Good quality sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night is vital for your health, recovery, mental wellbeing and physical performance.
It’s during this vital period at night when all your efforts in the gym, your diet and your supplement plan come together to deliver the results you are after.
The right amount and combination of nutrients consumed throughout the day and before bed feed your body to repair muscles after a muscle-busting workout in the gym or a hard training session on the road or track.
Your body also releases a cascade of powerful hormones overnight that support the muscle-building and repair process, and can also help you burn more fat.
For example, your body releases over 90% of daily growth hormone supply while you sleep, mostly during the first hour. And testosterone levels also rise at night.
With so much to gain from a good night’s sleep, it often pays to give the quality of your sleep a boost with healthy habits and a few natural sleep aids and enhancers.
READ MORE | Beneficial Sleep Is About Quantity And Quality
This powerful mineral combo of zinc, magnesium aspartate, and vitamin B6 (ZMA) is a trusted sleep enhancer.
Magnesium plays an important role in how GABA (Gamma Aminobutryic Acid) receptors function, and this neurotransmitter is primarily responsible for calming your central nervous system, relaxing you and preparing you for sleep.
Low magnesium levels can, therefore, negatively impact overall sleep quality, and magnesium deficiency is common among hard training athletes.
You can also supplement with GABA to promote more restful sleep and relaxation as this neurotransmitter supports the nervous system and natural hormone production in the body.
GABA also helps to balance out the effects of other stimulatory chemicals such as adrenalin and noradrenalin. If left unchecked, these chemicals can cause restlessness, irritability, and insomnia. Accordingly, low GABA levels are linked to irregular sleep patterns.
Consumed for its relaxant effects, this water-soluble amino acid is found in mushrooms and green tea.
Japanese researchers tested the effect of L-theanine by giving volunteers 200mg, which enhanced sleep quality and recovery.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
The roots of this non-toxic plant can help you sleep better as they are used as a sedative and sleeping aid.
The valerian extract typically found in natural sleep support supplements works by increasing GABA production, which helps regulate the action of nerve cells and has a calming effect. This ingredient may also increase the effects of other sleep aids.
Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata)
Passion flower is another natural ingredient that has calming effects through its link to GABA production.
Studies suggest it might help relieve insomnia and anxiety by boosting GABA levels in the brain, which lowers brain activity to potentially help you relax and sleep better.
Also know as Scutellaria Laterifolia, skullcap is a flower in the mint family that may boost mood and reduce anxiety. The dried leaves and stems are used as a herbal medication and in teas to treat anxiety, stress and insomnia, often in combination with other natural ingredients such as valerian.
Touted as an adaptogen, preliminary research suggests that ashwagandha may be an effective ingredient at fighting stress and supporting better sleep by helping people to fall asleep faster, spend more time asleep, and experience better sleep quality.
Lavender oil has a long history of traditional medicinal and religious uses. It aids sleep by putting your body in a relaxed parasympathetic state*, which calms the mind to improve your overall sleep quality. Many** who incorporate this essential oil report feeling more refreshed when they wake up in the morning.
Well known for its health benefits and as an effective remedy for helping people to doze off, this ingredient is most commonly found in herbal tea. It will relax your muscles and promote feelings of sleepiness.
It has been successfully used as a traditional remedy for anxiety, heartburn, nausea and insomnia for decades. Have a cup of chamomile tea 15-30 minutes before you go to sleep as a potential sleep aid.
*Investigation of the Parasympathetic Effects of Lavender Essential Oil in Humans. Haakon Nelson, Daniel Morin, Nicole Weissenfluh, Rachel Burkhart and Michael R. Korn* Department of Biology & Chemistry, Liberty University
**Lavender and the Nervous System. Peir Hossein Koulivand, Maryam Khaleghi Ghadiri and Ali Gorji. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.2013: 681304. Published online 2013 Mar 14. doi: 10.1155/2013/681304
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.