Vitamins, Minerals & Breaking the REM Barrier


Like a car, the body seems to need the correct fuel to run optimally. It seems that I may have been "running on empty" as far as sleep-related vitamins and minerals are concerned...

I ended my last blog-post regarding REM rebound with several questions, all pretty much along the line of "Where is my missing REM?"

Although typically the amount of REM that I have each night is within limits (at the lower end of typical) it was often broken by either periods of wakefulness or light-sleep.


It bothered me that I couldn't seem to achieve the expected REM rebound that conventional wisdom says should occur. What was wrong? Was it the equipment, the method or was it me?

I finished that post by wanting to increase the amount of REM that I have and also by trying to get rid of these periods of being awake.

Not an easy task considering that I can already probably attribute some of these awakenings to temperature drops and apnoeas!

I'd already found a way to decrease the number of apnoeas and hypopneas (AHI) that I had using 5-HTP which left me thinking that maybe I was lacking in other vitamins / minerals / hormones that are essential for sleep.

It was suggested to me that I try Vitamin D3 which is formed when we soak up sunlight during the day. This made sense to me as I am not a fan of bright sunlight (I was sun-burned badly as a child). So it was not outside the realms of possibility that I was lacking in D3.

I took this for a few nights without it seeming to make a difference to my sleep staging (as scored by the Zeo sleep monitor). Maybe I should have given it longer as I like the "scientific method" of only changing one variable at a time, but with the range of vitamins and minerals and other various supplements claiming to improve sleep I decided to go for an "all or nothing" approach.

During the time that I tried to find supplements to help with lucid dreaming (another reason to want more REM) I found many forums where people spoke about their "Sleep Stack" which refers to the stack of pills they take before sleep.

So, the question was: what to include in my "sleep stack"...

A brief look around the internet for supplements to improve sleep will pretty much turn up results for everything and yield many wild claims without much backing. Many refer to studies without citing them using phrases such as "Studies have shown" etc etc. This makes it hard to know where to begin when looking for supplements as science and advertising seem to blur into one.  

Getting to sleep isn't a problem for me (far from it), so I didn't include Melatonin or Valerian (although I've had good experiences with inducing sleep with both).

My chosen regime was:

Morning: Vitamin D3, Multi-vitamins & minerals with Iron

Bedtime: ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6)

Occaisionally I added 200mg of 5-HTP to the bedtime regime with the thinking that a reduced number of respiratory events would reduce the awakenings during the night.

My reasoning behind the choices (click for brand and detailed info):

Vitamin D3 (1000 iu / 25 ug)
I took this for the reasons already mentioned. In addition to that, D3 is linked to our Circadian Rhythm, which seems logical, considering it is produced by the skin in sunlight. For that reason I decided to take this in the morning as it seemed that is when it would normally be produced.

A safe dose seems to be 4000iu or 100ug according to Vieth, Kimbell et al (2004) so I didn't see a problem with taking 25ug or even 50ug. 

Multi-Vitamins & Minerals with Iron

I deliberately chose a blend with a high Iron content as Iron is essential for haemoglobin (used in gas transporation around the body). Low iron levels are also associated with Periodic Limb Movements which can cause awakenings during the night.

I also wanted a blend that had B vitamins because I have previously taken Vitamin B6 at night to help with sleep and dreaming. I found that B6 helped, although in a dose that is not recommended for the long term. B6 is also used in the production of serotonin, which links back to my 5-HTP post, so this seemed like an essential one to have.

B12 is also known to have an effect on Melatonin. Mayer, Kröger and Meier-Ewert (1996)

Magnesium may have an effect on Periodic Limb Movements Hornyak et al

With these seeming to be comprehensive multi-vitamins and minerals, I thought I pretty much had any possible deficiencies covered although I did add ZMA in the evenings...

ZMA (Zinc, Magnesium and B6)

This is found in the bodybuilding section of the health food shop. ZMA is to be taken at night (which sounded promising for sleep). It is also discussed anecdotally in body-building forums as having a positive effect on sleep. I thought that an additional boost of B6 and Magnesium (for the reasons given in multi-vitamins) would be useful at night. The Zinc seemed to be an added extra, although it does seem to have a role in regulating hormones and neuro-transmission

I am pleased with the result. A quick look at one of my typical Zeo hypnograms confirms why: 

Aside from how I felt, my criteria for deciding whether I'd had a decent sleep used to be if the amount of wake was less than the amount of deep as the two were usually similar in duration!

This is a graph from a week or so after taking the supplements mentioned above.

So I slept better on that night (despite a higher "sleep stealer" score), but what about the rest?

This is from a couple of weeks later:

Although there are still awakenings, they are relatively short (total of about 5 mins a night, well under the average for my age) my weekly average graphs show that the story of higher REM is repeated nightly along with less time spent awake:

(I started taking the D3 on the 19th of December and the additional supplements on the 23rd of December) 

That seems fairly conclusive to me. I hope that the pattern continues. This is all the more impressive as I haven't been doing anything more than taking the supplements. Some nights have been early, some late, some with a couple of drinks etc etc).

I intend to carry on with the regime with some additional monitoring - I'd like to see if the supplements also bring my AHI down, what the effect of 50ug of D3 is and what the combined effect with 5-HTP would be.

I'd then like to try the REM Rebound experiment again now that I seem to have broken my REM barrier.

We are all unique, and all I can say is that this works for me. I would be interested to know if anyone else has had a similar effect.




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Reader Comments (6)

Just came across Calcium being important for sleep too (what isn't?!). Check this out: Calcium research in cats. Sodium in the brain = aggresive. Calcium in the brain = sleep-like.

Calcium helps with tryptophan too. Liquid calcium appears to be best.

Could calcium be your missing link?

January 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames @ Intus / Zeo UK

Great link, thanks.

I didn't realise that Calcium had such a direct effect. Definitely worth a go.

During my research with Magnesium, I found that magnesium was responsible for calcium regulation to a degree. Maybe this is why the ZMA seems to help (which is seems to going by the nights that I've forgotten to take it).
I'll let you know how the calcium goes (there is some in the multi-vitamins that I take, but only 17% RDA).

Thanks again.

January 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

Fascinating stuff!!
Thanks for the comments about my post ( - although I think yours is much better!
Any chance I could copy/link to it in my blog - I think it rounds things out and provides another perspective with "real world experience"?
As for the change you've seen with supplements - remarkable. I suffer from frequent (>10) awakenings, and the reduction in yours makes me jealous. I've just gone for an oximeter test to see if mild Central Apnea is an issue for me (I wake up and sometimes notice a significant (5-6) second gap in regular breathing).
I'll have to do more investigating on the Z3 stuff - maybe I can supplement with calcium-magnesium in the AM, and Z3 at night....
Great reading on you blog,

January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Stewart

Thanks Doug, it's good to hear from you.

Feel free to link to the details. It'd be great if it can be expanded on.

I suspect that the 5-HTP helped me due to increasing the muscle tone in the airways, as I've seen some literature that suggests a link (I'll dig out the papers and post the details in the comments section). It'd be interesting to see if it also helps with central apnoeas, as that would suggest another / additional / different mechanism.

I haven't compared the effects of combing the 5-HTP with the other supplements yet (this really was a "throw everything at it" experiment), something for later :)

Good luck with the oximeter tests.

January 27, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

Thanks for this post, very interesting, it gives a lot of ideas to test and improve our sleep.

February 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertoto

Thanks. I hope some of it proves useful to you.

February 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterHypnagogia Blog

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