What is tryptophan and how does it help sleep?
Tryptophan (formally known as L-tryptophan) is often blamed for causing unwanted drowsiness. This is usually in association with the myth that eating a lot of turkey at Christmas causes sleepiness. Whilst Turkey is a rich source of tryptophan, it’s much more likely that eating a very large meal is to blame for the sleepiness.
Now, in all seriousness, tryptophan is an excellent natural supplement - clinical trials have proven that it acts as a natural sedative to promotes better sleep, it decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and enhances positive moods the next day. More recently, it been shown to aid anxiety because it helps to produce naturally calming effects in the body.
We all know that a lack of sleep leaves us feeling terrible, but prolonged sleep deprivation has been connected with serious problems like depression, poor concentration and memory, obesity and many more.
Tryptophan helps because it’s a natural aid for better sleep and has been scientifically proven in clinical trials to reduce problems associated with both sleep apnea and insomnia, negating the need for chemical, sleep-inducing prescriptions with serious side effects.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on its benefits as a sleep aid, explaining how it works and will talk through how to combine it with other nutrients to naturally enhance its effectiveness, helping you to fall into a faster, deeper sleep, leaving you well rested with improved mood the next day.
How tryptophan works to improve mood and aid sleep
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in protein-rich foods like meats, dairy products, and nuts. It is responsible for regulating mood and helps the body to produce and balance hormones.
In your body, tryptophan is converted to serotonin. From serotonin, some of it is converted to melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and serotonin is known as the feel-good hormone.
Another reason that this amino acid is so effective at improving mood and aiding sleep is because 5HTP (5-hyrdoxytryptophan) is an important by-product of tryptophan. 5HTP works in the brain and central nervous system to enhance that ‘feel good’ feeling we mentioned earlier because it increases the production of serotonin.
That’s why supplementing with both tryptophan and 5HTP to aid sleep is so effective.
Why supplement with tryptophan?
In order to help l-tryptophan cross the blood-brain barrier and get the benefits related to serotonin, you need to eat carbs without any protein. The trouble with depending on protein-rich food sources of tryptophan is that it’s competing with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.
It doesn’t matter what carbohydrates you choose, but it is best to stick to vegetables, beans, and sweet potatoes. Alternately, you can just eat low protein foods that contain tryptophan like dark leafy greens, asparagus, and cauliflower.
The most potent benefits for treating sleep and anxiety disorders with L-tryptophan have been found when using supplements, rather than just food sources. That’s because very difficult to get the right levels to aid sleep and mood from diet alone, especially trying to combine tryptophan-rich foods with other foods to enable effective and faster absorption.
An easier option option is to supplement your intake using a natural sleep aid that includes tryptophan along with other sleep essential vitamins and nutrients. This will enhance both potency and effectiveness.
Furthermore, taking a supplement gives you a much better chance of it crossing the blood-brain barrier since it won’t be competing with other amino acids.
Tryptophan and 5HTP supplements for sleep and anxiety
There are a few reasons it’s better to take a natural supplement to help with sleep problems and anxiety. Only a small amount (around 1%) in foods with tryptophan can be converted to serotonin (to get the anti-anxiety benefit).
In the case of Neuro Rest, our natural sleep aid and anti-anxiety supplement, you get both L-tryptophan and 5-HTP from Griffonia seed extract which gives you a better chance at successfully creating serotonin and melatonin, essential for healthy sleep and good mood.
Tryptophan boosts melatonin, should I supplement with that too?
There are many reasons why we don’t recommend supplementing with melatonin. You can read more about that in our article "Melatonin Sleep Aid - Does It Work?".
For starters, it’s illegal to buy in the UK. In brief, melatonin supplements are prescribed to people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders to help them get their bodies into a sleep routine. Melatonin supplements are synthetic, not natural and should only ever be prescribed by a Doctor, as misuse can exacerbate sleep problems. Melatonin sleeping pills aren’t recommended for long-term use because they interfere with how we much melatonin the body produces on it’s own, can hinder metabolic functions and interfere with reproductive hormone levels.
How long does it take for tryptophan to work?
Tryptophan starts working almost as soon as your blood stream absorbs it. Generally speaking (remember, every body is different), it takes 20-30 minutes for your body to absorb tryptophan.
Once absorbed, the process of converting it to melatonin and serotonin is very quick. If you have more severe problems sleeping, it may take a few days of supplementing before you’re able to get to sleep easier but hang in there whilst your body adjusts.
Sleep better with tryptophan
Sleep and anxiety are nearly inseparable. If you have anxiety, you probably have trouble sleeping. The reverse is also true.
Tryptophan can go a long well in helping reduce anxiety and help you sleep better at the same time. It’s because tryptophan increases production of two neurotransmitters vital to sleep and anxiety: melatonin and serotonin, respectively.
Since tryptophan is an amino acid, the best place to start is by eating more protein. If you find you’re still having difficulty sleeping or are stressed, Neuro Rest is a natural sleep aid that contains both tryptophan and 5-HTP to help you sleep easier and manage stress.