Melatonin is the natural hormone of sleep and circadian rhythms, its release activated with darkness and inhibited with light. Sleeping in complete darkness, with no exposure to a bathroom light when going to the bathroom, for instance, is a natural way to increase melatonin release. It is not a sleeping pill. It is a sleep hormone, simply making your body more receptive to sleep.
Melatonin supplementation can hasten the onset of sleep, make sleep deeper, and discourage early awakening. It also has substantial effects in reducing blood pressure, especially when taken as a sustained-release preparation. Melatonin is not habit forming and has been proven safe, even with extended use.
People who have tried melatonin often declare that it doesn’t work, but a little finesse in its use can go a long way in obtaining the desired effect. If difficulty falling asleep is the problem, take it approximately 2 or 3 hours before the desired bedtime. If staying asleep is your struggle, then taking it right at bedtime may work better to discourage early awakening. Consider taking a time-release version for sustained effect. It also helps to experiment with different doses. While some people have wonderfully restful sleep with just 0.5 mg, others require 3, 5, 10, or even 20 mg to obtain the same effect.
Tryptophan or 5-Hydroxytryptophan Supplements
Serotonin levels in the brain can be increased by taking tryptophan or its closely related 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).
Brain serotonin levels can drop with weight loss, resulting in food cravings, low mood, irritability, anger, and argumentativeness. While the conventional medical answer is to prescribe brain serotonin– increasing antidepressant drugs, you can increase serotonin levels a natural way and reduce the negative emotions and carbohydrate cravings. Some people like the effects of these supplements so much, especially the favorable effects on mood, that they continue taking them long after the wheat and grain withdrawal is nothing more than a bad memory.
Tryptophan can be taken during the day, e.g., 500 to 1,000 mg three times per day. Alternatively, it can be taken at a higher dose once per day at bedtime to encourage sleep at a dose of 1,000 to 3,000 mg. Supplementation increases brain serotonin and melatonin, which benefits sleep at night and mood during the day. Tryptophan can be taken by itself or in combination with melatonin and tends to not leave any residual effects upon awakening. Tryptophan is most effective taken on an empty stomach.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) In addition to its helpfulness in reducing cravings during grain withdrawal, 5-hydroxytryptophan can also be used to enhance sleep. Supplementation has been shown to extend deep REM sleep, suggesting that sleep is deeper and more restorative with its use. As with melatonin, dose needs vary; most people take between 25 and 200 mg at bedtime.
Note that 5-HTP should not be used in combination with antidepressant medications, especially anyone taking a prescription antidepressant or carbidopa for Parkinson’s disease. This may cause an excess in serotonin levels. 5-HTP however, be used in combination with melatonin.
Yours in grainless health,
Dr. William Davis, MD