Many people who experience poor sleep quality, or suffer from a sleep disorder, turn to a specific vitamin or supplement as a sort of natural sleep aid in effort to regain healthy, restful sleep.
While it’s true that some vitamins can help you get better sleep, it’s important to understand that improving your sleep quality requires the right combination of vitamins and is a process that can take some time.
The time it takes to repair your sleep depends on what sleep issues you are experiencing.
How Vitamins & Minerals Help With Sleep
Achieving healthy sleep starts with your brain. In order to move smoothly through normal sleep cycles, such as REM sleep, deep sleep and light sleep, the brain uses neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages at key times. Normal brain function requires certain vitamins and minerals in order to make these neurotransmitters.
If you’re experiencing disrupted sleep, insomnia, frequent nighttime awakenings, daytime sleepiness or other sleep disorders, your brain may not have the raw materials you need to make the necessary neurotransmitters. That’s where vitamin and mineral supplementation can help.
Certain vitamins help your body regulate sleep in a variety of ways. For example, some vitamins are involved in helping your body sync up with the day-night cycle (or circadian rhythm), while other vitamins regulate proper paralysis for optimal repair.
If vitamin and mineral deficiencies are left unchecked, there is increased risk that your sleep issues may evolve into chronic disease.
Pregnant or lactating women need to pay close attention to their vitamin intake, as well as the dosage (considerations that will be explored further in this article).
So, which vitamins help improve sleep quality?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin for sleep. Vitamin D affects the chemistry of the neurotransmitters that allow us to fall asleep and transition through various stages of sleep.
Unfortunately, The world’s population is now more vitamin D deficient and more sleep deprived than ever. You might be wondering, why now?
To best understand our current problem, it is also important to understand that “vitamin D” is actually not a vitamin at all. It is not a nutrient. It is a naturally occurring hormone that we make on our skin, and does not require supplementation in a healthy population.
Throughout history, healthy populations achieved proper vitamin D levels in 2 primary ways: a) from regular sun exposure and b) from their mothers who had regular sun exposure during pregnancy and passed healthy levels of D to their babies in utero.
First, look at sun exposure. In modern culture, regular sun exposure has been greatly reduced. More people working indoors means less exposure to healthy doses of sunlight.
Also, using sunscreen, while originally intended to prevent sunburn, may have resulted in some unintended consequences. Some people, when outdoors, are almost always wearing sunscreen (also known as “sun BLOCK”) which is literally blocking them from the healthful properties of the sun.
While we do want to avoid sunburn, the message that the sun is “bad” has made some people fear being exposed to direct sunlight altogether. I believe this has had a disastrous impact on global vitamin D levels, and overall health.
Second, modern babies are often born vitamin D deficient. It might be news to you that if your mother had vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy, then you were likely born with low vitamin D levels, before you even had a chance to get healthy exposure to the sun. It’s a vicious cycle since low vitamin D levels start a “domino effect” of other vitamin deficiencies that compromise your health and your sleep. The good news, this can be prevented and corrected through supplementation.
This begs the harder question: How do you supplement vitamin D safely and effectively?
Many health & wellness websites will recommend an arbitrary daily vitamin D dose for everyone. This is problematic for several reasons:
Reason #1: The amount of vitamin D you should take per day is variable and not the actual goal. The actual goal is to achieve a healthy vitamin D level, which can only be determined with certainty through a blood test. While supplementation can be a critical part of helping a D-deficient person regain their health, it is important to supplement with caution. Although you can’t “overdose” on vitamin D through sun exposure only, too much vitamin D through supplementation, with or without sun exposure, can be harmful.
Reason #2: Everyone has a different starting place (initial vitamin D level) AND different way of responding to vitamin D supplementation. Every body is different.
Reason #3: Vitamin D is a part of a system of raw materials the brain needs for optimal sleep, but by itself vitamin D does not lead to fully restored sleep.
B vitamins are also critical to healthy, restorative sleep. Just like with vitamin D, a healthy population will not need to supplement B’s, because their healthy gut bacteria will produce the complete set of B vitamins naturally.
Healthy people have four very specific types of gut bacteria with very specific requirements. Together they make a total of 8 chemicals called bacterial growth factors, otherwise known as the B vitamins. When you have the four types of very specific gut bacteria, you receive the 8 chemicals that we call B vitamins and in turn you enjoy optimal health – from digestion to sleep.
In order to thrive, these specific healthy bacteria also need D. Which means, if your vitamin D is low the healthy bacteria that used to make your B vitamins can’t survive. Then, they are replaced by other not-so-healthy bacteria. So in this way, low D sabotages your gut health, and your sleep.
You may have heard that “all health is connected to your gut.” If you’ve ever wondered why you have both sleep issues AND gut issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies or gluten sensitivity, it’s because sleep health and gut health go hand in hand.
Though many B vitamins have gained popularity for their individual function — for example “B1 can reduce stress,” “B6 may improve mood,’ or “B12 can increase energy” — it is important to understand that healthy people who sleep great have a balanced SET of all 8 B vitamins being supplied by their healthy bacteria.
B vitamins fun fact: Even though Medicine has labeled B vitamins with numbers 1 through 12, there are actually only 8. B4, B8, B10, and B11 are chemicals that we can make internally so they are not considered to be vitamins anymore. The 8 B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12) are the ones that we need from our gut bacteria.
The program I developed, RightSleep®, provides a customizable framework by providing guidance on the dosage and timing necessary to restore your vitamin D and B levels, to heal your gut microbiome, and ultimately, restore your sleep.
There are also other vitamins and minerals that can play a role as cofactors for better sleep. The most important thing to know as you learn about these vitamins is that they will only help you if you have a deficiency that needs to be corrected.
Magnesium is a mineral, actually known as a “major mineral,” meaning we need more magnesium than other “trace minerals,’ such as zinc. Magnesium can be consumed through whole foods, as well as nutritional supplements. Magnesium glycinate and magnesium threonate appear to be more easily absorbed into the brain, and may be more effective than other types of magnesium.
Interestingly, magnesium can play a major role in healthy sleep. Magnesium helps regulate neurotransmitters which have direct effects linked to phases of sleep. Magnesium levels in the brain appear to change in relationship to the phases of sleep.
This means, if you have a magnesium deficiency, both your REM and deep sleep can be positively impacted with magnesium.
A healthy population will have optimal melatonin levels, as melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone. That means, in a perfect world, we all produce melatonin naturally.
However, just like with the B vitamins, you can become melatonin deficient, and that deficiency can have a negative impact on your sleep.
Newer research shows that melatonin not only has multiple roles in many parts of our body, but that it also plays an important role in initiating sleep. This is why many people take it at night, as an over-the-counter supplement, to aid in falling asleep.
Some people with sleep issues won’t respond to melatonin if they do not happen to have a deficiency. Others find a melatonin supplement helpful in aiding the transition from waking to sleeping, but find these supplements to be a trade off, since they can induce unwanted side effects, such as an increase in nighttime awakenings.
Calcium is a mineral that is most often associated with healthy bones; however calcium may also play an important part in sleep. Particularly, calcium is believed to increase REM sleep, when someone has previously had a calcium deficiency. It has also been considered a natural sleep aid that helps with nighttime drowsiness. This may be why many over-the-counter sleep aids, including some melatonin supplements, contain calcium.
There is also a relationship between calcium and vitamin D. One of the main functions of D is to help absorb calcium better. Because the RightSleep® program helps optimize vitamin D levels, many people who follow the program find that they no longer need to supplement calcium, since vitamin D helps them absorb what they need from food.
Iodine is necessary for thyroid hormone production, and thyroid hormone is very important for optimal sleep. So if for you, iodine deficiency is causing low thyroid hormone, supplementing with iodine can support better sleep. You can get iodine in pill or drop form, as well as from high-iodine foods, such as kelp.
What About Other Vitamins and Sleep Supplements?
People often ask, “What other vitamins and minerals can support sleep?” What about zinc, vitamin C, or vitamin A? While these can all play an important role in health, and you may even see online articles about their direct link to sleep, what is most important is to think holistically.
The goal of RightSleep® is for your body to be making important repairs every night while you are sleeping. These repairs occur in the brain and the body. They can be repairs to mechanics of your sleep-wake cycle. When your sleep is optimized, you will fall asleep easily at night and stay asleep approximately 8 hours until the morning, waking up in the morning feeling rested and ready to go. That goes for older adults too!
In order to accomplish these repairs, the brain needs to be well supported. Not only through vitamin D and the B vitamins but also through a variety of vitamins and minerals. That’s why a multivitamin plays an important role in the RightSleep® program.