If you like hitting the gym or learning about nutrition, you’ve probably heard of amino acids. You might know that they’re naturally produced by our bodies and found in lots of things we eat, but what exactly are they, and how can getting more of them help us sleep?
The quick explanation: amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins. Think of amino acids as bricks, and proteins as a house – when you pull a house apart, you’re left with lots of individual bricks.
The same thing happens when you eat protein. As your body digests protein, you’re left with different amino acids, which your body then uses to build new proteins that it uses for growth, repairing damaged tissue, and lots of other functions.
There are three types of amino acids:
- Essential amino acids, which can only be sourced from food
- Non-essential amino acids, which your body naturally produces
- Conditional amino acids, which are only essential during times of illness and stress
In this article, we’re going to explain how consuming more tryptophan, GABA and glycine can help boost the power of your sleep. Keep reading to find out how these three amino acids could make your nights longer and more restful.
The first amino acid we’re going to look at is called ‘tryptophan’. Tryptophan is used by your body to produce serotonin, the hormone that helps stabilise your mood, regulate the sleep-wake cycle, and is itself used to create melatonin.
Tryptophan is also one of the nine essential amino acids, which means you need to consume it in your diet.
There’s lots of science to back up the idea that consuming more tryptophan can help you enjoy longer, better sleeps. One study we found showed that eating tryptophan-enriched food can improve sleep efficiency, sleep time, and decrease nocturnal activity, like waking up in the middle of the night.
Another study confirmed those results, indicating that taking tryptophan can improve your sleep – it can even help people with insomnia get to sleep faster and enjoy longer periods of rest.
The bottom line: supplementing with tryptophan can improve all aspects of sleep in healthy people and people with sleep conditions.
Sources of Tryptophan
- Turkey and chicken
- Red meat
- Oral supplements
Our next amino acid is a little bit of an outlier. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) isn’t used by the body to build proteins, but it still has plenty of helpful effects on our health, making it a great amino acid to dose up on.
It’s also not normally called an amino acid (even though it technically is one), but we’re still including it here because of how beneficial it can be for our sleep.
We can get more GABA either by eating GABA-loaded foods, or by consuming more glutamate or glutamine, two other essential amino acids that are used by our bodies to create GABA.
It’s worth noting that in one study, 5% of participants suffered minor side effects, including gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches, and drowsiness. Is GABA still worth taking? In our unqualified opinion, absolutely, but if you’re concerned about possible side effects, consult a healthcare professional.
The bottom line: GABA improves sleep quality and effectiveness, with occasional minor side effects.
Sources of GABA
- Whole grains (especially brown rice)
- Beans and lentils
- Oral supplements
Glycine is actually a bit of a nutrient superstar. This non-essential amino acid can help prevent many different health conditions, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and it’s also useful for improving sleep and brain function.
One study we looked at found that taking just three grams of glycine before bed can significantly improve the effectiveness of sleep.
Another study showed that glycine supplementation could improve sleep satisfaction, sleep efficiency, and the difficulty of sleep onset. Daytime drowsiness – which is a common symptom of many sleep disorders – was also found to be improved.
We also investigated a third study, which backed up the findings of the first two. The best part? Glycine supplementation of up to 31 grams per day isn’t known to create any serious side effects, so you can dose up without feeling concerned.
The bottom line: Glycine supplementation can improve all aspects of your sleep without known side effects.
Sources of Glycine
- Poultry skin
- Bone broth
- Oral supplements
Amino acids have lots of great benefits for our health, including supporting longer, more restful sleep.
When it comes to promoting restful nights, tryptophan, GABA and glycine are our top three picks, but getting the right nutrients is essential for every aspect of our well being. If you follow a balanced diet, regularly exercise, and don’t have a sleep disorder, chances are that you’ll wake up each morning feeling energised and refreshed.