Sleep Disorders and 5-HTP: No More Counting Sheep!

Sleep Disorders and 5-HTP: No More Counting Sheep!

5-HTP is an abbreviation for the molecule 5-hydroxytryptophan which is an intermediate for the essential amino acid L-Tryptophan. Tryptophan is essential because we are unable to synthesize it exclusively within the body.

In addition, Tryptophan is used to produce the hormone Serotonin. Serotonin is vital for muscle contraction, blood clotting, mood balance and overall well-being. Most important is Serotonin’s ability to sedate the body for sleep. Serotonin is a precursor to another hormone Melatonin which is required by the body’s Circadian Rhythm (biological clock).

What Sleep Disorders has it been known to help?

There are many classifications of sleep disorders that can have great effect on a person’s health. A sleep disorder is considered anything that disrupts the sleep cycle or causes excessive sleep.


Insomnia is a very common term used to describe an inability to sleep. People can either experience sporadic bouts of sleeplessness or be Chronic Insomniacs which is when the problem persists for more than a month. There is no definitive cause of Insomnia but the majority of the time it is caused by stress. Although less common other causes may include drug use, pain or hormonal fluctuations. Side effects of Insomnia include reduced cognitive, psychological and physical competency. REM sleep is often described as “restorative” used to produce essential hormones, repair the body and rest the body. It has been shown that administering a dose of 5-HTP can decrease the symptoms of Insomnia and lead to a restful nights sleep.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)

OSA is thought to be caused by decreased Serotonin activity in the brain. OSA is characterised by the walls of the throat collapsing and narrowing during sleep which obstructs normal breathing. The collapse can be small and only partially block the airway, of block the full lumen of the airway which leads breathing to cease for a short period of time (10 seconds). Obvious symptoms of this are loud breathing, snoring and difficulty breathing. One study showed that providing OSA patients with 5-HTP led to an improvement in Serotonin activity in the brain and regulated ventilation.


Narcolepsy is characterised by an inability to control periods of sudden sleep. The clinical shows of this disorder are inconsistent and abnormal patterns of REM sleep. The causes are unknown, but are thought to be linked to poor neurotransmitter (Serotonin) reception in the brain. One study found that administering 600mg of 5-HTP led to more restful and extended periods of sleep at night. Unfortunately, 5-HTP was unable to alter the number of sleep attacks during the day.

Jet lag and Night-shift work

Jet lag and shift work upsets the body’s Circadian Rhythm which is controlled my the hormone Melatonin (produced from Serotonin). The Circadian Rhythm is what tells your body to sleep, eat and wake. Therefore, 5-HTP is highly recommended to reset and recalibrate you body-clock.

5-HTP can be purchased in powder or tablet form. It’s reccomended dosage usually ranges between 50-100mg. The effects of this herb are felt rapidly (10-30mins). Therefore, it is advised to be taken 30 minutes before a structured bed time. A great way to take 5-HTP is alongside Vitamin B6 as it is required in the conversion to serotonin within the body.

5-HTP has earned a reputation as a “wonder-pill” for those that suffer from sleep disorders. It is thought to be more effective than any other sleep promoting supplement. Not only does it cause a more restful nights sleep but it can often vastly improve health problems associated with poor sleep patterns and mood.

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