Kamal Patel is a director of Examine.com, the research-based resource on supplementation and nutrition, and a nutrition researcher with an MPH and MBA from Johns Hopkins University. He is based in San Francisco, California.
After your training programme and nutrition plan, sleep is the third pillar of a successful body transformation and the foundation of your recovery strategy. Yet while many people plan their training and nutrition regime to the finest detail, sleep often gets ignored as something you just do at the end of the day, rather than the most important part of every 24-hour period for your body to recharge, rejuvenate and rebuild.
And the harder you train in the gym and the faster you want to make rapid physique changes, getting quality sleep not only becomes more important, you also need more of it. This makes perfect sense: the harder you push yourself, both physically and mentally through tough training and a strict diet, the more time you need each and every night to recover.
But sometimes when you are training hard and eating a restrictive diet to build or maintain muscle mass and strip away body fat it can be very hard to get to sleep, or stay asleep. If you’re struggling to get enough shut eye on a consistent nightly basis then it may be worth considering some of the three following supplements.
Magnesium is an important dietary mineral, and deficiencies are associated with impaired sleep quality. Magnesium deficiencies are more common in athletes because magnesium is lost through sweat. Supplementation can improve sleep quality, but it is most effective for sleep-deprived people who also have low dietary magnesium intake. People with healthy magnesium levels may not experience benefits to sleep quality after supplementation. Even though magnesium can help improve sleep quality in people who have low magnesium levels, it does not have a sedative effect. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about getting sleepy or drowsy after taking magnesium.
How to take it Magnesium is not a time-dependent supplement, and does not need to be taken immediately before bed. The standard dose for magnesium is 200mg of elemental magnesium, though doses of up to 400mg can be used. Elemental magnesium content is found on the supplement label. It is the amount of magnesium in the supplement, excluding other compounds that may be included.
Magnesium can be supplemented through magnesium citrate, magnesium malate, magnesium diglycinate, and magnesium gluconate. Magnesium oxide is not recommended for supplementation because it is more likely to cause intestinal discomfort and diarrhea, and is known to have less absorption than other forms. Magnesium gluconate should be taken with a meal to increase the absorption of the supplement, but other forms of magnesium can be taken either with food or on an empty stomach. Some antibiotics such as the quinolone class, such as ciprofloxacin, and tetracyclines should not be taken alongside magnesium.
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating sleep. It is available to buy as a supplement in some countries, but not others. For instance, it is sold in pharmacies in the US, but can’t be bought over the counter in the UK. When you dim the lights, melatonin production increases and high levels will put you to sleep. This hormone is involved in the circadian rhythm, which dictates sleeping and waking cycles: as you wake up in the morning, melatonin levels go down. For some people, melatonin can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. If it frequently takes you a long time to fall asleep and it’s approved for use in your country, melatonin supplementation can help improve sleep quality by helping you fall asleep faster.
How to take it If melatonin is approved for sale and use where you live, supplement it by taking 500mcg – not mg – for a few nights before increasing the dose to 1mg. Continue to increase the dosage by 500mcg until you find the lowest effective dose. If you suspect your latest increase has not provided you with any additional benefits, drop back down to your previous dose. If it’s effective, you have found your lowest effective melatonin dose. Do not take more than 5mg of melatonin while determining your lowest effective dose. Melatonin should be taken roughly 30 minutes before sleep. Time-release melatonin capsules may be more effective at sustaining sleep throughout the night.
Lavender oil has been traditionally used in aromatherapy for its relaxing scent. Recently, it has been used as an oral supplement to treat anxiety and reduce intrusive thoughts, which can increase the time it takes to fall asleep. Lavender also improves sleep quality itself, though more research is needed to determine the mechanism behind this effect.
How to take it To supplement lavender, take 80mg of lavender oil, 30 to 45 minutes before bed. Studies investigating oral lavender supplementation used the lavender oil supplement brand Silexan. Oral supplementation of lavender has been shown to reduce intrusive thoughts and may treat general anxiety. Lavender aromatherapy has been found to benefit sleep quality if used either at night or in the afternoon.
An aromatherapy machine is needed to use aromatherapy at night. Candles or an aromatherapy machine can be used for afternoon aromatherapy sessions. It is difficult to estimate a typical dose of lavender using aromatherapy, but studies on lavender use, at a minimum, 30 minutes of exposure in a well-ventilated room. Lavender can be supplemented alongside lemon balm. The two supplements, taken together, may be synergistic and may have a more powerful effect.