When it comes to nootropics , most people think of them as productivity enehancers , stimulants , or mood boosters, and that is also what people mostly focus on. But there is more to boosting productivity than just enhancing it by stimulating brain. Nutrition, working out and effective sleep is what is needed to have a very productive life in general. We will take a look at nootropics that can optimize relaxation and sleep part of the Biohacking cycle.
Can we „upgrade“ our sleep?
Yes, there is always a way we can sleep more efficiently, that means sleep shorter and have more restorative sleep. So basically there are 4 sleep stages. Stage 1 and 2 are considered to be light sleep, and stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep. And there is also a REM (rapid eye movement) phase. While all of these sleep phases are important, the most important ones are phases of deep sleep and REM phase.
How can we improve REM sleep, and sleep in general? First, we have to follow some basic rules. These rules are:
- Having steady sleep Schedule, falling asleep at similar time each night if possible
- Adjust the room for melatonin production, by making it completely dark.
3.Apply techniques for lowering stress at least an hour before sleep , like meditation, aromatherapy, light therapy etc. You can red more on stress-lowering techniques here.
4. Proper sleep temperature should be between 15 and 19 degrees.
Supplements for improving sleep and falling asleep faster
Ashwagandha is one of my most favourite adaptogenic herbs. It has been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine. I see the biggest benefit of ashwagandha in lowering cortisol levels, and therefore improving sleep quality as well. When it comes to neurotransmitters , ashwagandha helps brain to produce GABA and enhances brain serotonin. Ashwagandha contains triethylene glycol, which helps with falling asleep by reducing the NREM sleep onset latency. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6827862/
Valerian root is a plant native to Europe and Asia. It is used for centuries to relive stress and induce sleep. Valerian root has a mechanism of action similar to benzodiazephines. Valerian root normalizes levels of Gaba and Glutamate in the brain , if they are altered by chronic stress (https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/jsdm/journal-of-sleep-disorders-and-management-jsdm-3-016.php?jid=jsdm) It also has impact on adenosine receptors – these receptors are responsible for slowing down neural activity, and sleepiness. It activates serotonin receptors as well, and relax blood vessels.
L theanine is an amino acid extracted from green tea leaves. It is a very relaxing compound, but not too sedating. L theanine can be taken alongside caffeine for amplyfying the effects, but also 2-3 hours before bedtime. Doses before bedtime can be a bit higher, average dose is 250 -400 miligrams, but can be even high.You can read more about L-theanine here.
A well-known sleep aid, altough misused many times. Melatonin is a hormone produced in a human brain ,in a pineal gland. Melatonin modulates sleep patterns in both circadian and seasonal cycles. It is produced from L-tryptophan. When supplementing melatonin, you have to be careful. Many supplements on the market contain excessive amounts of melatonin in the formula. Generally doses between 0.3 to 5 milligrams are considered safe , but i tis always better to start with the lowest dosage. Melatonin should be the last resort when it comes to sleep aids.
5 HTP is a precursor to serotonin. It is an amino acid that body naturally produces. 5 HTP is created as a byproduct of L – tryptophan, an amino acid found in a variety of foods. Serotonin created by increased levels of 5-HTP when suplemented, may result in melatonin production at night. 5 htp also helps balance mood, and can eliminate anxiety. But there is a problem with 5 htp – by raising serotonin too much, it can deplete dopamine and norepinephrine levels. For balancing this out, it is important to supplement with L-tyrosine or Phenylalanine in the mornings – these are the precursors to dopamine and norepinephrine.
Magnesium is a common mineral that is often used as a supplement. It offers many benefits, which also include improved sleep quality. People that are deficient in magnesium can have a restless sleep, and be waking up during the night. Magnesium helps to regulate cortisol, and binds to GABA receptors. It also calms down the excitatory NMDA receptor. If you want high quality magnesium that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier , we recommend magnesium l-threonate.
Lemon balm s a herb, a member of the mint family. Lemon balm has a sedative properties. Lemon balm also raises levels of GABA in the brain. Lemon balm contains rosmarinic acid and ursolic acid that inhibits gamma aminobutyric acid transaminase activity, and results in increased GABA levels in the brain(https://restorativemedicine.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Melissa.1.pdf) . It is used as a tea and as an essential oil as well.
Lavender is also from mint family. It is mostly sold in a form of essential oil, but you can find a tea formula as well, and often is added to cosmetic products. Lavender can modulate NMDA receptors, and has antidepressant and anti-agitation abilities. It also binds to serotonin receptor. Lavender improves deep sleep, the third stage of nonREM sleep cycle.
Passionflower is the family of plants , which include around 500 different species. Passionflower raises the levels of GABA and serotonin in the brain, and acts as a mood enhancer. Many types of passionflower contain substances that act as MAO inhibitors- these inhibitors work as natural antidepressants.
Glycine is an amino acid that can be found in various foods. Glycine is stimulating GABA and inhibits nervous system. Glycine is also necessary for activation of NMDA receptor (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964432). Glycine increases serotonin as well, and it can put you into deep sleep quicker. Glycine dosage is 1-3 grams, and even higher dosages are considered safe and without any side effects.
L tryptophan is an essential amino acid commonly found in food. It is a building block for serotonin production. L tryptophan can increase sleepiness and total sleep time. Based on a study, L tryptophan have best results in patients with mild insomnia , and there are mixed results in patients with normal sleep habits (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6764927). Therefore, L-tryptophan can be beneficial , but not for everyone. It is good to experiment with dosage and start with low dose if you decide to try it.
The bark of magnolia tree contains a lot of compound that are lowering stress, inflammation and also can act
as sleep aids. Magnolia bark activates GABA, and it can activate Cannabinoid receptors as well (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027495/. Magnolia bark can increase both REM and nonREM sleep time.
St.John’s Wort is a plant that has been used for mental health conditions for hundreds of years, mostly as antidepressant. It also has some antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. St John’s Wort elevates serotonin in the brain and boosts mood. It also inhibits the uptake of dopamine, GABA and glutamate. There is a danger of combinig St.John’s Wort with SSRI’S because it can cause serotonin syndrome , so be aware of that.
Lions mane is a medicinal mushroom used for thousands of years. It is mostly known for stimulating the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a nerve growth factor (NGF). Lions mane improves mood and reduce depression. It is important to take Lions mane regularly to start feeling benefits. There is anecdotal evidence of users reporting better sleep quality and deeper sleep.
Chamomille is a herb used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Chamomille is mostly consumed in a form of tea, but there are also essential oils and capsules available. Chamomille modulates neurotransmitters GABA, dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. Chamomille is also anti –inflammatory.
THE ONES we do not recommend
Phenibut is a synthetic chemical similar to GABA, synthesized in Soviet Union. It has strong anti-anxiety effects and helps with sleep as well. It works as a GABA analog and can cross the blood brain barrier. I tis very effective, but risks ouweigh the benefits. Penibut is highly addictive and overdose can be deadly. When used too often (in some cases even couple of times per week) you can become addicted. So we strongly recommend to not take this supplement.
There are also GABA supplements on the market, and they are very popular. But its efficiency is doubtful. Mostly because i tis difficult for Gaba from GABA supplement to cross the blood brain barrier. This barrier controls everything that is trying to get inside ur brain and is very succesful with it. There are claims that even though GABA can not cross the blood brain barrier, it can still impact the brain by another pathway. Gaba can interact with another body system, Enteric nervous system, which is a network that controls gastrointestinal system (https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/gaba-supplements-glorious-gimmicky-or-just-garbage) . But there is not enough research on efficiency of these supplements and even anecdotal reports are very mixed so we would not recommend this one – maybe only as a last resort.
DISCLAIMER: The information included in this article is intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Prior to buying anything, check that it is compliant where you live with your current government laws.