In this article you will learn:
How to use over 20+ research based interventions for better sleep
Where to get the best products that I've used myself
How to leverage the power of genetics and testing to take control of your sleep
Lazy Reader's Section:
There are lots of natural, proven remedies to help you sleep depending on the problem. Understanding what the root of the issue is, or if it is a combination of issues, is the key for taking action. In this sense you have to test, and genetic testing can be a big help in understanding your risk factors as well as what supplements to use out of the many listed here. Other outside factors can make a big difference too, like temperature or your alignment, and having tools like formed cushions, a cooling headband or a smart mattress can be a game changer.
Finally, check out my Top Picks for sleep and obtain your lifetime 10% off code for being part of my podcast community on some of the best products for easing into a good night's sleep naturally.
Lazy Author Alert:
Everything in this article is well-documented and based on extensive research, but it is a summary of the full, glorious nerdy version I compiled in my ultimate #Hacking book, Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success. If you want to access the specific citations (over 1500) and get more detail on what's presented here, grab yourself a copy.
Sleep is the final frontier in health because we are basically unconscious while we do it. This presents a fundamental problem, though: how do you take action to improve something when you are unconscious while doing it? It's an interesting thought, and what it boils down to is that sleep can be affected only indirectly through various strategies. In this article I will explore practically every strategy I've come across in my many battles with getting a good night's sleep, but remember that everyone is different and ultimately finding a solution is a Practice more than it is one supplement, gadget or intervention.
If you're struggling with getting a better night's sleep, or if you want help implementing these strategies, reach out on my coaching page and let's get in touch.
The following are some of the best supplements for encouraging sleep onset, sustained sleep, deep sleep and regularity. They all have minimal if any side effects and few interactions, but always do your research.
This ancient herbs helps to reduce cortisol, induce relaxation and even boost your thyroid if it’s running slower. Popular types are Sensoril or KSM-66 (based on the processing method and how much percentage of withanolides it yields) and should always be organic. I take 1000mg-1200mg per night (2 pills) with an additional 2 pills if needed an hour or two later or if I wake up and can’t go back to bed.
Some say that Sensoril is better for sleep as it has a higher withanolide count (10%), whereas KSM-66 (5%) is better for overall adaptogen and stress benefits. There are non-patented extraction methods as well, and they will list their milligram amount and withanolide content. This product by Toniq has both high withanolides and high milligrams. Some of this herb is fat soluble so try to have a little fat when taking it for best results.
2. Phosphatidylserine (PS)
This is a natural supplement that is proven to reduce cortisol and can also help support your brain. I take 400mg per night of this product, with additional pills if I am really wired. Some contend that Seriphos (a patented form of PS) is more effective, but for me it caused sleeplessness at 1 pill. They are both worth a try as everyone is different. Take note that PS is fat soluble, so having some fat with it may help absorption and utilization.
3. Optimal Health Products
I've trusted OHS for the better part of 15 years and have partnered with them to offer all of my podcast community a 10% off code. They are (in my opinion) one of the best supplement companies in the US and innovating all of the time.
To obtain your lifetime 10% off code and check out my Top Picks, visit my Nutrition Page.
There are 3 sleep related products I use. If you’ve followed me you know why I believe in this company, and all of their products are extremely high quality. They have been around for over 30 years, I know the founder personally (checkout podcast 196 with Doug Grant) and they are a clinical, research based brand. The products are: Opti REM Sleep, Essential Melatonin and Opti Nitric.
Opti REM Sleep is a formulation with herbs like valerian and the amino acid tryptophan to encourage natural melatonin and serotonin production. It is a light sedative, and may work for you or it may not. I’ve taken 3-4 pills an hour before bedtime with decent results.
Essential Melatonin is a high quality, highly bioavailable sublingual liquid melatonin supplement. Take 1-2 droppers an hour before bedtime if you can handle melatonin. For extensive research on this supplement and its safety, read Chapter 4.15 in the book.
Opti Nitric is a blend of amino acids that promote nitric oxide release. This dilates your blood vessels (a good thing), helps you relax, lowers your blood pressure and promotes growth hormone release throughout the night, making deep sleep more refreshing. Take 3 an hour before bedtime.
All of these minerals are important for maintaining relaxation and promoting sleep. Deficiencies in any can lead to restlessness or trouble sleeping. For calcium and magnesium, I use Albion amino acid chelates as they are the highest quality and most bioavailable. You have several options on where to get these. Potassium doesn’t need supplementation, and my recommendation is that if you are feeling on edge you try taking 100-200mg of magnesium (1-2 pills), 180-360mg of calcium (1-2 pills) and eating half of a banana or avocado, which is about 400mg of potassium. This will flood your body with these minerals and help you relax and unwind whether it is before bed or if you’ve woken up and can’t get back to sleep.
OPTION 2: Get magnesium from Blue Bonnet on Amazon here. There is no high quality chelated calcium available on Amazon as of the date of this article.
This is a simple amino acid from tea leaves that promotes relaxation, lower blood pressure and serotonin release. Suntheanine is a patented extraction method and is the most concentrated. You can take 200mg (1 pill) an hour before bedtime along with everything else for added effect. I have used this product and it is high quality.
One of my favorite supplements of all time for its non-existent toxicity, laundry list of benefits and extremely cheap price tag. Taurine is an amino acid and, in terms of sleep, it helps promote relaxation, lowering blood pressure and GABA in the brain. I take 2000mg-3000mg (2-3 pills) an hour before bedtime of this product.
7. Magnolia Bark Extract
A great herb with many benefits and few if any side effects. It has two components (honokiol and magnolol) that have been researched thoroughly for a variety of benefits besides sleep. It’s main benefit is that it can reduce cortisol, and you can get the bark extract, an extract that is concentrated in honokiol, magnolol or both, or a patented product called Relora that uses another useful herb, Phellodendron root, to reduce cortisol. I take 1-2 pills per night of this product, with an extra 1-2 if needed.
8. Noni Fruit Juice
Noni is an exotic fruit that has been used for hundreds of years as a remedy for a variety of ailments. You can buy the juice at a health food store, which is usually around $40 for a 20oz bottle. You can take 2-3oz before bedtime for relaxation and because it reduces excess dopamine (which can keep you up). When you purchase your juice make sure it is organic.
Bacopa is a great herb with many benefits, and it sort of works like L-theanine by having both calming and focusing abilities. I don't find it stimulating, and it has been used to treat insomnia as it has a regulatory (adaptogenic) effect on dopamine and serotonin, both of which can lead to insomnia or sleep problems if they are out of balance. My favorite brand is Toniq, although anything with 50% active ingredient (bacosides) is good. Bacopa may speed your stool up, so don't take more than 500mg per day.
10. NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine)
NAC is a simple antioxidant with a multitude of benefits, and one of them is to boost GABA (the relaxation neurotransmitter) levels in the brain. Taking 600mg-1200mg at nighttime may help with sleep in addition to everything else, although be mindful that NAC may also reduce the effectiveness of the enzyme DAO, which breaks histamine down. If you have a histamine intolerance, this may lead to the opposite effect at night as excess histamine can cause restlessness. NAC is relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, so just get something reputable on Amazon with no fillers.
11. Sleepy Time Tea
Not a real tea (yet), but a formulation of dried herbs that can help put the edge off your body and great for your wind-down routine. The herbs are:
St. John’s Wort (optional)
To make the tea I buy these ingredients organic off of Amazon (make sure they do not come from China) and then mix them by part in a big bowl. I generally put 5 tablespoons of Chamomile, 5 tablespoons of Hops, 4 tablespoons of Cowslip and Lavender and 2-3 tablespoons of Valerian. St John’s has a lot of interactions with different things, so it is an option.
Once you have your pile of stuff, grind it or smash it up to distribute everything evenly. Then take 2 tablespoons of the material and put it in a cup. Pour boiling water (about 400-500mL) over the cup and cover it, steeping for 10 minutes. Pour the tea into another cup through a filter, and sweeten with monk fruit extract or stevia and some drops of fresh organic lemon. Sip while hot and enjoy the taste of sleepy time J
Notes and Considerations
If you are taking cortisol reducing supplements, watch your energy in the morning. If you start to feel sluggish in the morning, or if afternoons get weaker, reduce the amount you are taking or watch the next few nights carefully. Too much cortisol reduction is not a good thing either and can bounce you into fatigue.
Some of these supplements deal with melatonin and serotonin. For some people, this can lead to diarrhea. There is not a lot of research on this, but there is a lot of research implicating both of these neurotransmitters in gut motility. If you have genetic issues processing these chemicals, taking things that increase their availability in your body may lead to loose stools, like L-Theanine, tryptophan and melatonin.
Too much phosphatidylserine may cause insomnia or restlessness, although I personally have not felt this at dosages of 800mg. Seriphos gave me insomnia, but the dosages is 1000mg per pill and that may make sense.
Ashwaghandha is generally safe, but it is an herb and may interact with various medications. At higher dosages it may also cause stomach upset so be mindful if you are taking repeat doses throughout the night.
Some relevant genes to consider that may impact your decisions in these areas are: SERT, 5HT1A (serotonin), COMT, MAO (dopamine) and GAD, GABR (GABA). Getting your sleep and mood reports from Self Decode can offer a lot of insight in this area.
Insomnia and sleep trouble are a familiar friend of mine, so if you need help implementing any of this stuff into your routine, have questions or are just stuck on where to begin, don’t hesitate to reach out through my coaching page and let's put your problems to rest
Gadgets, Therapies & More
The following are a few useful tools in your arsenal against sleep thieves. Use them to take your sleep to the next level and always keep an eye out for new advancements in these areas as they are constantly changing.
1. Sleep Monitor / Ring
This is a sleep monitor like the popular Ouraring which can give you details about wake ups, deep sleep, heart rate variability and many other statistics. It’s useful and can help bring your attention to what’s going on and how your habits influence your sleep.
2. Head Cooling Technology
Currently, Ebb Sleep has some technology that cools the head and allows the mind to slow down, reducing stress and promoting sleep. The technology is evolving and it may be worth a try if you find yourself to be hot at night and need extra support relaxing, meditating or just cooling off.
3. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Various devices exist that utilize this technology to invite different brainwave states and they have shown in some research to be effective. I used this device and, although it didn’t work for me personally, I would still recommend it or something similar.
4. BrainTap & Similar Devices
BrainTap is a technology that integrates binaural beats, lasers, music and guided meditation into a powerful relaxation system. It is very effective and backed by research.
5. Vibration Technology
Get your head out of the gutter :) Technology like the Apollo Neuro or Touchpoints have made their way into the market that stimulate relaxation through physical vibrations in key meridian points like your wrists. They are very effective, although the EMFs were too high for my taste.
6. Sleep Apps & Monitoring
There are several sleep apps and monitoring systems out there that can keep track of your breathing at night or the quality of your sleep. These are beside things like the Ouraring and they all have their uses. I have used this oximeter to keep track of my oxygen levels, and sleep apnea at-home tests are available at most holistic dentist’s offices or even on Amazon.
7. Smart Beds
Eight Sleep (and several other companies) are popularizing a new wave of sleeping technology aimed at controlling the temperature of your mattress through a water-based system. These are very effective, although expensive. If you can’t swing the full setup, just purchase the technology as it is way cheaper and you can adapt it to your own mattress. If you tend to sleep hot (or cold), this is an invaluable tool and can make a difference. It also comes with a smart alarm that uses temperature (instead of sound) to wake you up, which is much more gentle on your nervous system.
8. Bodywork, Breathwork, Tapping & Energy Work
Massage, acupuncture, cranialsacral therapy and myofacial release are all powerful tools to realign your body if pain and tension is robbing you of sleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda also have lots of other techniques like acupuncture and customized herbal remedies that can help. Learning to breathe through your diaphragm and do things like the box breath are valuable techniques for your wind-down routine. Tapping (like Emotional Freedom Technique) can be very effective for some people. Energy work like reiki, or my favorite The Emotion Code, can help you with the emotional and spiritual sleep thieves.
For full details on these innovative and powerful methods, grab yourself a copy of my ultimate hacking book, Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success.
9. Cushions, Props & Fancy Baths
There are countless props and structures to use for better alignment in sleep. I use this giant body pillow to prevent my arms getting numb from sleeping on my side, and there are many other similar props available so don’t settle for default if you are waking up in pain or having a hard time because of position. Lastly, if you have a bathtub, use a lavender Epsom bath to relax before bedtime as part of your wind-down routine.
Besides these interventions there are many other wonderful tools out there (isn't that amazing?) to take back control of your sleep, but in the end it is about "choreographing your Dance of Life" - putting together the unique routine of habits and beliefs, products and systems that support the results you want.
There are over 20 research based interventions in this article, and if you take action on just 5 it will be enough to shift the balance in a positive direction. Of course, everyone's story is different and unfortunately there are a multitude of sleep thieves out there (some of which we have touched on here) like neurotransmitter imbalance, nutritional deficiencies, hormone imbalances, temperature, environment, sound and internal alignment (like your nose and throat) which in the end paint the mosaic of what your sleep actually looks like.
It can be frustrating, but there is a way out and back to great sleep. If you've struggled in this area, check out Chapter 8 in my book for the full details on all of these things or don't hesitate to get in touch - I've been there and I've got your back.