Q: I read chapter 8 of your book “The 24-Hour Pharmacist” and want to take 5-HTP to help me sleep. You suggest taking it at “dinner” and this has caused a disagreement in our household. I think “dinner” is the evening meal, but my wife says “dinner” is the noon meal where she grew up. What time should I take 5-HTP and also, what other supplements can help me sleep?
— R.M., Fort Lauderdale, Florida
A: Your question hit a nerve with me because I serve lunch around noon, but this is my husband Sam’s first meal (because he skips breakfast) so he refers to our lunch as “breakfast.” It’s very annoying so I empathize with you. When I say “dinner” I mean the evening meal, not lunch, breakfast, or brunch.
5-HTP causes drowsiness within an hour or two. But evening dosing isn’t right for everyone because 5-HTP creates energy before it causes drowsiness. Think of a roller coaster — you have to go uphill before you coast downward.
My advice is to try taking 5-HTP around dinnertime and if it keeps you awake during the wee hours (i.e. you get up to mow the lawn, vacuum, and pay bills) then come over to my house ;-). Seriously, if this happens to you, then take the supplement at tea time (or even earlier at lunch) and this should allow you to enjoy the temporary lift in energy before the lull to la la land.
Why does it do that? Because 5-HTP undergoes a chemical reaction in the body to form serotonin, a ‘happy’ brain chemical, and serotonin is stimulating. Think of those popular anti-depressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil that increase serotonin levels. Eventually, the serotonin breaks down to another chemical called melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone that your brain normally produces when night falls. The melatonin is what makes you fall asleep. How long is the roller coaster ride between 5-HTP and melatonin? It differs for everyone, but one thing’s for sure. Your body needs other nutrients to make these glorious changes, some of which include zinc, B5, B6, magnesium, methionine and others. Eating fruits and veggies and taking a high-quality multivitamin help you convert the 5-HTP to it’s important relatives.
Can 5-HTP replace Ambien, Lunesta or Sonata? No, I don’t think so, because those prescription drugs push levels of a chemical called GABA, not melatonin. A better substitute for these types of sleeping pills is GABA supplements. Please ask your doctor first. You can buy GABA at any health food store and online. At low dosages, GABA may relieve anxiety, panic attacks and irritability. In larger doses GABA induces sleep. I like GABA because it can improve memory and protect the brain. Besides, you can take it at midnight — as a snack — to help you stay asleep longer.
Did you know?
The herb uva ursi has been used to treat chronic urinary tract infections, cystitis and problems of the kidney.
Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. This information is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose your condition. Always consult your physician.