Vitamins and nutrients for insomnia

Vitamins and nutrients for insomnia
January 7, 2018 3:09 PM

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. According to estimates, up to 60 million Americans have trouble sleeping, and annual financial losses due to lack of sleep reach up to $ 63 billion. Treatment of sleep disturbance is complicated and, in addition to medications and lifestyle changes, a sufficient supply of some vitamins and nutrients may help you sleep better. Here is a detailed evidence-based article on vitamins and nutrients for insomnia and sleep disturbance.


  1. What is insomnia?
  2. Vitamins that help fight insomnia
    1. Vitamin B12
    2. Vitamin B1
    3. Vitamin D
    4. Vitamin A
    5. Vitamins C and E
  3. Other nutrients that promote good sleep
    1. Omega-3 fatty acids
    2. Melatonin
    3. Magnesium
    4. Zinc
    5. Iron
  4. Can vitamins and minerals cure insomnia?

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a common name for a group of diseases that impair the quality and quantity of sleep.

Depending on its duration, there is a short-term (acute), long-term (chronic) or transient insomnia.

In transient insomnia, sleep problems last several days and then they usually go away, while in acute insomnia you may have trouble sleeping for several weeks and in chronic insomnia, the sleep quality may be disrupted for months or years.  

There are many causes of insomnia. Sometimes it is a disease on its own (primary insomnia) while other times it is associated with an underlying disorder, such as overactive thyroid, heartburn, asthma, heart failure, migraines, menopause, hot flashes, stroke or other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnoea (1).

Insomnia is also a frequent symptom of other psychiatric disorders, such as the depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.

Treatment of insomnia is complex and involves both non-pharmacological and pharmacological options.

Non-pharmacological practices include lifestyle changes or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Pharmacological methods include prescription drugs (hypnotics, antidepressants, Ramelteon) and OTC (over-the-counter) medicines, such as melatonin, valerian tea, L-tryptophan supplements or antihistamines.

Studies also suggest that some vitamins can also help fight insomnia (2, 3, 4).

The summary: Sleep problems and insomnia are a common health issue worldwide. In addition to medical drugs, CBT and lifestyle changes, some vitamins and nutrients are also essential for quality sleep.

Vitamins that help fight insomnia

Studies suggest that some vitamins are useful in dealing with sleeplessness. In particular, deficiency of vitamins D, B, A and E may be a common cause of sleeping difficulty.

Here is how individual vitamins may improve your sleep quality and quantity.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an essential water-soluble vitamin, which helps regulate many metabolic processes in the body, including red blood cell and DNA production.

As far as vitamin B12 and sleep is concerned, some studies suggest that vitamin B12 is involved in the synthesis of melatonin, or sleep hormone (5, 6).

Therefore, maintaining healthy levels of vitamin B12 in your blood is very important for quality sleep.

Another study showed that supplementing high doses (3000 mg a day) of vitamin B12 to patients with persistent sleep-wake schedule disorders might improve the quality of sleep (7)

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common, especially in people over 50.

Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 for an adult is 2.4 mcg. Pregnant and lactating women should get slightly more (2.6 mcg and 2.8 mcg respectively) (8).

The best food sources of vitamin B12 are clams, beef liver, meat, fish (in particular trout and salmon) and dairy products (Swiss cheese or yogurt).

The summary: Vitamin B12 improves melatonin production, which translates to an improved sleep quality.

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is an essential coenzyme in the synthesis of many bioactive substances, which are necessary for proper brain health. It also ensures correct functioning of cell membranes and may help cure insomnia.

A study in women with premenstrual syndrome showed that vitamin B1 might help alleviate symptoms of sleep disorders and improve sleep quality (9).

Studies suggest that a 250 mg daily dose of thiamine may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, including insomnia (10). 

The RDA for thiamine is 1.2 to 1.4 mg for an average adult (11).

The best food sources of vitamin B1 are thiamine fortified breakfast cereals, rice, eggs, pork, and trout.

The summary: Vitamin B1 supplementation may ease insomnia by improving overall brain and neuron health.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another nutrient that can improve sleep disturbance (12).

It is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is essential for your health.

Studies suggest that vitamin D plays a vital role in sleep regulation (13, 14, 15).

Over 1 billion people worldwide have vitamin D deficiency.

Many studies show that low blood levels of vitamin D may be associated with insomnia and sleep disorders (16, 17).

Sufficient vitamin D intake through food or dietary supplements may significantly reduce symptoms of insomnia because it is important for serotonin regulation.

Enough serotonin means enough sleep. 

One observational study in 1500 patients with sleep disturbance shows that maintaining blood vitamin D3 levels in the range of 60-80 ng/ml reduces insomnia (18).

Most recently, a study in 89 participants received a dietary supplement with 50,000 IU of vitamin D every 2 weeks.

Study participants confirmed sleep quality improvement and reduced sleep latency (19).

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) to 800 IU (20 mcg) per day (20).

The best dietary sources of vitamin D are swordfish, salmon, tuna and dairy products, including milk and yogurt.

Although vitamin D is vital for proper sleep, its excess is toxic and as human body stores fat-soluble vitamins, which may build up to hazardous levels and cause life-threatening hypercalcemia and other issues.

Therefore, do not exceed the RDA of vitamin D without the prior consent of your doctor.

When taking a vitamin D supplement, never exceed the maximum daily dose shown on the product label. 

If you have any doubts always get a proper medical advice before taking any supplement.

The summary: Vitamin D is involved in sleep regulation. Its low levels in the blood may cause sleeplessness.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, which is a strong antioxidant and is crucial for your eye health. 

In nature, it occurs in two forms - retinol (vitamin A1) and 3-dehydroretinol (vitamin A2).

It is important not only for the health of your eyes but also contains retinoic acid, which is involved in the regulation of sleep (21).

Retinoic acid also regulates the function of the pineal gland, which produces the hormone melatonin, which controls the circadian clock of the brain (e.g., tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake) (22).

RDA for vitamin A is between 300 - 900 mcg RAE.

RAE stands for retinol activity equivalent.

The human body converts all vitamin A into retinol. When you get your vitamin A from food, one mcg of retinol in the diet makes one mcg of retinol in the body. On the other and when you take dietary supplements containing vitamin A, only about 50% of retinol is used by your body (23).

The best dietary sources of vitamin A are sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, peppers, broccoli and beef liver.

Just like vitamin D, vitamin A is also soluble in fat and can accumulate in the body. Excess vitamin A causes osteoporosis and bone fractures, and it is detrimental to unborn babies. 

Mainly pregnant women should avoid excess vitamin A!

Do not exceed the RDA for vitamin A without the prior consent of your doctor.

When taking a vitamin A supplement, never exceed the maximum daily dose shown on the product label. 

If you have any doubts always get a proper medical advice before taking any supplement.

The summary: Vitamin A contains retinoic acid, which is involved in sleep cycle regulation. Adequate intake of vitamin A may help you sleep better.

Vitamins C and E

Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body to protect cells from oxidative stress damage.

One of the common causes of insomnia in hemodialysis patients is the restless legs syndrome (RLS).

Studies suggest that the combination of vitamins C and E helps alleviate the symptoms of RLS and improves the quality of sleep (24).

Besides, vitamin C improves oxygen supply in patients with obstructive sleep apnea, yet another leading cause of sleep disturbance.

In one study, patients with obstructive sleep apnea were given an injection of 0.5 g of vitamin C daily.

Antioxidant effects of vitamin C have vasodilatation effects on blood vessels, which reduces the oxidative stress and improves quality of sleep (25).

The RDA for vitamin C is between 13 to 90 mg a day, depending on your age. Pregnant and lactating women should get up to 120 mg a day (26).

The best dietary sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, paprika, orange juice, strawberries, broccoli or kiwi.

The RDA for vitamin E is 6 to 16 mg a day depending on your age (27).

The best dietary sources of vitamin E are wheat germ oil, almonds, sunflower seeds and peanuts.

The summary: Studies show that vitamins C and E may improve the quality of your sleep in patients with renal problems, restless legs syndrome and obstructive sleep apnea.

Other nutrients that promote good sleep

Do you know the saying 'You are what you eat'?

The food affects not only our health but also our sleep.

In addition to vitamins, other nutrients are also crucial for quality sleep and studies suggest that some foods and diets may help you sleep better (28).

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential not only for heart health but also for sleep regulation.

In one study participants ate 300 g of salmon three times a week for six months. The control group then consumed other types of meat, such as chicken, beef or pork.

People who ate salmon had a higher level of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in their blood than people in the control group and, according to their own words, they also slept much better (29).

The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, anchovies, herring and oysters (30).


Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms.

The rise in melatonin levels promotes sleep.

Unfortunately, the ability to produce melatonin decreases with age.

Therefore, especially older people suffer from insomnia.

Melatonin is added to some dietary supplements to improve sleep quality.

Eating some high melatonin foods can help treat insomnia and sleep disorders.

Several studies showed that eating tart cherries may increase blood melatonin levels and improve the quality of sleep (31, 32).


Magnesium plays a vital role in sleep regulation because it increases blood melatonin levels and prolongs sleep time.

It also calms down your brain making it easier to fall asleep.

Research suggests that magnesium deficiency is associated with poor sleep and insomnia (32a).

It also improves symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are frequent causes of sleep problems (32b).

One study in older people with insomnia has confirmed that taking 500 mg of magnesium per day for eight weeks can improve the quality and length of sleep in older people (33).

To get enough magnesium you should consume foods, such as nuts, avocados or dark chocolate regularly.


Research suggests that the level of zinc in the blood affects the quality of sleep.

One study shows that reduced dietary intake of zinc leads to sleep quality and quantity deterioration (34).

Consuming foods rich in zinc, such as oysters, beef, crab or fortified cereals, can help fight insomnia.


Iron is important for the proper functioning of serotonergic neurotransmitters that affect sleep processes.

Studies suggest that adequate iron intake may prolong sleep time in children (35).

Consuming sufficient iron-rich foods such as spinach, legumes, organ meats or beef can be helpful in the treatment of sleep disorders.

The summary: Some nutrients involved in sleep regulation are magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, zinc and iron. Make sure you eat enough foods rich in these minerals and substances to get a better sleep.

Can vitamins and minerals cure insomnia?

Insomnia and sleeplessness are common illnesses today. Their treatment is complicated, and it is always necessary to look for the cause of the problem.

If you have trouble sleeping, you should always seek medical attention.

Get an appointment with a psychiatrist specializing in sleeping disorders, who will examine you and recommend appropriate treatment.

Sometimes you may need polysomnography (a study of sleep quality in a sleep laboratory).

Unfortunately, it is usually not possible to cure insomnia or deal with your sleep trouble just by vitamin or nutrient supplementation.

If you want to cure insomnia, make sure you follow the advice of your physician and eat plenty of food containing vitamins D, B, E, C and A and magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, zinc and iron.

Do not take any nutrient or vitamin-rich supplements without the prior approval of your doctor.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Article resources:

See numbered peer-reviewed references in the article.

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Published: January 7, 2018 3:09 PM
Next scheduled update: January 7, 2020 3:09 PM
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