As a caveat to this brief article, I want to make clear that supplements should never be your first line of defense. When it comes to sleep, your main defenses should surround important habits, such as limiting blue light in the evening, exercising earlier in the day, and many other key tactics which I cover in this in-depth article on how to master your sleep (without letting it control your life).
That said, if you’re doing a lot of the right things (or doing what you can given your schedule) but still need a boost, supplements can provide that boost. But first, let’s cover the supplements you should actually avoid.
Avoid Exogenous Melatonin
Naturally, if you’re struggling to get to sleep, you’ll want to grab a melatonin supplement. However, in the long-term this is a problem. You see, when you take melatonin, you signal to your body that you don’t need to produce melatonin naturally at that time. If you take it regularly, you’ll suppress your body’s melatonin secretion, right when you actually want to do the opposite.
There are times with melatonin is helpful to supplement with. One such example is traveling across time zones. If you take melatonin when it’s night time at your new location it can help you adjust, but in general you’ll want to avoid it.
Avoid Caffeine Later in the Day
You probably know this, but you probably don’t realize that caffeine taken in the afternoon can affect your sleep quality without you even realizing it. Caffeine’s half-life is five hours on average, which means if you have 200mg of caffeine (a large cup of coffee) at 3 pm, that means at 8 pm you’ll still have 100mg of caffeine in your blood. So, you actually need to avoid caffeine earlier than you think.
While it can vary from individual to individual, I think noon is general a good practice. Check out this article for more specific thoughts on caffeine consumption.
Add Magnesium Before Bed
The research on magnesium is clear: it’s essential for sleep and recovery. Additionally, it’s really hard to get magnesium through food. That makes it one of the few supplements I recommend to nearly everyone. The problem with most magnesium supplements though, is that they come in forms that are also laxatives. Not only will this make you run for the toilet, but it will also make the magnesium go right through you, defeating the entire point of magnesium supplementation.
Yes, there are so more bioavailable forms you can supplement with orally, but another option is get magnesium that you can rub on your skin and absorb that way. Personally, I like Ease Magnesium.
Another choice, which I guess isn’t really a supplement in the strictest sense, is to take an epsom salt bath. Epsom salt is chemically called magnesium sulfate, and by soaking in it you can increase your serum magnesium levels. Not to mention all the other benefits of taking a relaxing bath that can help you unwind.
Get Your Dose of Potassium
Potassium, like magnesium, we also know is so essential for so many jobs, including sleep. Unlike magnesium though, a supplement might not be the best route of action here because you can get potassium in ample doses and bioavailable forms through many foods. For example, I make a point to have a banana in my smoothie almost every day. But tons of fruits and veggies from grapefruit to broccoli provide a nice dose.
Potassium is a great reminder that even though in theory it would make a good supplement, the best choice is to just have a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.