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  • Hartley


Updated: May 5

a bottle of tryptophan on concrete background with the text "tryptophan: sleep aid or nah? an insomniac's review"

On my mission to find a holy grail supplement I can reach for instead of sleeping pills, I’m testing everything (natural and legal) I can get my hands on.

In this series, “Sleep aid or nah?”...I’m giving you the unsponsored truth, always.

Tryptophan has been on my radar for a while.

For those who can’t tolerate melatonin, tryptophan is said to be a stellar alternative.

You’ll find this little essential amino acid in turkey, bananas, kiwi, oats and more–but there’s a reason why people with sleep issues pop it in pill form instead…

What’s the evidence that tryptophan helps with sleep?

Studies show it can decrease the time it takes to fall asleep, and there’s a fascinating tryptophan/mood connection that’s an area of ongoing research. Good news for us anxiety-prone girlies.

I’ll break it down in the least science-y way possible: it gets to work making brain-signaling chemicals that help us chill out.

For some people, melatonin triggers nightmares and morning grogginess. Taking tryptophan supplements can create a sort of short circuit around that: it turns into 5-HTP, which then turns into serotonin, and this is where the magic happens …transforms into melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep.

Studies have shown it to also lift the mood: its conversion to calming serotonin in the brain seems to help make other essential amino acids more available, which in turn helps regulate your mood and turn down the production of stress hormones.

How much tryptophan should you take for sleep?

When the optimal amount is taken, it has no effect on sleep architecture or alertness the next day. In studies, it took 1-2 grams of tryptophan to induce sleep.

At doses between 1 to 4 grams at bedtime, tryptophan has been used successfully for people with insomnia. Some research indicates that people with more severe forms of insomnia may need to take L-tryptophan for several nights before improvement in sleep is noticed.

So why not just get it from food instead of a pill? You can’t get that sleep-inducing amount needed from food–and it can compete with other amino acids in your meal. Meaning if you want it to reliably get past the brain blood barrier, you’re better off with taking supplements on an empty stomach.

Translation: no night snackies for me during this experiment :(

When should you take tryptophan for sleep?

It is recommended to take tryptophan 45 minutes before bedtime.

Does tryptophan have any negative side effects?

Although rare, tryptophan can cause some side effects such as drowsiness, stomach pain, vomiting, gastro issues, headache and blurry vision.

My experience with tryptophan

I started with 1 gram, figuring I’d work my way up the next few nights if I needed to. Because I have insomnia, I’m advised to take it for several nights if I want to see an improvement.

I popped a few white pills 30 minutes before bed and let me tell you after my reishi experience, the innocuous aftertaste was welcomed.

So did I slip away blissfully?

The verdict

NOPE. I took enough to tranquilize a small horse and every night, I lay awake until 3am and clocked at best 5.5 hours of sleep. So much for those ‘chill vibes’ I was hoping for.

My hunch is that for people with serious insomnia issues, this one is just way too mild.

So what supplements have you had any luck with? And fill me in: are melatonin dreams really a ‘thing’?

Disclaimer: Always discuss with your doctor before taking a supplement and research side effects. If you are on any psychiatric medications, consult a doctor before you take this. L-tryptophan supplements are possibly safe when taken for up to 3 weeks.

Psst. Did reishi do anything to help my insomnia? This mushroom might suprise you...


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