Part 1: What is a Good Sleep?
Toronto's own, Kalen Malan has been working at Popeye's Supplements for 6 years helping customers achieve their goals and make the best choices in their fitness journey. With a passion for weightlifting, he truly enjoys helping others with their health and in their athletic pursuits. You can find Kalen at the Pape & Danforth, Yonge & Adelaide, and Yonge & Eglinton locations, where he is always happy to connect and discuss training & supplementation.
I think that everyone can agree that there is almost nothing better in this world than the feeling of getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is connected to several health benefits that will help you inside and outside of the gym. Past just helping you feel rested, a good night’s sleep also assist recovery, improves mental health, can boost your testosterone and helps in many more ways.
Unfortunately, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always an easy task! Lots of time in front of electronics, a stressful day, and many other interruptions can affect our sleep cycle and stop us from getting the proper rest we need. However, there is no need to worry dear reader, for we all experience nights where we have poor sleep! So today, I will be helping you dissect what a good night’s sleep looks like to help you figure out how to improve your sleep.
What Does a Good Night of Sleep Look Like?
First things first, we need to know the qualities of a good night of sleep to know how to treat sleep-related issues. So, what is involved in a good night of sleep? For starters, let’s talk about the length of your sleep. The general consensus is that an adult requires between 7-9 hours of sleep a night.[i] Getting 7-9 hours of sleep in a night allows your body to get a full sleep cycle in. This means that your body is getting an adequate amount of Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
NREM involves stages 2 through 4 of the sleep cycle. In the NREM stages of the sleep cycle your body is continuously winding down. Consider this to be the metaphorical “path” that you take that leads you towards REM sleep. As you move through the three NREM stages of the sleep cycle you move into a deeper and deeper sleep, and it becomes harder to wake you up.
The REM stage of the sleep cycle is what you are truly after when you are on the hunt for a good night’s sleep. During the REM cycle our brain activity increases dramatically. The more time spent in REM sleep generally means the more well rested you are and the more benefits you will see from your sleep. In a good night’s sleep, you go through the sleep cycle multiple times, getting the amount of REM sleep required for you to get up and feel ready to take on the day.
How To Tell What Sleep Supplements Will Help You
Now that you understand the mechanics of sleep, it is time to determine what supplements can lend a hand and help you enjoy some sweet dreams.
The first thing I always look at when assessing a poor sleep schedule is where the problem with the sleep lies. In most situations people fall into one of two categories: people who have trouble falling asleep and people who have trouble staying asleep. These are two interconnected issues, but both come with their own set of supplement recommendations. So, follow me and let me guide you through the ingredients you will be looking for to help you address both issues.
Supplements That Help You Fall Asleep
We can’t talk about supplements that help you fall asleep without bringing up the undisputed GOAT of making you pass out, melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone released by your pineal gland that makes you tired and helps you fall asleep. This is why if you are having a hard time falling asleep, melatonin is an excellent option to help you pass out for the night.
5-HTP is additionally an excellent option for those of you who don’t like using melatonin supplements. 5-HTP has been shown to help the body regulate melatonin levels. 5-HTP works especially well with GABA, a supplement that promotes relaxation that I will highlight more in depth a bit further in the article. One study showed that, when combined, 5-HTP and GABA helped reduce the amount of time it took to fall asleep, increased sleep duration and increased sleep quality.[ii]
Supplements That Help You Stay Asleep
While melatonin largely holds down the falling asleep aspect of sleep aids, there are many more supplements available for those of you who can fall asleep without issue. Sleep quality and depth is another big issue when it comes to feeling rested. This is where supplements such as Magnesium, GABA, and L-Theanine come into play.
Magnesium is tied to hundreds of processes in the human body, but one of the most important of these processes is magnesium’s ability to help the body and mind relax. This assists the body through the NREM stages of sleep where the body is continuously working on winding down and allows for a smoother transition into REM sleep. Magnesium also pairs extremely well with melatonin as it has been shown to be helpful in regulating melatonin production.[iii] Magnesium also often comes in ZMA mixes where it is combined with zinc and vitamin B6 to assist in muscular recovery as well as promotion of high-quality sleep.
As mentioned earlier, GABA (short for gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that helps you relax. GABA achieves this by blocking certain signals from reaching your central nervous system, allowing for your brain to reduce the amount of stimulation being taken in and start to “shut off” for the night. GABA is also shown to help with stress reduction as well as relaxation in day-to-day life, making it a fantastic supplement for many who have trouble with unwinding.
L-theanine is another excellent supplement that is often used to help with the promotion of sleep quality. L-theanine is an amino acid that has been shown to assist in boosting neurotransmitters such as GABA, dopamine, and serotonin while decreasing levels of norepinephrine. These combined effects can lead to a reduction of brain activity, alertness, and anxiety, leading to the promotion of a deep sleep in which you achieve the appropriate amount of REM sleep required to feel rested.
Now Take This Knowledge and Rest Easy
There are many other supplements that can play a role in the promotion or demotion of a good-quality sleep. Far too many to go over in one blog post. However, I hope that with the knowledge that you have gained from reading this article today, that you are able to go and get a good night’s rest to tackle your day. If you'd like to see some of the products that can provide some benefit, check out this sleep-aid collection.
[i] Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al. Recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: a joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Sleep. 2015;38(6):843–844.
[ii] Shell W, Bullias D, Charuvastra E, May LA, Silver DS. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep. Am J Ther. 2010 Mar-Apr;17(2):133-9. doi: 10.1097/MJT.0b013e31819e9eab. PMID: 19417589.
[iii] Cao Y, Zhen S, Taylor AW, Appleton S, Atlantis E, Shi Z. Magnesium Intake and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up. Nutrients. 2018 Sep 21;10(10):1354. doi: 10.3390/nu10101354. PMID: 30248967; PMCID: PMC6212970.
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