After years and years of experimentation I’ve finally found two supplements that I take together at night that put me to sleep. I wake up refreshed, relaxed, and they haven’t caused any dependence. I also have a few other secret weapons in my arsenal if I need to bring out the “big guns.” Needless to say, I’ve been getting consistent sleep for a long time now.
Listen to the audio or click the video to learn a method I found that puts me to sleep every night.
0:16 – Sneak Peak at All of TJ’s Supplements
0:25 – First Two Supplements to Try
0:45 – What about 5-HTP?
1:13 – When You Wake Up In the Middle of Night
1:22 – Two Minerals to Help you Sleep
1:49 – What About Melatonin?
2:02 – Why You Need Darkness for These to Work
I suffered from insomnia for many years. To most people, saying “I haven’t been sleeping” usually triggers the response, “Go to bed earlier!” The average person gets sleepy and well, goes to sleep when they haven’t slept. But when you have depression and suffer from insomnia at the same time (which is amazingly common), it isn’t that easy.
Sometimes when I haven’t slept, it increases my insomnia! My insomnia creates more and more insomnia, making me depressed, until I get trapped in a cycle of low energy but excruciatingly cannot sleep for the life of me.
Combining the Two Supplements Together
I haven’t seen this combination recommended anywhere. What I personally do is take a Holy Basil (which also goes by the name Tulsi) with either a high quality 5-HTP or L-Tryptophan. The holy basil calms down the nervous system. This turns off my thoughts and lets me “wind-down.” Many people are able to fall asleep taking this little known herb “Tulsi” all by itself. It shuts off the “fight-or-flight” response when we have too much stress.
Several studies have shown that certain extractions of holy basil reduces corticosterone. A reduction in corticosterone reduces the amount of stress on the body. A lowered level of stress contributed to an improvement in mental clarity and mood. 1
When I take it, I don’t really “feel” anything. The only thing that happens is I become calmer and my thoughts don’t race as much. A lot of the battle in falling asleep is when my mind is racing. Taking Holy Basil curbs the racing mind and allows you to slowly fall asleep.
5-HTP or L-Tryptophan
5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin in the brain. Your brain uses leftover serotonin to produce melatonin. This means that if you don’t have any serotonin in your brain left over from the daytime, it probably will be hard to fall asleep. This is why when you get depressed you paradoxically also do not sleep even though your tired. Your body isn’t producing the right hormones. Click here to view a medical summary of studies done on 5-HTP for depression and anxiety.
Taking 5-HTP and Holy Basil was the trick that did it for me. When I take 5-HTP at night, it puts me in that deep, restful state where I wake up and feel like my body underwent some restoration unlike when I take over the counter medications or Ambien.
I recently ordered some L-Tryptophan to test out it in comparison to 5-HTP. L-Tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP in the brain. It is one step further away from the production of serotonin, but many people respond better to L-Tryptophan than 5-HTP. When I take L-Tryptophan, the sleep appears to be deeper, it takes a little longer for me to wake up in the morning, and it seems to last throughout the next day in comparison to 5-HTP. It is as if it is still working after I wake up. If I take it at night the first half of the following day I almost feel as if I am on an antidepressant. Actually, it almost makes me too calm.
I’d suggest 5-HTP first, then L-Tryptophan if you don’t respond. Combine it with Holy Basil and you have the recipe for a great night’s sleep. Make sure that you take L-Tryptophan or 5-HTP on a relatively empty stomach. If you eat other high protein foods the amino acids will compete with Tryptophan or 5-HTP and you won’t get the desired effect.
The great thing about this combination is not only does it knock you out and you feel well rested, if you forget to take it one night it isn’t the end of the world. The other day I simply didn’t feel like I needed it. My sleep wasn’t as restful, but I still slept for a good 7-8 hours. Yesterday I was extremely calm and ready for sleep, without taking anything, and slept like a baby! Try and take Ambien every night for a week and see if you can sleep without it! Not only that, but these supplements help people get off their antidepressants without going through harsh withdrawals.
What About Melatonin?
You may be wondering why I don’t just take melatonin if that is what those amino acids are converting into to anyways. I don’t take melatonin because it doesn’t work for me. I have taken it many, many times and it always seems to make me more depressed, not wake up feeling refreshed, or give me weird dreams where I keep waking up all night.
Some people respond well to melatonin, and I’d still suggest you try it, however I have seen several people become dependent on it. Melatonin seems like it works best for a few days to reset your circadian rhythm, such as when dealing with jet lag, and then you should stop taking it.
The great thing about supplements such as L-Tryptophan is your brain decides how much melatonin to produce. Actually, if you take L-Tryptophan your body can also use it to produce niacin, another relaxing B-Vitamin. So taking something like L-Tryptophan lets your brain use it to produce niacin, serotonin, and melatonin naturally and in the right quantities.
Experimentation is key. I prefer 5-HTP and L-Tryptophan because they calm me down, give me restful sleep, and give me a nice antidepressant effect when I wake up in the morning.
Take Them Together Only When Going to Sleep
Whenever you take something like 5-HTP, Holy Basil, Melatonin, etc. make sure you don’t take them until you are going to sleep or are turning the lights off. Your brain produces the hormones and chemicals that put you to sleep when there is an absence of light.
If you take them and sit up staring at your bright computer screen, they probably won’t work. As I’m winding down for the night, I take them with some water, lay down on my bed, and listen to some audio or turn on Alan Watts while I wind down in pure darkness. My room isn’t completely dark, so I put on an eye-mask and then earplugs when I know my body is about to go lights out.
I’ve got Holy Basil and 5-HTP/Tryptophan working in my body, my brain thinks it is completely dark, and after I’ve been seduced by the philosophy of Alan Watts the earplugs go in and I can’t hear anything. Lights out.
If You Wake Up in the Night or Still Can’t Sleep
Another tool I use is Valerian Root. I do not know if the capsules work, but I went ahead and got the liquid version. This is a great supplement to use if you need a little extra power to fall asleep or if you wake up in the middle of the night. When I was first getting my sleep in order, for some reason I would wake up every night about 4 hours after I had fallen asleep. I’d walk to the kitchen, put a little Valerian Root in water, go back to bed and fall asleep within a good 10 minutes.
Other nights when I have to go to bed early and I’m just not feeling it, I’ll throw a little Valerian Root in the water I use to gulp down the Holy Basil and 5-HTP/Tryptophan. I’ve also successfully used Valerian Root to curb my anxiety before events like job interviews. Make sure you don’t take it everyday, however, as some people can grow tolerant to its effects.
Calcium and Magnesium
If I really have to bring out the big guns, I take a couple calcium tablets with magnesium. In the past I have actually had success with beating my insomnia using these two alone, and some people say you should be taking these every night regardless of whether or not you have insomnia. They really help if you just need that extra little support, but I found for serious insomnia they just couldn’t knock me out.
I personally use Natural Calm Magnesium, the unflavored version. It seems to absorb into the body better than other forms of magnesium. If you choose to get a different brand, try to get anything that ends in “ate” such as magnesium citrate, carbonate, orotate, etc. Magnesium oxide doesn’t absorb into the body efficiently.
I’ve had success in the past with popping two Calcium pills and a spoonful of Magnesium mixed with water. Plus, they are essential minerals your body needs. Most Americans are deficient in magnesium, so if you haven’t tried it yet, order some high quality magnesium and test it out.
Inositol is sort of a b vitamin and sort of isn’t a b vitamin. I know, that sounds pretty confusing, and inositol is confusing.
It is involved in all your cells and vital to your liver functioning properly. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and OCD in clinical trials. It also helps with sleep.
It’s really safe to take with minimal side effects. For most people, an effective dose for insomnia is 2 grams right before bed.
I wrote an entire article and review for inositol here.
What About Dependency?
After two weeks of using this method, I haven’t come across any sort of issues with dependency. In fact, I’ve had the reverse effect. Now that my sleep cycle has been stabilized and have I have serotonin pumping through my brain, some nights I don’t take anything at all and sleep great. In the case that you find one supplement to stop working, you can always cycle it with another. If both 5-HTP and Tryptophan work for you, take 5-HTP for a week or two then switch over to Tryptophan for a couple weeks.
Again, I can tell on a day when I am tired enough that I will sleep through the night. On those days, I don’t take anything, and surprisingly, I still sleep! One of the main realizations I had was this helped reset my sleep cycle so that I started naturally becoming tired at night with or without the supplements. The side effect of them helping to defeat my depression carries over into the next day, resulting in a snowball effect of happiness and sleep. Remember those times when you had a snowball of depression and insomnia? This combination is the reverse.
Use This Method Now and Sleep Like a Rock!
First, try taking holy basil. Then 5-htp. Then Tryptophan if 5-HTP doesn’t work. Then incorporate Valerian, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night. Finally, throw in Magnesium/Calcium for a added firepower or to improve the quality of your sleep (or do this first, depending on your needs).
After you take it, darken the lights and go to bed. If you must use your computer, use an app like Black Light for Mac or Flux for both Mac and Windows. Many people love Flux. I use Black Light because I can’t make the screen a really dark red so when I’m searching YouTube for an Alan Watts video it doesn’t mess with the production of my night-time hormones.
Obviously, make sure you aren’t eating any sugary foods or caffeine close to bedtime, as this can surely disrupt your sleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night from being hungry, taking some Whey Protein, eating a scoop of Almond/Peanut Butter on a stick of celery, etc. before bed will keep you asleep.
Throw on an eye-mask (or darken your room if you can) pop in some earplugs (make sure you can still wake up to an alarm!) and get ready to sleep like a slab of granite.
Make sure you are following this simple chart:
You can buy sleep supplements through Amazon or a local health food store. Just make sure that what you are getting is high quality. I listed the ones I personally recommend below. These are affiliate links, which give me a few cents if you click them and decide to buy (4% of $15 is $0.60). However, I stand by these products and if that stops you from buying them, you can search for them in Amazon.com yourself or buy them locally and I won’t get a commission.
- Holy Basil – NOW Foods (5-Star Reviews) or Organic India (What I Used).
- 5-HTP – Jarrow Formulas Brand. I’ve personally used several brands – this one works.
- Valerian Extract – Herb Pharm. What I use, 5-star reviews.
- Calcium – Citrical 240 Count $20 or Citrical Slow Release $10.
- Magnesium – Natural Vitality Natural Calm or Solgar Magnesium Citrate.
- Inositol – Jarrow Formulas Inositol Powder
So in other words, I need to take a *$%#load of supplements to sleep?
I only had to take all of those supplements until I got my sleep cycle figured out. I was taking all of the above and I’d wake up once in the night and retook Valerian Root. After a while of getting consistent sleep and escaping the cycle, now I usually only take one holy basil, sometimes nothing at all.
That is the great thing about natural supplements. They don’t produce dependency like the strong sleeping medications out there.
What do I do if this doesn’t work?
The most important part is that you start to experiment to find out what works for you. Don’t stop until you finally start sleeping! Everyone should be able to sleep great. It took me a long time of trial-and-error and giving up before I finally found what I had to do, it might be a much shorter journey for yourself.
Dave Asprey over at Bulletproof Executive lists these as his guidelines to restful sleep:
- Eat a Bulletproof Diet.
- Hack your nervous system to manage stress.
- Upgrade your brain.
- Install F.lux on your computer (it’s free).
- Don’t exercise for at least 2 hours before bed.
- Avoid bright lights and LCD screens at least 1 hour before bed.
- Go to bed before 11:00 PM.
- Track coffee, green tea, and chocolate consumption to see if they effect your sleep (this is where a Zeo becomes a necessity).
- Cheat with biochemistry (use supplements).
- Sleep on an earthing mat.
- Run a current across your brain with a cerebral-electric stimulator, AKA, “electrosleep” machine.
If you aren’t ready to run an”electrosleep” machine current across your brain, you can also try other supplements such as GABA, Ornithine, or Chamomile tea. The key is to start experimenting and see what personally works for you. Does taking a hot shower before bed help you relax? Does a cold shower knock you out? Does exercising late in the day keep you awake? What about just Valerian Root and Magnesium? Can you read nonfiction before bed without your mind racing? Play around with it.
I ordered a Light Box from Amazon to start using in the morning now that winter has started. They are high powered lights that emit light at 10,000 lux, which sends the same signals to your brain that the sun does. You can see in the link here what my honest thoughts are about using the light lamp that I bought.
- Sembulingam K, Sembulingam P, Namasivayam A. Effect of Ocimum sanctum Linn on noise induced changes in plasma corticosterone level. Indian J Physiol
Pharmacol. 1997 Oct;41(4):429-30. ↩