According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than half of Americans have trouble sleeping at least a few nights a week. And despite a glut of drugs to treat the problem, millions lie awake at night or take medications and wake up groggy. Now, preliminary research offers hope that the essential amino acid tryptophan might offer insomniacs better nights and brighter mornings.
In a study conducted at the University of Maastrict in the Netherlands, 28 subjects (half with mild insomnia and half without) spent two nights in the lab. Each subject drank an 80-calorie bedtime milkshake—spiked with a tryptophan supplement on one night (960 mg, about what you’d get in a 3-ounce slice of turkey) and with a placebo on another night.
The next morning, those who’d had the tryptophan-laced shakes were less sleepy and were better able to pay attention at mental tasks. The insomnia sufferers also did better on tests of sustained attention, suggesting they benefited most from the tryptophan-enhanced sleep.
Lead researcher C. Rob Markus thinks “it’s too early” to recommend the study’s tryptophan supplement as a sleep aid (and weight-conscious insomniacs might not consider milkshakes an ideal delivery system). But for now, the data give problem sleepers something promising to dream about.