Health

Can’t Sleep? Blame These 7 Vitamins

Your restless nights may be down to your gut.

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You likely know that staying out of the sun depletes your vitamin D and you need calcium for strong bones, but the link between vitamin deficiency and poor sleep is usually overlooked. Vitamins and minerals aren't just the building blocks for your health. If you don't get enough of them, you might be tossing and turning all night.

"When it comes to restful, restorative sleep, certain nutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (low levels, but not enough to be considered an actual deficiency) can play a big role," Robin Foroutan, MS, RDN, a dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Bustle.

Caroline Leaf Ph.D., a neuroscientist and author of Eat and Think Yourself Smart, tells Bustle that being stressed or having other mental health issues can actually prevent the body from absorbing nutrients, which worsens mental health, and creates a vicious feedback loop.

"The mind drives the digestive system," Leaf says. "The effectiveness of how much nutrition we get from food is very much controlled by the state of mind that you’re in."

If you're not already seeing a therapist, sleep issues are a plenty good reason to seek one out. Leaf also recommends adding more whole foods to your meals to help break that gut-brain anxiety cycle. When it comes to mental health and sleep quality, taking vitamins is certainly not a cure-all. (Not to mention vitamins aren't regulated by the FDA.) It is easy to get too much of a certain vitamin, which can actually lead to worse sleep, and vitamins cannot cure underlying mental health conditions.

Here are seven vitamins you may be lacking if you have trouble sleeping, according to experts.

1
Vitamin D
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A deficiency in the sunshine vitamin affects roughly 41% of Americans, according to a study published in Nutrition Research in 2011. Vitamin D is mainly produced when your body is exposed to the sun, and is only found in a few foods like fish and some dairy products.

A meta-analysis of studies published in Nutrients in 2018 found that vitamin D deficiency is associated with sleep disorders, and low levels of vitamin D increase the risk of a sleep disorder. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D from food or sunlight, you can take a pill to get your daily dose.

2
Vitamin C
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Vitamin C isn't just good for fighting colds. It can help lower stress hormones, and fight symptoms of stress like sickness and poor sleep. A 2015 study published in Nigerian journal of physiological sciences found that vitamin C can reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), help stress tolerance, and fight sleep deprivation. Aside from eating oranges, you can boost your vitamin C levels by eating kale, broccoli, peppers, and strawberries.

3
Calcium
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"Low calcium intake is associated with difficulty falling asleep," Foroutan says. "This could be because calcium helps our brain use the amino acid tryptophan to make melatonin, our sleep hormone." A study published in 2015 in Journal Of Sleep Research found that people with normal levels of calcium found it easier to fall asleep than those with calcium deficiencies, possibly because calcium lowered their blood pressure. Calcium helps boost production of melatonin, which may be why foods high in calcium, like dairy, could actually make us sleepier.

4
Vitamin B12
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Vegans and vegetarians in particular have to watch their levels of B12, as it's mostly found in animal products. A vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to insomnia, depression, and sleep issues. A study published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2019 noted that it can also make you fatigued in the daytime. If you start to notice these symptoms after switching to a more plant-based diet, it may be worth taking a supplement.

5
Magnesium
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"Nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and certain amino acids are the building blocks of calming neurotransmitters that help our brains settle down, so not getting enough of those key nutrients can make it difficult to get really solid sleep," Foroutan tells Bustle. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to poor sleep as well as anxiety and depression (which can worsen insomnia), but it's very uncommon outside of hospitalized patients. Increasing levels of magnesium has been shown to lower your chances of falling asleep during the day, according to a 2018 study in Nutrients. Magnesium is often recommended to patients with anxiety or depression, but can be beneficial to anyone. You can find magnesium in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate.

6
Vitamin B6
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Vitamin B6, like calcium, helps the body converting tryptophan into serotonin, which regulates mood and melatonin levels. Vitamin B6 deficiency has been linked to poor sleep quality. Studies show that participants who took a Vitamin B6 supplement reported better sleep quality, and feeling more well-rested and refreshed when they woke up in the mornings. Vitamin B6 can be found in foods such as chickpeas, salmon, watermelon, and spinach.

7
Melatonin
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The body naturally produces melatonin, but factors like bright lights or even diet can reduce production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep at night. There are many ways to naturally boost levels of melatonin, like reducing your exposure to blue light, and eating melatonin-rich foods like goji berries, walnuts, or pineapple.

Experts cited:

Robin Foroutan MS RDN

Caroline Leaf Ph.D.

Studies cited:

Cao, Y., Zhen, S., Taylor, A. W., Appleton, S., Atlantis, E., & Shi, Z. (2018). Magnesium Intake and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up. Nutrients, 10(10), 1354. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101354

Cuciureanu, M.D., Vink, R. Magnesium and stress. In: Vink, R., Nechifor, M., editors.(2011) Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press.

Das, G., Gopalakrishnan, A., Faisal, M., & Mallick, B. N. (2008). Stimulatory role of calcium in rapid eye movement sleep deprivation-induced noradrenaline-mediated increase in Na-K-ATPase activity in rat brain. Neuroscience, 155(1), 76–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2008.04.069

Gao, Q., Kou, T., Zhuang, B., Ren, Y., Dong, X., & Wang, Q. (2018). The Association between Vitamin D Deficiency and Sleep Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 10(10), 1395. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101395

Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N., Gerstner, J. R., & Knutson, K. L. (2014). Sleep symptoms associated with intake of specific dietary nutrients. Journal of sleep research, 23(1), 22–34. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12084

Forrest, K. Y., & Stuhldreher, W. L. (2011). Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutrition research (New York, N.Y.), 31(1), 48–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001

Khawaja, I., Yingling, K., Bukamur, H., Abusnina, W. (2019) Vitamin b12 deficiency: a rare cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. J Clin Sleep Med. 5(9), 1365–1367.

Nakade, M., Akimitsu, O., Wada, K., Krejci, M., Noji, T., Taniwaki, N., Takeuchi, H., & Harada, T. (2012). Can breakfast tryptophan and vitamin B6 intake and morning exposure to sunlight promote morning-typology in young children aged 2 to 6 years?. Journal of physiological anthropology, 31(1), 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/1880-6805-31-11

Olayaki, L. A., Sulaiman, S. O., & Anoba, N. B. (2015). Vitamin C Prevents Sleep Deprivation-induced Elevation in Cortisol and Lipid Peroxidation in the Rat Plasma. Nigerian journal of physiological sciences : official publication of the Physiological Society of Nigeria, 30(1-2), 5–9.

Peuhkuri, K., Sihvola, N., & Korpela, R. (2012). Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food & nutrition research, 56, 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v56i0.17252