5-HTP Explained – and the Sleep Benefits it Provides
The secrets behind the success of 5-HTP
You’ve trained yourself to look at the label to see what’s in a supplement and a food. Pat yourself on the back because you’ll go far and avoid plenty of health-destroying processed ingredients.
You avoid words that you can’t pronounce and others that don’t look like they’re from food at all. So 5-HTP might set off a few alarms if you’re not familiar with it.
Even if you’re acquaintances, 5-HTP might just be one of those ingredients you know you’re supposed to take. But here’s the truth about the benefits you can expect to see. Plus, what you need to do to make 5-HTP work for you.
The key to your yearly holiday nap
Family napping on the couch watching the football game? All hands point to turkey as the culprit.
The reason, so the story goes, is because turkey is chockful of tryptophan. Tryptophan, of course, makes you sleepy. That’s partly true. Turkey contains about ¼ gram for every ¼ pound. It’s not a whole lot. Though you don’t need much for it to be effective, there’s about the same in any kind of poultry – and cheddar cheese.
You actually fall asleep because you ate far too much. Your body goes into digest mode – which means it needs to rest. That’s not to say tryptophan won’t let you get some much-needed rest. It can.
The trick behind tryptophan
By now, you’re probably wondering what tryptophan has to do with 5-HTP. Or maybe you noticed the suspicious letter T.
5-HTP is an abbreviation for 5-hydroxytryptophan. It’s an amino acid just like L-tryptophan (what’s found in turkey and other proteins).
But most importantly, it’s a precursor for serotonin. Which is a precursor for melatonin. Melatonin, of course, is a hormone your body produces naturally to help you sleep soundly.
It seems simple right now, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And that’s why if you take a look at the back of a 5-HTP bottle, you need to make sure 5-HTP isn’t alone.
How easy the world would be if you could just take one ingredient and have it do all the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Though there is something of a magic box in your body.
You see, when you put vitamin B6 and 5-HTP together, your body throws them into this box and converts them to serotonin. From there, serotonin is converted to melatonin.
So if you see a 5-HTP supplement without vitamin B6, you’re missing out on the benefits you’re supposed to get – unless you take your supplement with some whole grains or turkey.
What benefits can 5-HTP give you?
Finally. The whole reason you stopped and clicked on this article.
5-HTP is special, in a way. It allows you to skip a step.
The whole process to convert tryptophan to serotonin looks something like this:
L-Tryptophan 5-HTP + Vitamin B6 = Serotonin
Now, there are a couple of items missing from that equation because everything doesn’t convert at 100%. Since L-tryptophan is an amino acid, a lot of it gets put toward protein synthesis. What little of Tryptophan turns into 5-HTP gets converted at a rate of about 70% to serotonin (as long as there’s enough vitamin B6).
So that’s why grabbing a 5-HTP supplement is far better than eating a turkey leg. In simpler terms, taking 5-HTP is a shortcut to supporting a healthy mood, getting a night of good sleep, and more.
Supports a healthy mood
Ever have one of those days where you can’t seem to stop smiling no matter how hard you try? Or a few hours, more realistically. Conversely, one of those days where it’s hard to be happy… or you just feel a little down?
At the heart of that is serotonin, or a lack of it.
5-HTP’s ability to produce serotonin is how it helps support a healthy mood.
There’s only one small drawback. 5-HTP makes your body focus on serotonin and less on l-dopamine and norepinephrine (two important brain chemicals).
Once again, this is where you need to look out for yourself. L-tyrosine is a necessity to balance out 5-HTP.
Get some good rest
The benefits of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. It sets you up for an entire day of success. You know you slept well when you wake up refreshed… and in a good mood!
Unfortunately, all too many people lack sufficient sleep. Sorry, but 5-6 hours just isn’t going to cut it. You need 7-9 hours of sleep – and that can be hard to come by when social media is right next to your head. Not to mention work, and the car that you may have left unlocked, or that project you’re worried about.
5-HTP is able to help you get to sleep because it helps produce the sleep hormone, melatonin. (Serotonin is a precursor for melatonin. So 5-HTP is pretty involved in your body’s chemistry).
Now, your body normally starts producing melatonin as the sun goes down. Only, since you have a light on (and keep looking at your cellphone), the “sun” never goes down. That means not enough melatonin is getting produced. And, you guessed it, you have trouble getting to sleep.
Another study even found 5-HTP can help you sleep through the entire night.
Is 5-HTP all you need?
5-HTP can get you started. It’s certainly helpful in getting you to sleep and keeping that smile on your face. But you should also work on having a consistent bedtime routine.
If you’re trying to get to bed by 11, turn your cell off at 10. Dim the lights (or turn some off altogether) around the same time. Grab your 5-HTP and a glass of water at 10:30 and get ready to wake up at 6 am.
If you find you’re groggy after 7 hours of the best sleep you’ve ever had, bump your bedtime back a little bit. In some ways, you might feel like you’re a kid again. But there’s a reason they have so much energy and are much happier – besides not having any real responsibilities.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9727088 [how readily 5-HTP converts to serotonin in the body]