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5 HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin. It is made from the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia, or it can be made synthetically. 5 HTP helps insomnia because it improves rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and increases the lengths of the deep sleep stages. Sufferers can begin using 5 HTP for insomnia by taking the lowest dose of 50 mg or less. There are some side effects associated with higher doses of 5 HTP, some of which can be serious. If you are on certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression, you should not take 5 HTP for treating insomnia unless under the direct supervision of a medical professional. You may purchase 5 HTP over the counter in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
REM sleep improves, on average, about 25% when 5 HTP is used. At the same time, the deep sleep stages three and four are lengthened, but the total amount of sleep time remains the same. This is because 5 HTP causes the body to shorten light sleep stages one and two. The result of this modified sleep cycle is that you will most likely awaken feeling rested and ready to begin the day.
The depth of REM sleep is dose-dependent. Most people take 50-300 mg of 5 HTP about a half an hour before bedtime. You might need less. In any case, the lower dose should be your starting point when you try 5 HTP for insomnia. You might find that you get satisfactory results from a lower dose, or it may need to be increased. Exercise caution when raising the dosage because side effects may develop.
One of the main side effects of high doses of 5 HTP is vivid, possibly disturbing dreams or nightmares due to the longer REM stage. Other possible side effects are heart valve damage or nausea. Sometimes 5 HTP causes rashes or headaches as well. Serotonin syndrome, which is potentially life-threatening, may occur if there is too much serotonin in your body. Watch for symptoms such as shivering, tremors, agitation, headache, and confusion, among others.
If you are on antidepressants, taking anti-Parkinson's medication, or antibiotics, you should not take 5 HTP for insomnia. Other medication regimens with which 5 HTP should not be combined include weight-loss medications, tranquilizers, barbiturates, MAO inhibitors, chemotherapy drugs, and alcohol. If you begin taking 5 HTP on your own, it might be prudent to inform your physician.
Local or Internet health food stores and markets may carry 5 HTP in 50 mg, 100 mg or 200 mg doses. The amino acid is usually available in regular or time-released tablets or capsules. Sublingual and spray versions of 5 HTP for insomnia may also be purchased at some locations.