Sleep soundly with a little help from your friend 5-HTP
Synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is the rate-limiting precursor to serotonin and melatonin, our relaxation hormones that are important for proper sleep. 5-HTP supplementation has been shown to be useful in enhancing serotonin levels in humans, which is why it is most known for its role in helping with depression.
5-HTP has shown promise with sleep disorders and insomnia, especially increasing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, thus improving slow wave sleep (SWS). In fact, some studies have also shown promise with improvement of childhood sleep terrors. Much of this makes sense, given 5-HTP’s involvement in the synthesis of melatonin, known to be one of the regulatory hormones involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin (5-HT), too, has been known for its powerful sedative effects, especially after ingesting the tryptophan in a huge Thanksgiving turkey meal (although this is most likely in large part due to overeating). According to an animal study, “The similarity of the effects of 5-HTP and tryptophan suggests that they both act as serotonin precursors.”
5-HTP is not found directly in foods, but made from individual amino acids. In order to be effective, 5-HTP must cross the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream. In a healthy gut environment, absorption occurs easily. 5-HTP readily crosses the blood-brain-barrier, moving into targeted tissues where it is then converted into the active neurotransmitter, serotonin. Studies have found that, when taken with vitamin B6, 5-HTP facilitates the manufacture of serotonin, which increases melatonin production.
Fibromyalgia, insomnia and sleep terrors are the most common conditions studied in regards to 5-HTP supplementation and sleep. During a 90-day open trial, nearly 50 percent of the patients affected by fibromyalgia patients experienced significant improvement in quality of sleep, fatigue, anxiety and pain when taking 5-HTP. Other conditions in which fatigue is a primary concern may also benefit from a similar treatment.
Insomnia in children is quickly becoming a troubling issue, affecting nearly 20 to 30 percent of young children, and leaving a plethora of trailing health and behavioral consequences. Many young children with insomnia continue to have sleep issues later in life. Lack of adequate sleep in children is often linked to physical and learning disabilities, difficult temperaments, autism, epilepsy, and attention problems, among other things. Night terrors are a common cause for sleep issues in children between the ages of 3 to 12 years. These are episodes that usually cause screaming, but can also cause sudden awakening with persistent fear, sweating, confusion and increased heart rate. In one study, children with night terrors were given 5-HTP and compared to a similar group of children who were not given 5-HTP. The results of this study indicated 83.9 percent of the children treated with 5-HTP were episode-free after six months, thus showing a hopeful solution to this particular cause of sleep insufficiency in children. Another small case study tested the effect of 5-HTP on sleep in two children with schizophrenia. After treatment with 5-HTP, increased REM and sleep improvement was noted.
In consideration of the high impact sleep deprivation has on quality of life, behavior, mood and health, it is important that practitioners deal with foundational sleep issues when considering all health complications. 5-HTP provides a good starting place for addressing sleep issues in both children and adults and has a history of safe usage. Being a derivative of serotonin, not only will 5-HTP improve sleep quality, but it will also indirectly influence mood and behavior in a positive direction. This offers a lot of hope to patients and practitioners since mood and emotions impact the healing process and the perception of wellness. Many health conditions are rooted in sleep deprivation and 5-HTP offers a safe, easy starting point for health and wellness.
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- David Brady