There are many reasons why you may not be sleeping well, but a really common one is stress. Stress is a tough one because not only does it make calming down enough to prioritize sleep difficult, but long-term stress can start to impact other hormones which also affect sleep. So in this article, we’re sharing some recommendations for how to sleep better, particularly if stress is keeping you awake.
When you’re stressed, things can feel a little out of control and chaotic, but there are a surprising number of things you have control over when it comes to your habits around sleep. Here are a few simple lifestyle changes you can start to implement today. Start by picking two or three of these to start, then once you feel good about them, add in a couple more.
Sometimes lifestyle factors just aren’t enough to deal with stress related sleep issues. The right supplementation can help to address deficiencies that are connected to sleep issues and help you manage periods of high stress in the short term.
The first foundational supplement we usually recommend for stress and sleep is magnesium, specifically in the magnesium glycinate form, which is easier on digestion than some other forms and more readily absorbed. Magnesium increases GABA, which is an amino acid produced in the brain that acts as a calming neurotransmitter that encourages relaxation and sleep. Magnesium itself promotes the relaxation of your muscle and nervous system and is used up much more quickly during times of stress. Start with 200mg before bed and work up to 400mg if you are very stressed. You can get more magnesium in your diet through legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, leafy greens and whole grains.
If you constantly have a billion things running through your head (aka “brain chatter”), l-theanine might help. L-theanine is an amino acid derived from tea leaves that can help promote relaxation, reduce anxiety and improve sleep. L-theanine doesn’t cause drowsiness so you can take it during the day. It’s concentrated in matcha or green tea leaves as well, making them a great replacement for coffee.
As we mentioned, low GABA levels in the body can make it difficult to relax and can cause anxiety, chronic stress and insomnia. You can take supplemental GABA to sleep better and reduce anxiety. One animal study also found that combining GABA with l-theanine was more effective than either of them alone. Some foods that contain GABA or that may boost its production in the body include whole grains, beans (fava, lentils, soy), nuts and seeds, fish, citrus, tomatoes and potatoes (similar foods for magnesium).
Valerian root is a natural supplement commonly used to ease anxiety and insomnia. It’s not completely clear but researchers think it also works by increasing GABA levels in the brain. A systematic review of 16 eligible studies found that valerian may improve sleep quality without producing side effects. We have personally had beneficial results with using valerian in combination with lifestyle coaching in clients. Valerian is also thought to work by increasing GABA levels in the brain, though it’s unclear. One thing to note is that valerian can leave some people drowsy the next day, and it shouldn’t be taken if you’re going to be driving.
Like so many herbs and nutrients, it’s impossible to say that every single herb is right for every person. Unlike prescription medications, there often isn’t the same amount of data when it comes to herbs, but many of these natural remedies come with minimal side effects by comparison. In our experience, the right herbs, nutrients and lifestyle coaching can usually address sleep related sleep problems while equipping you with the tools to implement lasting change. It’s important to work with a practitioner who can help decide which supplements and doses are right for you.