Sleep is essential for brainpower. But brain boosters are not really sleep aids, with only a few effective, research-backed nootropics for sleep on the market.
- Stacking the right nootropics with natural sleep aids is your best bet for enhancing both brain recovery and overall cognitive performance.
This guide covers how combining the right nootropics with a quality natural sleep supplement may unlock the best possible benefits for daytime brainpower.
Which Brain Functions Affect Sleep?
Essentially, sleep is controlled by two general functions: our sleep drive and our circadian rhythm. Our sleep drive is the mechanism that keeps track of how much quality sleep we've gotten. It lets us know when we're running low and helps us stay asleep when we need it.
Our circadian rhythm, however, controls the when. It tells people when to feel sleepy and when to feel awake in response to light exposure throughout each day and night.
Melatonin Production and the Circadian Rhythm
Then, the main brain chemical associated with sleepiness and wakefulness is called melatonin. Essentially, our eyes translate our sleep schedule into melatonin production based on lightness and darkness. This is how our circadian rhythm regulates when we sleep and wake up.
Melatonin production in our brains makes us sleepy and the lack of melatonin production makes us wakeful. This cycle is part of the circadian rhythm.
Technically, when the retinas in our eyes are exposed to light or darkness, they tell our brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (located in the hypothalamus).<1> Then, the suprachiasmatic nucleus relays the message to the areas of the brain that regulate our hormones and body temperature.
The messages navigate from the suprachiasmatic nucleus through the spinal cord and up to the pineal gland. The pineal gland, then, is where melatonin production, or the lack thereof, takes places.<2>
So, when it's light outside, our retinas send messages to stop our pineal gland from creating melatonin. When it's dark, our retinas tell our pineal gland to create it, which is what induces a sleepy state.
Some nootropics for sleep support serotonin, which raises melatonin.
Melatonin is derived from serotonin, which comes from the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is first soaked up from the bloodstream into the pineal gland to create melatonin and other chemicals.
Overall, melatonin is the main chemical involved in a healthy circadian rhythm. Its production, or the lack of it, is primarily affected by the level of light our retinas are exposed to each day. It sounds pretty simple, right? But there's a little more to quality sleep than just melatonin.
Other Brain Functions Involved With Sleep
The basal forebrain and midbrain are also somewhat involved with sleep. The basal forebrain helps induce sleepiness. For example, it produces the chemical adenosine, which supports our ability to sleep.
The midbrain, however, supports the production of chemicals associated with wakefulness and arousal to keep us energized. Thus, suppressing it might be helpful to induce quality sleep.
There are various other chemicals involved in this process besides melatonin and adenosine. Here's a little bit about how each one makes us feel relaxed or awake.
GABA and Glutamate
GABA can down-regulate neurons involved in arousal, ultimately helping us sleep. It blocks the activation of neurons in the posterior hypothalamus (PH).<3> Glutamate, then, contributes to the regulation of sleep duration and REM sleep, according to research. It helps initiate sleep and wakefulness.
The chemical acetylcholine is produced in the forebrain, which is important for the initiation of REM sleep. Our acetylcholine levels are known to increase during REM sleep. In addition, REM sleep is maintained in the acetylcholine pathways of the brain.
Norepinephrine production can deprive us of REM sleep, according to a study. Thus, nootropics that block the production of norepinephrine may help increase REM sleep.
Dopamine is the motivational, feel-good chemical involved in brain rewards and wakefulness. This chemical promotes wakefulness and "fights against the tendency of adenosine to promote sleep."<4>
The precursor to melatonin, serotonin helps maintain arousal and inhibit REM sleep.<5> Thus, optimizing it may help support your journey into deeper REM sleep if you're having trouble getting there.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that helps our brains and bodies stay chemically balanced. Excess cortisol or not enough cortisol can disrupt our circadian rhythm and sleep stages.
What are the Stages of Sleep?
There are four different stages of sleep humans should experience in a cycle throughout the night. The first three are generally categorized as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages. The last is rapid eye movement (REM).
Here's what each stage consists of:
Stage one is the period when we go from being awake to being asleep. It's when our brain and body start to slow down from the day. Heart rate and breathing also begin to slow down and muscles start to relax.
The second stage of sleep is a little heavier than stage one but not as heavy as stage three. Our eyes stop moving, our body temperature rises and our we relax even more. We also experience sleep spindles, which are sudden increases in frequency that happen as we drift into stage two.
This sleep stage helps us reenergize for the next day. It's when the brain and body are most relaxed. The brain starts producing slow delta waves to calm the brain. It may be very hard to wake someone up during stage 3 NREM sleep.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep
The rapid eye movement stage is the stage when the brain becomes activated during sleep. We tend to dream the most while in REM sleep because it's the deepest stage.
During REM, the eyes start to move rapidly underneath our eyelids. In addition, our heart begins beating fast and our blood pressure goes up. Yet our bodies are physically paralyzed. We don't necessarily reach this stage of sleep every night, however. And, when our body doesn't have enough time to go through the stages of sleep, we may experience sleep deprivation.
What is Sleep Deprivation?
Sleep deprivation happens when we don't get enough total sleep each night. We can become sleep deprived for many reasons. However, it often has to do with our retina's exposure to light and associated brain functions.
What Causes Sleep Deprivation?
Technically, sleep deprivation can be caused by hypersomnia, insomnia, heavy work schedule, sleep apnea, stress, bad sleep hygiene, narcolepsy, diet and other issues that affect our ability to sleep and wake up. External light or the lack of it is also a huge factor, as we discussed above.
When brain chemicals are out of whack due to internal and/or external issues, we may feel exhausted because we haven't gotten enough sleep. This deprivation can lead to a whole slew of other issues.
Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Experts say every adult should be getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. If not, we might end up sleep deprived, which can have greater effects than just robbing us of energy. If you don't get enough sleep each day, you could heighten your risk for a long list of health concerns:
- Mood swings
- Memory problems
- High blood pressure
- Reduced brain function
- Heart issues
- Anxiety and depression
As you can see, sleep deprivation can heighten our risk for all kinds of different health issues. Thus, it's important to get back on schedule if you're having trouble sleeping at least seven hours per night.
General Tips for Better Sleep
Before you try nootropics for sleep, there are some other natural ways you can try to get a better night's sleep.<1>
- Put down your computer and/or cell phone earlier.
- Get on a sleep schedule to regulate your body's sleep cycle.
- Try an eye cover when you sleep to block external light.
- Make sure daylight doesn't seep through your bedroom window too early.
- Make sure there isn't too much external light in your room when you go to bed.
- Don't consume coffee or stimulants like energy drinks too close to bed-time.
If you've tried everything and still can't seem to get enough sleep, nootropics may be your best bet. But how could they possibly help?
Mind Lab Pro® Nootropics for Sleep
Mind Lab Pro® is not designed for sleep, but it does supply one research-backed sleep nootropic: Suntheanine®.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that promotes GABA and serotonin production in the brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier. This GABA support helps induce feelings of relaxation linked to better sleep quality.<6>
- In addition, serotonin is the calming precursor to melatonin. Thus, its production may increase our brain's potential for natural melatonin production when we're deprived.
Studies show that L-Theanine does have positive effects on sleep quality.<7>
However, unlike most sleep aids, L-Theanine doesn't contain any sedatives. Instead, L-theanine works via relaxation without sedation -- which can help with both sharp mental clarity and pre-bedtime winding down. Because of this unique activity, L-Theanine is easily one of the best nootropics for sleep.
Mind Lab Pro® is designed to be clean and stimulant-free for several good reasons.
Many nootropic stacks on the market are loaded up with heavy doses of caffeine and other stimulants.
- Stimulants may boost alertness and focus temporarily, but can also cause mind-numbing "crashes" as well as interfering with healthy sleep patterns.
Stim-free Mind Lab Pro® boosts brainpower without stimulants -- helping to enhance cognition naturally and in optimal harmony with the body, rather than at the expense of healthy sleep.
Stack Mind Lab Pro® with Performance Lab® Sleep for superior nightly brain regeneration and consistently energized daytime cognition.
Performance Lab® Sleep’s innovative multi-pathway design soothes the nervous system, musculoskeletal system and brain – helping to:
- Accelerate sleep onset, helping to reduce sleep-disruptive muscle spasms, improve regenerative sleep phases, and rejuvenate body and brain -- amplifying Mind Lab Pro®'s cognitive performance benefits
- Lengthen restorative sleep phases of neural repair and brain chemical synthesis -- optimizing Mind Lab Pro®'s brain regenerative benefits
Performance Lab® Sleep Ingredients
Magnesium (Bisglycinate 300mg, Taurate 200mg, BioGenesis™ 200mg)
Magnesium helps settle down the nervous system, relaxes muscles, and helps stimulate the gentle drop in blood pressure that signals our minds to all asleep.
Low magnesium is linked to sleep problems. Magnesium is also notoriously difficult to absorb.
Performance Lab® Sleep’s advanced magnesium complex includes 3 highly bioavailable, easy-to-absorb forms to best max out magnesium's versatile sleep-supportive benefits:
- Magnesium Bisglycinate - binds magnesium with glycine, an amino acid that also helps to support healthy sleep while improving magnesium absorption.
- Magnesium Taurate - complexes magnesium with taurine, another sleep-supportive, GABA-supportive amino acid
- BioGenesis™ Magnesium - Also found in Mind Lab Pro B-Vitamins, BioGenesis™ is lab-grown, nature-identical nutrition that in this supplement helps enhance magnesium absorption
Montmorency Tart Cherry, 50:1 concentrated extract (CherryPURE®), 500 mg
This variety of cherry is the best natural source of melatonin. It helps to raise melatonin blood levels for all of the benefits associated with this hormone:
- Faster sleep onset time
- Improved sleep quality
- Long-range circadian rhythm benefits for healthy sleep patterns
Montmorency tart cherry also supplies anthocyanin antioxidants. These help sleep in an entirely separate way: By soothing the muscle and joint aches that can make it hard to fall asleep, or wake you in the middle of the night.
L-Tryptophan (TryptoPure®), 250 mg
This amino converts into 5-HTP, which then turns into serotonin: The sleep neurotransmitter. L-Tryptophan also helps with stress and relaxation, for easier sleep onset.
Finally, L-Tryptophan turns into melatonin in the digestive tract, adding yet another natural support pathway to increase melatonin for better sleep quality.
TryptoPure® L-Tryptophan is made by Ajinmoto®, the earliest, largest and most innovative producer of amino acid supplements in the world.
- Like Mind Lab Pro®, Performance Lab Sleep®'s premium ingredients are supplied in natural, vegan, prebiotic-infused NutriCaps® for better absorption and digestive comfort.
Performance Lab® Sleep and Mind Lab Pro® are both Opti-Nutra Quality.
- Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. NIH Publication No. 17-3440c.
- Brown GM. Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 1994 Nov; 19(5): 345–353.
- Nitz D, Siegel JM. GABA release in posterior hypothalamus across sleep-wake cycle. Am J Physiol. 1996 Dec;271(6 Pt 2):R1707-12.
- Conger K. Research shows dopamine plays crucial role in sleep regulation. Standford Report. 2001 Mar 21.
- u. Portas CM, Bjorvatn B, Ursin R. Serotonin and the sleep/wake cycle: special emphasis on microdialysis studies. Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Jan;60(1):13-35.
- White DJ et al. Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Jan; 8(1): 53.
- Türközü D, Şanlier N. L-theanine, unique amino acid of tea, and its metabolism, health effects, and safety. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 May 24;57(8):1681-1687.