As Director of Sport Science at Thorne, sleep is often the most overlooked aspect of recovery and wellness that I find when working with active individuals — from Olympians and NBA athletes to active amateurs and clinical patients managing illness or injury. When assessing clients’ overall nutrition and recovery plans, one “nutrient” stands out as lacking in almost all clients, what I call “Vitamin Zzz.” Even in clients that show some intention around their sleep habits, people often have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both.
We are not sleeping enough
More than 40% of Americans sleep less than the ideal amount, which makes sleep a hot topic among doctors and sports scientists. Seven of 10 adults experience so much daily stress that it disrupts their nightly sleep.
Getting enough sleep is not just an issue for the adult population; the American Academy of Sleep recommends teens ages 13-18 get 8-10 hours of sleep each night. However, these recommendations can be confounded based on current research that suggests teens – as well as shift workers, travelers, and night-time users of hand-held electronic devices – have a circadian rhythm that runs longer than 24 hours.
Light exposure from hand-held devices can push the normal sleep cycle back, which may cause the onset of nighttime sleepiness to delay. Although these individuals go to sleep much later, the hourly need for sleep remains the same. Unfortunately, social cues to wake up – such as school, work, or training – further shorten the sleep cycle.
This problem doesn’t only plague average Americans. In fact, up to 75% of student athletes report less than 8 hours of sleep, while two-thirds of athletes studied report they get worse than normal sleep the night before a competition, while an evaluation of professional hockey players shows that the number of players who report sleep disturbances will double during the season compared to off-season. Student-athletes who sleep less than eight hours a night are twice as likely to suffer an injury.
Across all groups, these findings are likely related to the negative impact of stress, alternating and inconsistent schedules, and physical overload paired with insufficient sleep.
Lack of sleep impedes high performance
Sleep deprivation leads to a decline in alertness, reaction time, and the ability to store memories. Sleep deprivation can also lead to a decrease in immune function and a reduction in the release of growth hormones, as well as the hormones leptin and adiponectin – both of which have roles in fat gain and loss.
Consistent lack of sleep is also associated with long-term health issues such as weight gain, stroke risk, and various chronic illnesses. On the other hand, additional research shows that consistently good sleep quality can have a significant positive impact on active performance.
Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review. Source: Penn State University
Consistent good sleep has been shown to have a direct impact on exercise ability:
- Well-rested tennis players showed a 4.2% increase in hitting accuracy.
- Well-rested basketball players increased free throw and 3-point shooting percentage by 9% each.
- Under-rested athletes lost 20 pounds off their maximum bench press weight after only four days of inadequate sleep.
- Perceived exhaustion increased 18% after 30 hours of sleep loss.
- Sleep loss led to an 11% increase in time to exhaustion.
Even if you are not a regular active athlete, these findings directly translate into whatever you decide to pursue in your daily life; higher quality sleep can play a direct role in making you sharper and more resilient in your career, in your role as a parent, or as a friend, etc. Prioritizing sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep cycle might be the slight difference that you need to make a necessary healthy lifestyle change, put in the extra hours for a promotion or take on a new challenge.
If you’ve been having trouble sleeping, try supplements instead of OTC sleep aids
Many Americans use prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids to help them fall asleep and stay asleep. Unfortunately, these options can have adverse side effects, including drowsiness and a “hangover” effect the following morning. Over-the-counter sleep aids are also not indicated for long-term use and their safety and efficacy has not been well-established. In older adults, OTC sleep aids have been shown on occasion to result in compromised cognitive function, blurred vision, daytime sedation, car crashes and other accidents.
To solve this, Thorne’s team of researchers and medical professionals have formulated products containing the evidence-backed ingredients that promote optimal sleep and recovery so that you don’t feel groggy the next day* We’ve partnered with Eight Sleep to create The Melatonin Pro Bundle that supports all stages of sleep.
How to reset your sleep schedule with the right supplements
1. Use melatonin to promote sleep onset 2 hours before bedtime
Melatonin, a hormone naturally produced in your body, is generally released as the sun goes down, flipping a switch in the body to initiate a change towards rest and recovery.
Thorne’s Melaton-3, which contains 3 mg of melatonin per capsule, helps maintain your normal sleep-wake cycle – otherwise known as your circadian rhythm.* For individuals who have difficulty sleeping or altered circadian rhythms – due to jet lag or night shift work – supplementation with melatonin can promote the resynchronization of this cycle.*
An adequate melatonin level is reported to be a decisive factor in cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and bone health. Research indicates melatonin exerts its sleep-promoting action by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, improving the ability to stay asleep, and improving the length of deep sleep.
Melatonin serves as a time cue to various organs, including the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain, which is the principal “controller” of circadian rhythm in the human body. In a study that administered melatonin to blinded subjects with a non-24 hour sleep-wake disorder (this is typically present in shift-workers, travelers, and late night users of electronics, as mentioned previously in the article), it was revealed that this intervention facilitated sleep-phase advances and trained natural melatonin and cortisol release to align with a more traditional 24-hour cycle. Therefore, Melatonin can effectively be used to reset your sleep cycle to a rhythm that functions well with your ideal lifestyle. If you are having a difficult time getting to sleep at a reasonable hour due to a delay in your circadian clock, melatonin is a researched and compelling solution to getting you back on track. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the best time to supplement with melatonin is 2 hours before your expected bedtime.
According to sleep expert Leslie Swanson, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, smaller doses of melatonin supplements (between 0.5 – 3 milligrams) produce similar levels to what the brain produces naturally. Once you go highly above this range, melatonin levels may rise to be 10 times the normal amount that the body produces on its own. This is where the negative side effects of melatonin occasionally come into play; according to the NIH, these can include headache, dizziness, nausea and sleepiness experienced the day after use. Swanson notes that a larger dose will not necessarily make the use of the supplement more effective.
2. Use magnesium to help you stay asleep
While many regular users of melatonin report falling asleep with ease, some people experience frequent and early waking as the body enters the second phase of sleep. Supporting this all-important second phase of sleep – what we like to call the bridge to deep sleep – is where our cultivated bundle of products truly shines.
Magnesium acts as a cofactor in more than 600 of the body’s enzymatic reactions – some of which are associated with sleep. An estimated 75% of American adults fail to achieve the recommended daily intake of magnesium, and studies suggest that strenuous exercise increases the need for magnesium by as much as 20%.
Magnesium relaxes smooth and skeletal muscle, supports normal blood flow, and is a cofactor with many enzymes necessary for ATP (energy) production.
In addition, magnesium binds to neurotransmitter receptors, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), that are responsible for slowing down nerve activity at night.
A study of older adults – in which half reported some form of difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep – showed that supplementation with magnesium had a significant positive impact on sleep time, sleep quality, and melatonin concentration.
Not all forms of magnesium are created equal, Thorne’s Magnesium CitraMate provides an easy-to-digest form of the mineral without GI side effects common with other forms of magnesium.
3. You can use supplements to help with muscle repair while you sleep
Thorne’s Recovery Pro product is a bundle within a bundle. Our research & development team set out to pair three nutrients together to optimize recovery and support quality sleep.* We have taken the all-important mineral magnesium and combined it with the neurotransmitter GABA and a quality whey protein source.
We mentioned GABA briefly in discussing magnesium’s role in binding to the receptors in the brain that harness GABA, but what does this neurotransmitter do, and why is it essential for sleep? Thorne’s PharmaGABA is a natural source of the calming neurotransmitter that has been shown to promote restful sleep.*
Research has shown that PharmaGABA intake 30 minutes before bedtime demonstrated several benefits. One study of GABA showed a significant decrease in the time it took to fall asleep.* Just as magnesium plays a role in supporting GABA’s function in the brain, GABA plays a synergistic role with whey protein in promoting muscle recovery and muscle mass gain. In a recent study, when PharmaGABA was combined with whey protein in non-athlete strength-trained participants, total body lean muscle mass increased significantly when compared to those taking just whey protein.
Even when not supported by GABA, whey protein consumed at night is known to promote muscle recovery and growth during the sleep phase.
When we sleep, the rate at which the body creates new protein – an essential part of recovery from training and competition – is normally quite low. Muscles can only grow and repair themselves when amino acids from protein are actively available in the blood. Protein consumed during the day or after a workout is typically no longer available by the time someone settles in for a night’s sleep. .
The standard assumption has been that low availability of amino acids – the building blocks of protein – at night is a rate-limiting factor in protein synthesis, which can have a negative impact on the body’s ability to properly repair and replenish. However, researchers showed that protein consumed by resistance-trained subjects 30 minutes before sleep could, in fact, be digested and absorbed, which increased the availability of amino acids throughout the sleep period. This increase in available amino acids supported the body’s ability to create new protein leading to an increase in strength output as well as muscle size. Whey protein’s impact is not limited to active people. When examining the impacts of diet on sleep quality in overweight and obese patients attempting to lose weight, researchers found that those consuming higher amounts of protein raked their sleep quality better than those individuals consuming less protein.* Interestingly, a small research study group also found that in 11 young active men, a pre-sleep whey based shake actually increased the rate of fat burn the following day. This is suggested to be the result of protein ingestion reducing the insulin response to meals that follow, which pushes the body to use more fat instead. Others have also shown that adding a protein supplement at bedtime does not affect appetite the following morning, so adding our product to your nightly routine is unlikely to compromise total calorie intake.
The key takeaway
Melatonin use, paired with other beneficial supplements, can help you get the most out of your sleep.* According to Johns Hopkins, you should use Melatonin for 1-2 weeks and if you see an improvement, you can take it nightly for 1-2 months. Remember, less is more, so try to take between 0.5 – 3 milligrams milligrams to start. After that, see if you’re able to get to sleep without it, and monitor your sleep quality through the Eight Sleep app.
By pairing the Melatonin Pro Bundle with the Pod, you can track the effect of these supplements on your sleep quality, and continuously optimize your intake and routines.
Thorne’s is to redefine what it means to be well and to continue to push the limits of human potential. Our belief is that good health can always be made better. Because no one should be limited by a definition of health that is anything less than optimal.
Finding out what your body needs is only half the solution. Giving it to you is the other half. We offer personal at-home tests to help understand your health and research-based supplements of the highest quality to unlock your full potential.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.