Sleep disorders lead to a vicious cycle of weariness, brooding, exhaustion, fatigue, and back to insomnia. The key to a restful sleep is a healthy diet, which directly affects the hormones that regulate our mood. It is in this context that various amino acids play an important role.
Amino acids support healthy sleep
Glutamine is not to be confused with glutamate, a flavor enhancer. Glutamine is an amino acid that is generally known only as an energy supplier, but it has calming properties as well.
Glutamine is involved in the synthesis of many hormones that determine our mood and cognitive abilities. Intense mental processes and lack of sleep are related to low blood levels of glutamine.
In one study, participants reported improved cognitive capabilities and the ability to fall asleep faster following supplementation with glutamine 1.
Glutamine is required for cognitive processes, just as various B vitamins are. The combination of glutamine with niacin also has detoxing effects. The results of a study show that taking glutamine in combination with niacin improved cognitive function as well as memory (long-term and short-term) 2.
GABA is the acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid. This non-essential amino acid plays an important calming role in the nervous system 3.
GABA is a so-called inhibiting neurotransmitter. In the brain a delicate balance between stimulating (excitatory) and inhibitory neurotransmitters must be maintained. Any imbalance, for example caused by a deficiency in GABA, leads to increased anxiety, stress, and insomnia 4.
Twenty years ago, scientists had not yet determined if GABA can cross the blood-brain barrier. In the meantime, research has shown that GABA often has positive effects on stress related symptoms like sleep disorders or anxiety attacks 5.
Recommended dosage for GABA is between 300 mg and 750 mg. For epileptics, it may be as high as 2,500 mg 6. The dose should be taken about one hour prior to going to bed. Combining GABA with valerian root increases the sensitivity of GABA receptors. B vitamins produce similar effects. GABA has no known side effects.
L-carnitine evidences positive effects on concentration and cognitive functions as it stimulates cell regeneration in the nervous system. It is one of the few antioxidants able to cross the blood-brain barrier and can thus protect nerves.
It has been observed that people suffering from burnout syndrome have low levels of B vitamins as well as a low L-carnitine level 7.
L-tryptophan is an essential, proteinogenic amino acid. Tryptophan, like other tissue-building amino acids, also plays an important role as a building block of neurotransmitters and hormones.
Its most well-known and important function: tryptophan is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone melatonin. Both are involved in regulating sleep. A deficiency in serotonin is generally recognized as the main cause of insomnia 8.
The body contains only approx. 10 mg serotonin. The vast majority, 9.5 mg, can be found in the intestines, where it is synthesized. The serotonin involved in mood regulation in the brain must be produced in the brain as it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
Deficits in tryptophan lead to poor sleep, decreased alertness, and negatively affect cognitive functions during the day. In one research study, participants who received supplemental tryptophan reported being able to fall asleep faster and getting better quality and quantity of sleep 9.
To make tryptophan available to the body, it is important that it is taken in free-from, not bound to proteins. Ingesting tryptophan as part of proteins (for example, meat) does not elevate levels of L-tryptophan in the blood.
This is because the various amino acids in meat protein inhibit one another. Only a few foods, like Parmesan, contain a sufficiently high amount of tryptophan.
If your goal is to influence levels of serotonin through the intake of tryptophan, changing your diet has only limited effect 10. Combining tryptophan with B vitamins and other amino acids that help regulate sleep and mood can be helpful.
B vitamins support nerve health. They are involved in energy generation and cognitive functions.
Deficiencies in B vitamins (niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) lead to fatigue and eventually also to sleep disorders.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has confirmed that folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 help to reduce tiredness and fatigue. In addition to the B vitamins, vitamin C also has these effects.
Minerals / Trace Elements
In orthomolecular medicine, the mineral magnesium is also recommended in addition to high doses of vitamin B6 (10 mg to 50 mg, available as a nutritional supplement in these dosages) and vitamin B12 (500 µg to 2,000 µg, only available as a medication).
Normal doses of magnesium, often recommended for athletes, should be taken approx. one hour before going to bed11.
Iron deficits are especially common among women. Low levels of iron can lead to increased tiredness and fatigue. Using the strictest scientific criteria for research, the EFSA has confirmed that iron helps reduce fatigue.
- Young LS, Bye R, Marc S, Ziegler TR, Jacobs DO, Wilmore DW. Patients Receiving Glutamine-Supplemented Intravenous Feedings Report an Improvement in Mood. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition. 1993. 17(5):422-427 ↩
- Arwert LI, Deijen JB, Drent ML. Effects of an oral mixture containing glycine, glutamine and niacin on memory, GH and IGF-I secretion in middle-aged and elderly subjects. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2013. 6(5):269-275 ↩
- Abdou AM, Higashiguchi S, Horie K, Kim M, Hatta H, Yokogoshi H. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. Biofactors. 2006. 26(3):201-8 ↩
- Kalueff A, Nutt DJ. Role of GABA in memory and anxiety. Depression and Anxiety. 1996/1997. 4(3):100-110 ↩
- Jia F, Yue M, Chandra D, Keramidas A, Goldstein PA, Homanics GE, Harrison NL. Taurine is a potent activator of extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptors in the thalamus. Journal of Neuroscience. 2008. 28(1):106-115 ↩
- Gamma-aminobutyric (GABA). Natural Standard. 2013 ↩
- Evangeliou A, Vlassopoulos D. Carnitine Metabolism and Deficit- When Supplementation is Necessary? Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology. 2003. 4(3):211 ↩
- Peuhkuri K, Sihvola N, Korpela R. Diet promotes sleep duration and quality. Nutrition Research. 2012. 32(5):309-319 ↩
- Shell W, Bullias D, Charuvastra E, May LA, Silver DS. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep. American Journal of Therapeutics. 2010. 17(2):133-9 ↩
- Silber BY, Schmitt JAJ. Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews. 2010. 34(3):387-407 ↩
- Gröber U. Micronutrients. 2011. 530 ↩