In today's fast-paced world, sleep has become a precious commodity. Stress, anxiety, and the demands of modern life can all take a toll on our sleep quality. This is where nootropics come to the rescue!
Nootropics, known for their cognitive-enhancing properties, can also play a vital role in promoting better sleep. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best nootropics for sleep, plus everything you need to know about how they work and how to use them.
We’ll start with the basics:
Table of Contents
Poor sleep quality affects overall wellbeing, emotional health, and cognitive function.
Nootropics, or substances that interact with the brain to enhance neurotransmitter production, may help improve sleep.
Most nootropics are safe to take together and can be combined with your current sleep hygiene routine to improve sleep quantity and quality.
Nootropics and Sleep: The Basics
Sleep has deep-rooted connections to memory enhancement, which has been a subject of research for over a century. The profound effects of a good night's sleep on our cognitive functions and overall well-being cannot be overstated.
The human body's sleep mechanism is a complex, multi-stage process, and different nootropics help by interacting with this process in different ways. Understanding these stages can help identify nootropics that support healthy sleep.
Before we can really understand how nootropics may help improve sleep, we must first delve into the mechanisms of sleep. Then, we’ll explore the role of nootropics in optimizing sleep quality for improved cognitive performance.
Understanding Circadian Rhythm
The pineal gland in the brain secretes melatonin, a hormone that plays a significant role in regulating the body's internal clock and sleep-wake cycles.
Environmental cues, such as light and temperature, influence this natural process, which can be disrupted by factors like artificial light exposure, medical conditions, medications, stress, and dietary choices. Even traveling across time zones or working night shifts can affect the circadian rhythm.
That means that, in addition to using nootropics for sleep, you should also practice good sleep hygiene, like turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bed and relaxing in a cool, dark environment.
Adenosine, a neurotransmitter produced during the day as a by-product of energy generation, accumulates in the body, creating a natural drive for sleep. This homeostatic sleep drive builds up as you expend energy throughout the day, regulating sleep intensity based on your activity level. Stimulants like caffeine counteract adenosine's sleepiness effect.
However, more adenosine is created at night when you exert more energy during the day. That means that some nootropics may actually help you sleep by boosting performance and helping you burn more energy every day. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works!
The Four Sleep Stages
The two fundamental types of sleep are rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep, which is further divided into three stages. These stages correspond to specific brainwave patterns and neurotransmitter activity.
Stage 1 Non-REM Sleep: The transition from wakefulness to sleep, characterized by slowing heart rate, relaxed muscles, and shifts in brainwave patterns.
Stage 2 Non-REM Sleep: Marked by further relaxation, decreased alpha brainwave activity, and reduced body temperature and eye movement.
Stage 3 Non-REM Sleep: Deep sleep essential for feeling refreshed in the morning, featuring slow-wave sleep, minimal heart rate, and muscle relaxation to the point where waking can be challenging. Delta brainwave activity dominates.
- REM Sleep (Stage 4): Occurs about 90 minutes after falling asleep and is characterized by rapid eye movements, varying brainwave activity resembling wakefulness, increased breathing and heart rate, and paralysis of arm and leg muscles to prevent acting out dreams.
The sleep cycle typically involves cycling between stages 2, 3, and REM sleep throughout the night. Various nootropics may help to improve overall sleep quality, or they may have a more significant impact on a specific phase, such as REM sleep. Many people actually combine multiple nootropic supplements into a nootropic stack for sleep to help target sleep quality from all angles.
Why Nootropics for Sleep?
As you dive into the world of brain-boosting Nootropics, you'll quickly learn that they come in many shapes and sizes–including those used for sleep.
For instance, many are actually functional mushrooms that have been revered for their medicinal properties for centuries. Many of these mushrooms improve blood flow, balance hormone levels, and help the body relax to a state of rest. Other nootropic sleep supplements may manifest as adaptogens, which help the body adapt to stressors and maintain balance, keeping cortisol (which disrupts sleep) in check.
Some nootropic mushrooms, herbs, and other nootropic superfoods are particularly beneficial for improving sleep quality and latency directly. Others may help to target certain phases of sleep, like REM sleep, which is responsible for dreaming and is the deepest phase of sleep.
Bonus: Some nootropics may help you reach a state of Lucid dreaming, or having dreams where you have control. Pretty cool!
By incorporating a unique stack of nootropics, mushrooms, and adaptogens, you can reap the benefits of enhanced cognitive function during the day and improved sleep quality at night. These sleep enhancing nootropics below offer a holistic approach to well-being, addressing both mental and physical aspects of sleep.
Check them out:
Best Sleep-Enhancing Nootropics
Reishi, often referred to as the "Queen of Mushrooms," is known for its calming and stress-reducing effects. It contains bioactive compounds that promote relaxation and can be a game-changer for those struggling with anxiety-induced sleep disturbances.
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology revealed a significant increase in total sleep time and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep in subjects taking Reishi. Reishi also appeared to affect key brain regions, including the hypothalamus, responsible for regulating sleep/wake cycles, and the dorsal raphe nucleus, associated with learning and memory.
- Another study found that taking Reishi led to decreased sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), increased total sleeping time, extended non-REM sleep duration, and more light sleep. These findings suggest that Reishi extract helps individuals fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and experience more restful sleep.
Cordyceps is another functional mushroom that has gained recognition for its energy-boosting qualities. However, it can also contribute to better sleep by enhancing endurance and oxygen utilization during the day, leaving you more relaxed at night.
Most research evaluates Cordyceps’ ability to increase blood flow and enhance performance, such as for athletes, but there is also some evidence to help us understand the effect this enhanced energy output has on sleep cycles. For instance:
- One study found that Cordyceps actively increased NREM or non-rapid eye movement sleep and decreased REM or rapid eye movement sleep. Overall, subjects experienced suppressed waking time and increased overall sleep time.
Lion's Mane Mushroom
While Lion's Mane is renowned for its cognitive benefits, it indirectly supports sleep by reducing anxiety and improving mental clarity.
Plus, Lion’s Mane is primarily known for its ability to support brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key factor in neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons. In other words, Lion’s Mane provides powerful support for overall brain health, which can help to regulate imbalances in the circadian rhythm, hormone production, or neurotransmitter production.
- One study found that Lion’s Mane improved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders in obese patients, possibly due to its impact on pro-BDNF levels.
This nootropic herb also falls into the adaptogen category. It has been extensively studied for its ability to reduce stress and improve sleep quality. It can help lower cortisol levels, which are often elevated in individuals with sleep problems.
- One study compared the effects of Ashwagandha on sleep to a placebo and found that ashwagandha root extract was well tolerated and improved sleep quality and decreased the amount of time it took to fall asleep for patients with insomnia.
- Another study found that participants experienced a 72% increase in sleep quality after taking Ashwagandha regularly for a period of 6 weeks.
- Studies show that Ashwagandha acts on GABA receptors, which function as part of the body’s sleep-wake circuit.
- Other research suggests that sleep benefits are due to the triethylene glycol found in Ashwagandha, which may have a sedative-like effect in moderate doses.
- Ashwagadha has also been researched for its stress-reducing benefits that can help improve sleep.
Rhodiola is another adaptogen that may help increase energy during the day while also promoting better sleep at night. Its adaptogenic properties help the body cope with stress, which can interfere with sleep.
- Research has shown that rhodiola may help to support healthy serotonin levels in the brain, which may positively influence sleep patterns and promote restful sleep.
Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, has a long history of use in traditional medicine for stress relief. By reducing stress, it indirectly contributes to improved sleep patterns. It’s also been found to increase memory, concentration, and learning scores.
- One study found that adults experienced a 37% reduction in stress, 48% reduction in insomnia, and 3.4% increased sleep efficiency after taking low doses of holy basil daily for 8 weeks.
Melatonin, a well-known supplement, is often considered a nootropic substance. Research indicates that melatonin plays a pivotal role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm. This means it assists your brain in determining when it's time to initiate sleep at night. Its influence on sleep patterns is a widely recognized and beneficial aspect of melatonin.
In addition to supporting sleep, evidence suggests that melatonin may also have neuroprotective effects.
It’s important to note that although the standard dose of melatonin for an adult is 3 mg, that is more than most people actually need. Try taking only 1 mg to see if it helps you sleep. More may make you feel groggy when you wake up.
Magnesium is another nootropic with potential sleep-enhancing properties. It's been observed to alleviate common symptoms of insomnia, such as difficulty falling asleep and shortened sleep durations. Two specific types of magnesium, magnesium bisglycinate, which relaxes muscles, and magnesium threonate, which calms the nervous system, have demonstrated effectiveness in aiding sleep.
- Research shows that magnesium regulates the nervous system by influencing neurotransmitters, such as GABA, which promote relaxation and calmness.
- Evidence also shows that magnesium helps maintain your sleep-wake cycle by regulating melatonin, making it easier to achieve a good night's sleep.
- A review of three small studies found that magnesium improves melatonin production, helping those with insomnia fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
- One study indicates that magnesium supplementation can improve sleep quality, reduce insomnia, and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
L-Theanine is a nootropic with plentiful benefits, and it has the potential to extend sleep duration and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. This nootropic is recognized for its anxiety-reducing effects, setting the stage for a more restful night's sleep. It also counteracts the negative effects of caffeine (like anxiety and jitters) without preventing it from improving your concentration.
- One study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that participants who took 200mg of l-theanine before bed experienced improved sleep quality, including reduced sleep latency and increased overall sleep time.
- Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that l-theanine improved sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Research has also shown that l-theanine may be beneficial for reducing stress and anxiety, which can contribute to sleep issues. A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that l-theanine supplementation reduced stress and anxiety levels in participants, leading to improved sleep quality.
Apigenin, another notable nootropic, offers benefits in terms of sleep by reducing anxiety, but it helps to manage the effects of poor sleep in a different way. This compound, which is naturally found in chamomile, a well-known herbal remedy for relaxation and sleep, may help to improve daytime function in those who experience insomnia.
- One review found that apigenin has therapeutic potential for managing a wide range of illnesses. In particular, it noted that chamomile that is rich in apigenin had a minimal effect on subjects' sleep at night, but provided a modest improvement in cognitive and physical capabilities the next day.
5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, plays a role in enhancing mood and promoting feelings of well-being. In the context of sleep, it is used because serotonin, in turn, is the precursor to melatonin, a key regulator of the sleep cycle.
- Studies have shown that individuals taking 5-HTP fell asleep faster and experienced deeper sleep compared to those who took a placebo. The connection between 5-HTP and improved sleep quality is supported by scientific research.
How to Use Nootropics for Sleep
Now that you've discovered the power of the best sleep-enhancing nootropics, it's essential to understand how to incorporate them into your daily routine effectively. Here's a guide on how to use nootropics for sleep:
1. Consult a Healthcare Professional
2. Start Slowly
3. Consistency is Key
4. Monitor Your Progress
5. Combine with Good Sleep Hygiene
Nootropics can enhance sleep quality, but they work best when combined with good sleep hygiene practices. Maintain a regular sleep schedule, create a comfortable sleeping environment, and limit exposure to screens before bedtime.
6. Be Mindful of Interactions
7. Give It Time
8. Reassess Periodically
Periodically reevaluate your sleep and cognitive performance. If you're not achieving the desired results, you may need to adjust your nootropic choices or dosages.
Remember that nootropics are not a one-size-fits-all solution, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's crucial to find the right combination of sleep-enhancing nootropics that suits your unique needs. As you embark on this journey towards better sleep, always prioritize your overall health and well-being. A balanced lifestyle, including a focus on diet, exercise, and stress management, should complement your nootropic usage for the best results.
Determining Your Sleep Needs
Before you can really embark on a better-sleep journey, it's important that you understand the kind and amount of sleep you actually need.
Sleep requirements vary with age. School-age children and teenagers typically need around 9.5 hours of sleep, while adults require 7 to 9 hours per night. However, individual variations exist, and what's optimal for you depends on how you feel daily.
Studies have shown that adequate sleep has a substantial impact on overall happiness. Researchers discovered that the quality and quantity of sleep significantly affect emotional states and well-being. Improvements in sleep quality and quantity were even equivalent to the positive impact of cognitive therapy, emphasizing the crucial role of sleep in our lives.
You also need to make sure that you are getting balanced sleep–as in, you are experiencing all phases of sleep during your rest period. In general, you should spend around 25% of your sleep in the REM phase. A sleep tracker or fitness watch may help you determine how much time you spend in each phase of sleep so that you can target your sleep hygiene more effectively.
If you want to take full advantage of the "functional" side of functional mushrooms, consider a mushroom super-blend like our Lucid Coffee, Chai, or Matcha powders. It takes full advantage of the benefits of these superfood mushrooms by pairing Cordyceps, Maitake, Tremella, and Lion's Mane, plus powerful nootropics, like BCAA's, L-Theanine, Alpha-GPC, and more.
- “Extract of Ganoderma lucidum prolongs sleep time in rats” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22207209/
- “Extract of Ganoderma lucidum potentiates pentobarbital-induced sleep via a GABAergic mechanism” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17383716/
- “Cordycepin Increases Nonrapid Eye Movement Sleep via Adenosine Receptors in Rats” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655593/
- “Hericium erinaceus Improves Mood and Sleep Disorders in Patients Affected by Overweight or Obesity: Could Circulating Pro-BDNF and BDNF Be Potential Biomarkers?” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6500611/
- “Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) Root Extract in Insomnia and Anxiety: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Study” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31728244/
- “A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study to evaluate the effects of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract on sleep quality in healthy adults” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32540634/
- “Direct evidence for GABAergic activity of Withania somnifera on mammalian ionotropic GABAA and GABAρ receptors” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26068424/
- “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28207892/
- “Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) on Stress and the Stress- Related Neuropsychiatric Disorders Anxiety, Depression, and Insomnia” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34254920/
- “The Effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea L. Preparations in Alleviating Various Aspects of Life-Stress Symptoms and Stress-Induced Conditions—Encouraging Clinical Evidence” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34254920
- “The Neuroprotective Effects of Melatonin: Possible Role in the Pathophysiology of Neuropsychiatric Disease” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826722/
- “Magnesium Status and Stress: The Vicious Circle Concept Revisited” https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/12/3672
- “Metabolic and hormonal effects of melatonin and/or magnesium supplementation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial” https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12986-021-00586-9
- “Oral magnesium supplementation for insomnia in older adults: a Systematic Review & Meta-Analysis” https://bmccomplementmedtherapies.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-021-03297-z
- “Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial” https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0180067
- “In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25759004/
- “The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine®) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51980249_The_effects_of_L-theanine_SuntheanineR_on_objective_sleep_quality_in_boys_with_attention_deficit_hyperactivity_disorder_ADHD_A_randomized_double-blind_placebo-controlled_clinical_trial
- “The Effect of L-Theanine Incorporated in a Functional Food Product (Mango Sorbet) on Physiological Responses in Healthy Males: A Pilot Randomised Controlled Trial” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7142516/
- “The Therapeutic Potential of Apigenin” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6472148/
- “Treatment of insomnia: an alternative approach” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10869104/