these are the most restorative stages of sleep..."
Studies on Magnesium improving sleep are unfortunately scarce. However, there was one very good study that showed that magnesium was able to enhance overall slow wave sleep, and in particular, was able to boost brain waves that are seen in stage 2 and stage 3 sleep. It appears that Magnesium may selectively enhance stage 2 and 3 slow wave sleep, which is great, as these are the most restorative stages of sleep. Magnesium may also help normalize sleeping cortisol levels, similar but to a much lower degree than Sensoril Ashwagandha. Based on this, Magnesium may also be highly beneficial in cases of degraded sleep due to stress.
Why Is Magnesium Glycinate The Best Magnesium Supplement For Sleep?
You may ask yourself at this point "why did Nootropics Depot choose Magnesium Glycinate instead of other Magnesium supplements they offer for sale?" This is because Magnesium Glycinate, as the name may suggest, is bound to the amino acid Glycine. Glycine is a dietary amino acid, and like GABA, is mainly an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It also happens to have its own receptor named the Glycine receptor. When Glycine activates its own receptor, it can also slow down brain activity and may even help enhance sleep by itself. Studies have shown that large doses of Glycine (usually around 3 grams) may significantly shorten sleep latency and may also decrease the amount of time it takes to get into the deeper stages of slow wave sleep.
The Effects of Glycine on Sleep
Subjective effects have shown that this large dose of Glycine leads to better cognitive function the following morning. This effect has been attributed to Glycine enhancing overall sleep quality. The amount you are getting from a dose of a Magnesium Glycinate supplement is likely not able to produce these effects. However, there is the possibility that due to its Glycine content, Magnesium Glycinate will be the best Magnesium for sleep. Anecdotally, Magnesium Glycinate feels much more relaxing and appears to enhance sleep more than other forms of Magnesium. In fact, while doing research for Magnesium, we found that a commonly searched-for phrase is "Magnesium glycinate sleep," which indicated to us that Magnesium Glycinate is already quite a well established form of Magnesium for sleep! That being said, any Magnesium supplement we carry should help enhance sleep quality.
Lemon Balm Extract for Sleep
Lemon Balm Extract is widely known for its calming effects. So, it is no surprise that it has made its way into this sleep supplement blog. If it hasn’t become apparent yet at this point in the blog, there appears to be a common thread between all of these supplements which is the fact that all of the sleep supplements on this list help relax us before bed via a variety of mechanisms. This is why Melatonin is not the always the best sleep supplement, as it does not have relaxing effects even though using Melatonin for sleep is very popular. Once most people fall asleep, they will usually stay asleep. However, getting to sleep appears to be one of the more challenging aspects of sleep. In theory, the more relaxed we are the easier it will be to fall asleep, and this is attributed to relaxation-causing decreased sleep latency. So, how does Lemon Balm Extract follow this thread?
"By inhibiting GABA transaminase, GABA levels will increase which will lead to more GABAergic activity in the brain. As discussed earlier, this will help calm us down before sleep and will decrease sleep latency while also increase slow wave sleep and reducing night time awakenings..."
Lemon Balm Extract contains a plethora of compounds which all have a host of beneficial health effects. The most prominent component of Lemon Balm Extract is a compound called Rosmarinic acid. Rosmarinic acid helps to block the breakdown of GABA by inhibiting one of the main enzymes that break down GABA, which is GABA transaminase. By inhibiting GABA transaminase, GABA levels will increase which will lead to more GABAergic activity in the brain. As discussed earlier, this will help calm us down before sleep and will decrease sleep latency while also increasing slow wave sleep and reducing night time awakenings.
The Lemon Balm Plant
Lemon Balm Extract increases GABAergic activity through a novel, and much more specific, mechanism than the other compounds on our list. It also allows Lemon Balm Extract to be used alongside the other ingredients on this list as it will fortify the GABAergic effects of supplements such as Sensoril Ashwagandha.
Gotu Kola Extract for Sleep
Gotu Kolu Extract made the list due to a lot of people around the office reporting that they had great results with taking it before sleep. Furthermore, it also appears to have some significant effects on enhancing memory and overall cognitive function. These are just a few Gotu Kola uses. In fact, there are a lot more Gotu Kola uses and Gotu Kola benefits that deserve their own blog (stay tuned!). So, how does Gotu Kola Extract support sleep quality?
"This means that Gotu Kola Extract may work great as a standalone ingredient by gently enhancing our bodies own GABAergic activity. It may also work synergistically with other GABAergic supplements.."
The research on why Gotu Kola Extract enhances sleep is still somewhat lacking. That said, there does appear to be some clear leads on it improving overall sleep quality. This evidence comes from the fact that when a Gotu Kola dosage is co-administered with supplements that induce sleep via strong GABAergic activity, Gotu Kola Extract appears to enhance the overall time spent asleep beyond what the strong GABAergic agonist is able to produce on its own. This may indicate that Gotu Kola may produce a significant potentiating effect on our natural GABAergic system. This also means that Gotu Kola Extract may work great as a standalone ingredient by gently enhancing our bodies own GABAergic activity. It may also work synergistically with other GABAergic supplements. With this in mind, we would suggest the following sleep supplement stack to optimize GABAergic activity before sleep:
The GABA Stack:
Sensoril Ashwagandha: The first component of this stack is Sensoril Ashwagandha as it appears to signal quite strongly through the GABA-A receptor which is the most important GABA receptor for sleep. The glyco withanolides contained in Sensoril appear to mimic the effects of GABA. This means that they may be able to bind to GABA receptors in a similar fashion to GABA itself.
Lemon Balm Extract: With Sensoril, we are able to directly increase activity at GABA-A receptor. However, by also introducing Lemon Balm Extract we may be able to enhance natural GABAergic activity. Again, this is due to the fact that Lemon Balm Extract helps slow down the breakdown of GABA. This should help decrease sleep latency and help enhance overall sleep time.
Gotu Kola Extract: To round out the GABA stack, we would recommend including Gotu Kola Extract. Gotu Kola Extract helps potentiate the activity of other GABAergic compounds, including GABA itself. This means that Gotu Kola extract may help bolster the effects of both Sensoril Ashwagandha and Gotu Kola Extract. This would make the GABA stack highly relaxing as well as make for a perfect pre-sleep supplement!
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