While science may never fully uncover the mysteries of the universe, the origin of human consciousness, or why we dream, we do have a relatively in-depth understanding of how our bodies work and what we can do to enhance or manipulate our natural states. In studying sleep and brain activity, we’ve learned so much, but there is always more to discover. Enter: Glycine. While studies on the effects of many sleep aids have been rigorously studied, tested, and approved, glycine is one of the more popular sleep supplements that doesn’t have quite as many studies backing up exactly what it can do for enhancing sleep as other supplements. Yet, it is becoming increasingly popular. Why should you take Glycine as a sleep supplement? What are its benefits?
Glycine is an Amino Acid… What Does That Mean?
Glycine is clearly important — it’s an amino acid that is naturally produced in the body and acts as a neurotransmitter in your central nervous system. It is considered a non-essential amino acid because our body can produce it on its own, but that doesn’t mean it’s always regulated perfectly, which is why we sometimes take glycine supplements. Glycine mainly helps maintain strength and support in muscles and bones, regulates metabolism, and supports healthy brain activity.
You might be wondering how that helps you fall asleep, huh? Here’s the interesting part: the glycine receptor is an inhibitory neurotransmitter (like GABA), which means that, in general, it slows things down. When you take a glycine supplement, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and enters into your brain, binds to your glycine receptors, and inhibits the firing of neurons — which allows the mind to feel more at ease and become less responsive to stimuli! But wait, there’s more.
Glycine does several key things that affect sleep: It helps the body to make serotonin, lowers your body temperature, and aids in the regulation of your circadian rhythm.
- Create serotonin
- Lower body temperature
- Regulate circadian rhythm
It gets a little confusing here because each step sort of stacks into each other. Sometimes the way protein molecules, neurotransmitters, and the like feel like a Matryoshka doll, each nestling in the other perfectly to create the grandiose chains of reactions that make up the human brain. Let’s try to unstack and simplify things a little bit:
Glycine -> Serotonin
Without getting too heady, glycine sleep supplements are directly related to increased levels of serotonin in the body. This matters because serotonin is directly related to the body’s natural melatonin production. Serotonin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that has effects on sleep and mood. It is required for creating natural melatonin, which is a pivotal part of your sleep schedule.
Serotonin has numerous other benefits as well, from regulating anxiety, happiness, and mood. Research has found that serotonin imbalances can lead to depression, aggression, poor sleep quality, loss of appetite, and more. For those who have difficulty sleeping or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, an increase in serotonin levels can help restore healthy sleep patterns. Balance is key!
Serotonin -> Melatonin
Serotonin helps produce melatonin, the “sleep molecule,” which plays a fundamental role in regulating our circadian rhythms and helping us fall asleep (or become tired) at the right time of day. While it occurs naturally, melatonin is an extremely popular natural supplement that helps regulate your sleep/wake schedule, otherwise known as your circadian rhythm.
If you ever spend an afternoon outdoors and wonder why you get such a good night of sleep afterward, it might be because melatonin is naturally produced in part because of our body’s relationship to taking in sunlight. As you drink up the sunlight, your pineal gland builds up the hormone so when the sun goes down you can hit the hay.
Melatonin -> Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is the natural internal rhythm of your body’s sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. It’s not enough to just sleep whenever you’re tired—your body works at its best (releasing melatonin and other sleepytime chemicals) when you stick to a regulated sleep schedule.
Your brain naturally knows that when it’s dark, you should start winding down for the night (though this can get out of whack if you have a bad sleep schedule). Melatonin doesn’t put you to sleep on its own, but rather it works with your internal clock to regulate your sleeping and waking times. Instead of taking melatonin supplements, a glycine supplement can help you get back to normal production and a stable circadian rhythm and more deep sleep.
Lower Body Temperature
You know how sometimes it helps to bundle up under the covers but you still stick one leg out of the side or your feet dangle from the foot of your bed? That’s in part because of the role that temperature plays in falling asleep. When you take a sleep supplement of glycine, your body temperature lowers. It’s a signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. Your body naturally cools off during the evening as you prepare for sleep—that’s why it can be so difficult to get out of bed in the morning when it’s really cold, too.
For the simplest sleep aid, try taking a warm shower in the evening. Your body will cool down after you get out of the shower and ease into sleep mode.
Glycine, the Sleep Aid
While you might not have known it by name, the amino acid glycine is already hard at work in your body doing a whole host of good—from maintaining your strength and supporting muscles and bones to helping your metabolism function and your brain stay healthy. What you now know is how glycine as a sleep supplement might just help you hit the hay easier so you can get a better night of sleep. For all its power to support your body’s health, glycine has gotten strangely little attention as a natural sleep remedy in the past, though it is more available now than ever as an over-the-counter sleep supplement. Glycine — it could be the key to a better night’s sleep.