You can walk into any supermarket, chemist or health food shop and see a wall of supplements. You want something for sleep but where do you start? Well first of all, every brand out there will have their own formulation of a sleep supplement claiming that it is the best and don’t bother trying anything else. 

There are a number of well researched nutrients, herbs and patented plant and chemical extracts for quality NREM & REM sleep, onset of sleep, and sleep associated conditions. Supplementation should always be personalised and individual. What works for one person does not always work for another, despite the number of research papers done on that particular branded formulation. So before you start supplement shopping to improve your sleep, consider your associated symptoms. Maybe your poor sleep is caused by pain in certain muscles, or overthinking because you have had a stressful day, or urinary because you’re waking up regularly to use the bathroom, or that you are not feeling sleepy until a certain time. Consider your supplement dosage as well, biggest doesn’t always mean best. Some extracts are best taken in smaller doses more regularly and individual height and weight can help determine the ideal dosage.

Some nutritional supplements and their recommended dosage for you to consider:

Magnesium – One of the most popular ingredients in off the shelf sleep supplements. Magnesium functions in the body by promoting cellular energy production, inhibiting muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and improving immune response. It is used therapeutically for restless legs syndrome, muscle pain, chronic fatigue, and insomnia. Magnesium comes in a variety of compounds such as citrate, oxide, orotate, glycinate, chelate, sulfide and chloride. Each compounded formula has its own therapeutic properties so getting the right one for you is key. Generally speaking for sleep related conditions look for a magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate in a capsule, tablet or powder. Dosing can vary for sleep support from around 300mg – 800mg a day. 

Glycine – Glycine is an amino acid that performs a variety of biochemical functions in the brain. It plays a role in memory retrieval, regulating neurotransmitters, immune modulation and reducing inflammation. Glycine can improve sleep quality of the NREM sleep stage, clear headaches and decrease fatigue from poor sleep. Glycine is usually found in powdered form and the safe recommended dosing is 200mg/kg body weight/day. Do not exceed 30g a day.

Tryptophan – Tryptophan is another amino acid but this one is the precursor to two important hormones. Serotonin; which is our happy hormone and melatonin; our hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Tryptophan can be used clinically to treat insomnia, anxiety and stress. This is the ideal supplement for the over-thinking mind that won’t let you get to sleep, day-time fatigue and low mood. Dosage varies greatly but 300mg/day can see a great improvement in most people, especially when formulated with b vitamins. Caution with supplementation with this one as it can interfere with some medications including antidepressants and oral contraceptives.

Last but not least I can’t talk about nutritional supplementation without discussing melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone that is released as part of the circadian rhythm as the body signals that it is time to sleep. Melatonin release is highest in the evening and lowest in the morning and cycles on a day-to-day basis. Melatonin disruption is particularly problematic for people who work night shifts. Melatonin supplementation is popular with travellers to combat the effects of jet lag and allow them to maintain sleep on long flights. In Australia, melatonin is not available to buy off the shelf, it is only available via prescription in pharmacies. This melatonin is a controlled release formula called Circadin. If you are interested in melatonin supplementation please contact your general practitioner.

To find out more about supplements for sleep, or to get the right formulation for you, send me a message via email or my socials and remember not every issue can be fixed with a pill.



Let’s first discuss the sleep-wake cycle before we move into basic sleep health. Sleep can be broken down into stages and we cycle through each stage when we go to bed.  

Stage 1 is light sleep; this is when we can be easily woken, often referred to as the dozing off stage. Stage 2 is where our bodily functions begin to slow down, like our heart rate, breathing, and brain waves. In stage 2 our core body temperature also drops. The 3rd and 4th stages are extensions of each other. 

Stage 3 & 4 is the NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) stage where the body enters deep sleep and the muscles and tissue begin to recover and repair. The immune system is activated and on a cellular level begins to modulate immune defence against infecting pathogens. The NREM sleep stage is fundamental for brain growth and development, cognitive function, memory consolidation, creativity, problem solving and emotional regulation.

Stage 5 is REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) this is further deepening of the subconscious where we enter dream states. The brain is very active and continues processing information from stages 3 & 4 but in stage 5 the body is immobilized and the eyes rapidly move. 

Part of the sleep-wake cycle is circadian rhythm function. Circadian rhythm is a biological clock-like process controlled in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus part of the brain that sends messages to our body systems, telling us when it is time to sleep and time to wake up. Circadian rhythm changes are governed by multiple factors such as darkness, brightness, environment, genetics, hormones, and medications. An example of this is when our body temperature drops in the evening bringing on a feeling of tiredness and raises again in the morning to promote wakefulness. 

So with the sleep cycle explained here’s a few basic dietary and lifestyle interventions you can make to help support the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.

  • Listen to your body – if you are dozing off in the lounge chair it’s past your bedtime. If you are regularly needing to take naps during the day then you more than likely are not getting enough NREM and REM sleep. If you are waking up just before your alarm in the morning then you know you have had the right sleep duration. By listening to your own body signals you can determine the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine 6 hours before your bedtime – caffeine disrupts the time your circadian rhythm signals kick in and, like most stimulating drugs takes time to eliminate from the body. It can remain in the body from 3-5 hours after ingestion. You may find caffeine doesn’t effect your ability to get to sleep, but it can prevent the body from reaching the deep sleep stages
  • Avoid blue light from electronic devices and fluorescent lights – power down technology 1-2 hours before bed and opt for dim warm light from lamps. Signals from the optic nerve can dictate the timing of circadian rhythms. Blue light has been shown to stimulate wakefulness, while low warm light signals darkness and sleepiness. Exposure to electronic devices and blue light can interfere with the amount of time the body spends in NREM and REM sleep
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re having issues with your sleep – talk to someone about it, seek professional advice. Sleep health is important to so many modalities of allopathic and complementary medicine. Pain, anxiety, dental problems, respiratory conditions, poor nutrition, and work lifestyle can all be reasons behind a bad night’s sleep. There are so many solutions to a variety of sleep concerns whether it is tea, ear plugs, snoring aids, dental appliances, herbal tonics, nutritional supplements, or meditation, they are there for your use and I encourage you to speak up if you would like to know more.