Alternative Medicine for Sleep, Part 1

Natural supplements can help protect you from a wide range of health issues. But keep in mind that high doses of some herbs and supplements can make you feel alert at bedtime and cause shallow sleep. Fortunately, there are other supplements that will help you get your well-needed shuteye.

Natural Sleep Enhancers
Which herbs and nutrients are effective for sleep? Below are three of the most commonly used supplements.

  • 5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan: This nutrient converts into serotonin, which is involved in relaxation. At night, serotonin is converted in the pineal gland to melatonin, the sleep hormone. 5-HTP is not consistent in its sleep effects, but sometimes a smaller amount than the usual 50 mg capsule can be effective. Take it on an empty stomach about an hour or two before bedtime. The capsule is easy to open, so you can use half or two-thirds of the contents. Larger amounts can cause nightmares.
  • Melatonin: A sleep hormone made by the pineal gland at night, melatonin is perhaps the most consistently effective natural supplement for sleep. However, at least a third of people who try it may not find it helpful. The dosage varies between a quarter of a milligram to 3 mg. Higher dosages can cause nightmares and morning grogginess. I suggest using a third or half of a mg at first, taken one to three hours before bedtime on an empty stomach. The sustained release form is a good option.
  • Tryptophan: This amino acid converts into 5-HTP, which then converts into serotonin and then into melatonin. Try taking 500 mg one to three hours before bedtime on an empty stomach. At least half of users notice a good sleep-inducing effect from tryptophan.

So which of these three supplements is best? It’s a matter of personal preference. It is difficult to predict which one will be best for you until you try them all. Even then, use your supplement of choice at most three nights a week. Tolerance and dependence may develop if used nightly. And please note that dosage and timing can vary significantly among different people.

[Ed. Note: Ray Sahelian, MD, the author of Mind Boosters, is internationally recognized as a moderate voice in the evaluation of natural supplements. Visit Dr. Sahelian’s website at, and read more of his articles about the supplements you should and shouldn’t be taking at ETR’s free natural health e-letter.]