Getting enough sleep is critical to health – yet many of us simply don’t manage it. It turns out that for some people, the answer can be surprisingly simple.
Just increasing vitamin D intake may be enough to significantly improve sleep quality – particularly for people who are vitamin D deficient.
This idea isn’t just theory either. Multiple studies support the association between vitamin D and sleep.
So then, does vitamin D help you sleep? And, how can you take advantage of that relationship?
Supplementing Vitamin D For Better Sleep
Over the years, researchers have shown that poor quality sleep is associated with low vitamin D concentrations. For example, people with low vitamin D intake tend to experience more sleep disturbances (1), so they’ll get less rest for the time they’re in bed.
But, most of the research has been observational.
This means researchers know that low vitamin D and poor sleep are related – they just don’t know how. Without knowing more about the relationship, it’s tough to give advice about improving sleep.
Recent Research Provides Insight
One recent study offers a potential answer.
With this study, the authors looked at 93 people, aged from 20 to 50 years. They all suffered from poor sleep, as defined by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).
Participants were excluded if they had health conditions that might cause sleep problems, as well as if the they were smokers, were on sleep medication or already supplemented vitamin D. As such, the results apply mostly to healthy individuals with sleep problems.
The study also used a placebo-controlled double-blind research design, which is one of the most powerful types of research.
For the duration of the study (8 weeks), one group of participants received a 50,000 IU vitamin D3 supplement every 2 weeks. This averages out to around 3,500 IU per day. The other group received edible paraffin oil on the same schedule.
The authors found a range of improvements in the vitamin D group compared to the placebo. These included:
These outcomes suggest that vitamin D supplementation can help to improve sleep quality. You can also find a more detailed consideration of the study over at Examine.com.
A 50,000 IU Vitamin D3 supplement once every 2 weeks for 8 weeks significantly improved a range of sleep outcomes
However, this outcome just comes from a single study. It was a well-designed one. Even so, one study can never provide the full picture.
For example, there are some concerns that too much vitamin D may decrease sleep quality by interfering with melatonin production.
However, only a few studies have looked at this connection. They also considered very specific groups of people. It's not clear whether the same effects occur for the general population.
As a result, it's best to pay attention to your own body. If you experience disrupted sleep, you may need to decrease the level of your vitamin D supplement or stop taking it altogether.
Some people also find that it's best to take the supplement in the morning. This helps reduce any impact on melatonin production. There is an interesting discussion on the Bulletproof website about the impact of timing.
High doses of vitamin D may decrease melatonin production. But, lowering your dosage or taking it in the morning could get around this issue.
Can Vitamin D Supplements Help You?
The research study was high-quality and does suggest that vitamin D helps sleep. But, more information is still needed. After all, the study was only 8 weeks long, so it doesn’t show long-term outcomes.
Additionally, the results won’t apply to everyone.
For example, the participants in this study started off with vitamin D levels below 30 ng/ml. This would generally be considered a low level of vitamin D but not enough to be deficient (2).
This suggests that people with higher levels of vitamin D may not see the same benefits from supplementation. Likewise, people with underlying health conditions (like sleep apnea) may not see advantages from vitamin D.
It’s also tough to know what the practical outcomes are.
In fact, the PSQI scale still considered both groups of participants to have poor sleep at the end of the study. This means the supplementation improves sleep but doesn’t fix every problem.
Nevertheless, vitamin D is a safe supplement and offers a range of health benefits. There are also many high-quality vitamin D supplements to choose from.
This makes a supplement worth trying, especially when combined with healthy sleep habits, like the ones that the site No Sleepless Nights highlights.
While supplementation won't improve sleep for everyone, the idea is worth trying
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
With just one study directly on this topic – information about dose is limited.
The ideal dose is also likely to vary, depending on your vitamin D levels to begin with. But, if you want to follow the study, then you’re looking at around 3,500 IU per day (or a 50,000 IU dose every 2 weeks).
This may seem high but there are many brands that offer these levels. For example, the company BioTech has a 50,000 IU supplement, along with a 5,000 IU one. Likewise, the brand Garden of Life (below) has a 5,000 IU version that offers additional healthy compounds.
There are other brands as well, which you can read about here.
Because 5,000 IU is so common anyway, it can be a good place to start for supplementation. This dose would be more than sufficient to get any sleep benefits and to promote your health in other ways.
However, it's always worth getting your vitamin D levels tested and talking to your doctor as well. If you are already getting sufficient vitamin D, then taking a supplement is unlikely to offer any benefits. Other people may also find that they need a lower dose.
For example, there are 1,000 IU and 2,000 IU supplements out there as well. While those doses are lower than what the study here considered, they can still be a viable way to get benefits from vitamin D.
You could also use a combination of supplements to get close to the level specified in the study. For example, two 2,000 IU softgels would give you the amount in the study plus around 500 IU extra per day.
5,000 IU of vitamin D per day is a relatively common supplement dose and provides a vitamin D amount greater than the study tested for
What About the Sun?
Our bodies produce vitamin D in sunlight – so supplementing isn’t strictly necessary.
But, many people are still low or deficient in vitamin D, even if they are getting outside regularly. There are various reasons for this pattern, including the use of sunscreen, where you are in the world, the season and differences between individuals.
Even if you do get considerable sun exposure, you may not be reaching the vitamin D levels that this study used. For that matter, there is still ongoing debate about how much vitamin D is needed for optimum health.
As a result, vitamin D supplements are often more powerful than simply increasing your sun exposure. Doing both may offer the best potential for benefits – especially as spending more time outside will often help you increase physical activity levels.
We can produce vitamin D in the sun but supplements may be needed to get enough for sleep improvement and for other health benefits
How Vitamin D May Affect Sleep and Health
The connection between vitamin D and sleep may seem odd – but there are multiple mechanisms behind the concept. Many are related to a deficiency of the vitamin.
Vitamin D deficiency is often called a hidden epidemic, partly because people often don’t know that they’re deficient. What’s more, the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency aren’t always obvious.
These include the examples below – and the site Healthy Way also highlights some other symptoms that can occur.
The problem is – most of the symptoms are extremely general. They can also have countless other causes (such as the relationship between depression and gut health). Such patterns make the deficiency much harder to spot.
So, how does this relate to sleep? Well, many of the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can cause other health problems, including ones that reduce your ability to sleep well (3). Indeed, there are many studies that suggest vitamin D deficiency may negatively impact sleep (4).
For example, tiredness or fatigue often leads to poor food decisions, decreased energy and less physical activity. These can also contribute to poor health and obesity. As the National Sleep Foundation points out, obesity and sleep are related and each can make the other worse.
Likewise, vitamin D deficiency symptoms like pain or depression may directly affect how much sleep you’re getting.
From these patterns alone, it’s clear that not getting enough vitamin D can impact sleep in a range of ways. With that in mind, the research conclusions do make sense.
There are multiple mechanisms for how vitamin D can affect sleep. Most of them are connected to vitamin D deficiency
Much more research is needed before we completely know how vitamin D supplements will improve sleep. But still, the underlying theory has merit and the supplements are considered safe.
As a result, it’s worth trying to see if vitamin D does help you sleep better at night. The supplement is certainly a much better alternative to sleeping medications, without the same risk or side effects.
And, of course, vitamin D isn't the only way to promote sleep. Some people turn to melatonin supplements instead. These are particularly powerful for improving disordered sleeping and are effective for many people.
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