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5-HTP for Better Sleep: A Natural Sleep Aid?

Written by: Dr. Alexander Ginzburg, DC



Time to read 9 min

Getting a good night's sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, but for many people, falling asleep and staying asleep can be a challenge. While there are numerous sleep aids available, some people prefer natural alternatives to prescription medications. One such natural sleep aid that has gained popularity in recent years is 5-HTP for sleep.

5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body and is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating sleep. This article will explore what 5-HTP is, how it works, its potential benefits for improving sleep quality, and any risks or side effects associated with its use. It will also provide guidance on how to take 5-HTP supplements for sleep and share real customer experiences and reviews.

What is 5-HTP? How Does it Work?

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a chemical byproduct of the protein building block L-tryptophan [4]. It is produced commercially from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia [4] [5].

5-HTP is both a drug and a natural component of some dietary supplements [5]. As a supplement, 5-HTP is made from extracts of the seeds of the African tree Griffonia simplicifolia [4]. 5-HTP can also be found in many multivitamin and herbal preparations [4].

Mechanism of Action in the Body

5-HTP works in the brain and central nervous system by increasing the production of the chemical serotonin [4]. After tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP, the chemical is changed into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relays signals between brain cells [4] [5].

The biosynthesis of 5-HTP starts with the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is metabolized to 5-HTP by tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH) in an initial, rate-limiting step in the biosynthesis of serotonin [5]. TPH is composed of three functional domains - a regulatory N-terminal domain, a catalytic domain, and a C-terminal oligomerization domain [5]. TPH requires ferrous iron for activity and the enzyme's activity is affected by phosphorylation [5].

In vertebrates, there are two molecular forms of TPH [5]:

  1. TPH1 is responsible for serotonin synthesis in peripheral tissues and is mainly expressed in the enterochromaffin cells of the gut and in the pineal gland.
  2. TPH2 is expressed in peripheral myenteric neurons in the gut and in the neurons of raphe nuclei in the brain stem but not in peripheral organs.

The presence of these two TPH forms justifies the duality of the 5-HT system, with two independently generated pools of 5-HT—one in the brain and another in the blood [5].

Serotonin can affect sleep, appetite, temperature, sexual behavior, and pain sensation [4] [6]. Since 5-HTP increases serotonin levels, it is used for conditions in which serotonin is believed to play an important role, including depression, anxiety, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support most of these uses [6].

The Benefits of 5-HTP for Sleep

5-HTP has shown promising benefits for improving sleep quality and reducing sleep onset time. A randomized controlled trial conducted on older adults in Singapore found that 5-HTP supplementation helped reduce sleep latency for up to 8 weeks [10] [16]. Subjects who consumed 100 mg of 5-HTP daily showed a favorable decrease in their objective sleep latency from baseline at week 4 (-18.2 ± 21.1 min) and week 8 (-17.8 ± 19.2 min), compared to the control group which did not display desirable changes [10] [16].

5-HTP produces serotonin, which can be converted into the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin [15] [17]. Melatonin levels rise in the evening to promote sleep and fall in the morning to help wake you up [15] [17]. Therefore, supplementing with 5-HTP may promote sleep by increasing melatonin production in the body [15] [17].

A 2010 study showed that a combination of 5-HTP and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) significantly reduced the time it took to fall asleep, increased sleep duration, and improved sleep quality [15] [17]. GABA is a chemical messenger that promotes relaxation, and combining it with 5-HTP likely has a synergistic effect [15] [17]. Several animal studies also suggest that 5-HTP improves sleep quality, and the effect is greater when combined with GABA [15] [17].

While these results are promising, the lack of human-based studies makes it difficult to recommend 5-HTP for improving sleep quality, especially when used in isolation [15] [17]. More research is needed to fully understand the benefits and optimal dosage of 5-HTP for sleep.

Potential Side Effects and Risks

While 5-HTP is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses, it can cause side effects in some people [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24]. The most common side effects of 5-HTP include heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, sexual problems, and muscle problems [19] [21] [24].

Large doses of 5-HTP, such as 6-10 grams daily, are possibly unsafe and have been linked to severe stomach problems and muscle spasms [19] [21] [24]. In some cases, people who have taken 5-HTP have developed a serious health condition called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), which can cause blood abnormalities and excessive muscle tenderness [19] [20] [23]. However, it is unclear whether EMS is caused by 5-HTP itself, a contaminant, or some other factor [19] [20] [23].

Common Side Effects

The most frequently reported side effects of 5-HTP supplements include [19] [21] [22] [23] [24]:

  1. Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain
  2. Heartburn and feelings of fullness
  3. Drowsiness and fatigue
  4. Sexual dysfunction
  5. Muscle problems and tenderness

At high doses, 5-HTP may cause serotonin syndrome, a dangerous condition caused by excessive serotonin levels in the body [21] [24]. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include anxiety, shivering, and serious heart problems [22] [23].

Who Should Avoid 5-HTP

Certain individuals should exercise caution or avoid taking 5-HTP supplements, including [19] [21] [22] [24]:

  1. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, due to insufficient safety information
  2. Children under 12 years of age, unless under medical supervision
  3. People with liver disease or high blood pressure
  4. Individuals taking antidepressants or other medications that increase serotonin levels, as combining them with 5-HTP may lead to serotonin syndrome
  5. Those scheduled for surgery, as 5-HTP may interact with certain drugs used during surgical procedures

It is essential to consult a healthcare provider before taking 5-HTP, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions or are taking medications, to minimize the risk of adverse effects and interactions [19] [21] [22] [24].

How to Take 5-HTP for Sleep

The recommended dosage of 5-HTP for sleep is 100-300 mg taken before bedtime [25] [26]. It is best to start with a lower dose of 50 mg and gradually increase it up to 300 mg per day if needed to minimize potential side effects [25] [26].

The optimal time to take 5-HTP is 30-45 minutes before going to bed as part of a relaxing sleep routine [28]. Taking 5-HTP at night can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and promote a healthy sleep pattern [28].

Some studies suggest that combining 5-HTP with other natural sleep aids like GABA can enhance its effectiveness [25]. One study found that taking 5-HTP along with GABA significantly reduced the time to fall asleep, increased sleep duration, and improved overall sleep quality compared to taking either supplement alone [25]. The synergistic effect likely occurs because GABA promotes relaxation [25].

It is important to note that 5-HTP may interact with certain medications, including antidepressants, sedatives, and cough medicines [25] [26]. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before taking 5-HTP, especially when combining it with other sleep aids or medications to ensure safety and avoid potential interactions [26] [32].

Customer Reviews and Personal Experiences

Many users have shared their experiences with using 5-HTP as a natural sleep aid. Here are some highlights from customer reviews:

Positive Experiences

Several users reported significant improvements in their sleep quality after taking 5-HTP. One user mentioned that after struggling with sleep-onset insomnia for over 15 years, taking 200 mg of time-release 5-HTP an hour before bed helped them sleep soundly, and they felt more energetic and refreshed upon waking [16]. Another user found that combining 5-HTP with their Ambien prescription helped them fall asleep faster and sleep for up to 8 hours, which they had forgotten was possible even with Ambien alone [16].

Some users have been taking 5-HTP for extended periods, ranging from 2 to 5 years, and reported sustained benefits for their sleep. One user shared that they started with 100 mg time-release in the evening, then increased to 100 mg in the morning and evening. They noticed their insomnia returning after a few weeks, so they added another 100 mg at lunch, which helped relieve the insomnia once again. They experienced no side effects other than slightly softer stools [16].

Negative Experiences

However, not all users had positive experiences with 5-HTP. Some reported that it made their insomnia worse, causing agitation and inability to sleep, even when combined with melatonin [16]. Others experienced side effects like panic attacks, depression, and insomnia when trying to come off 5-HTP, with withdrawal symptoms lasting up to 4 weeks [16].

Dosage seems to play a significant role in the effectiveness and side effects of 5-HTP. Some users found that the recommended dosages were too high and caused them to feel like a "sleepy zombie" without actually being able to sleep. They suggested starting with much lower doses, such as 25-50 mg, and gradually increasing if needed [16].

Additional Tips from Users

Users also shared some tips for taking 5-HTP effectively:

  1. Start with a low dose (50 mg) and gradually increase if needed, up to 300 mg per day [16].
  2. Take 5-HTP with food to minimize stomach discomfort [16].
  3. Be aware that 5-HTP may interact with certain medications, such as antidepressants and sedatives, so consult with a healthcare provider before use [16].
  4. Consider combining 5-HTP with other natural sleep aids, such as GABA, which may enhance its effectiveness [16].

While some users have found 5-HTP to be a helpful natural sleep aid, individual experiences vary widely. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen and to carefully monitor dosage and side effects.


5-HTP shows promise as a natural sleep aid, with some studies and user experiences suggesting it can reduce the time to fall asleep, increase sleep duration, and improve overall sleep quality. Its ability to increase serotonin and melatonin levels in the body may contribute to its sleep-promoting effects. However, more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and optimal dosage, especially when used in isolation.

While generally considered safe at recommended doses, 5-HTP can cause side effects and interact with certain medications, so it is crucial to consult a healthcare provider before use. Starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it, as well as combining 5-HTP with other natural sleep aids like GABA, may enhance its effectiveness and minimize the risk of adverse effects. As with any supplement, individual experiences may vary, so it is important to monitor your response and adjust your approach accordingly.


Can 5-HTP Help You Sleep Better?

Yes, 5-HTP can be beneficial for improving sleep. It works by boosting the production of melatonin in the body, which is essential for regulating sleep cycles. Research from 2010 has found that combining 5-HTP with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) can help individuals fall asleep faster, extend the duration of sleep, and enhance the overall quality of sleep.

How Does 5-HTP Differ From Melatonin?

5-HTP and melatonin are related but distinct substances. 5-HTP undergoes a process called decarboxylation, which converts it into serotonin. Serotonin is then transformed into melatonin. While 5-HTP is a precursor in the biosynthesis of serotonin and melatonin, melatonin directly influences sleep patterns. 5-HTP plays a crucial role in the synthesis of these substances, which are vital for both neurological and metabolic health.

Is 5-HTP a Natural Substance?

Yes, 5-HTP (L-5-hydroxytryptophan) is a natural compound that can also be used as a drug. It is derived from tryptophan through the action of the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which exists in two forms. This makes 5-HTP a natural component found in certain dietary supplements.

Should Older Adults Use 5-HTP?

5-HTP supplementation can be beneficial for older adults, especially those who experience poor sleep quality. Studies have shown that 5-HTP can enhance certain aspects of sleep quality in the elderly, with more significant improvements observed in individuals who struggle with sleep. This suggests that 5-HTP could be a helpful supplement for improving sleep in older populations.


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