Expanding Your Sleep Toolbox: Beyond Melatonin

Written by: Dr. Justine Luchini



Time to read 10 min

Our team was recently at a big regional Crossfit competition. We had our Z-team tent up, and naturally, had tons of conversations with athletes, coaches, and spectators about sleep. 

We love doing that, because we get to learn so much about what is important to our community. 

One question that kept coming up was, “If a supplement doesn’t have any melatonin in it, how can it help me sleep?”

We heard it so often, we figured we had better write about it. And not just about supplements and sleep, but how you can work on improving sleep quality in a variety of ways without using melatonin. 

More tools for your toolbox :) 

The TL:DR is this: 
Melatonin only works on one very specific aspect of your total sleep process: timing. There are lots of other ways that your body needs to work for you to get good quality sleep, and repair and recharge at night. 

Your sleep habits are the key. Then you can use nutrients, like amino acids and minerals, to further support your other sleep processes: strong sleep spindles, deep sleep, and REM sleep. 


We’ll talk habits first. 


If yours are dialed in and you want to skip to the natural melatonin free supplements that can support better sleep, click here.


When it comes to improving sleep, there is one key factor that consistently emerges as the most influential in scientific research: consistency with sleep habits. While the allure of quick fixes and sleep aids may be tempting, the truth is that establishing a regular sleep routine holds unparalleled significance in optimizing our sleep quality.


Numerous studies and sleep experts have echoed the importance of maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Our bodies thrive on consistency and routine. It’s true for your diet, it’s true for your training, and the same holds true for our sleep patterns. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, we synchronize our internal clock naturally. This alignment allows our bodies to regulate the essential processes and hormones that govern sleep and recovery.


When we consistently adhere to a sleep routine, our bodies anticipate and prepare for sleep at the right time. This preparation includes a gradual release of the hormone melatonin, which signals to our brain that it's time to wind down and transition into a restful state.


Conversely, irregular sleep patterns confuse our bodies. Our bodies don’t know when to start winding down and can’t figure out whether to be alert or not at night. The result is often difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, and an overall less restful sleep.

Consistency with sleep habits extends beyond just the timing of sleep. You can start to train your body to wind down by incorporating other cues and habits. Creating a pre-bedtime routine signals to our bodies that it's time to relax and prepare for sleep. This may involve activities such turning the lights down at the same time each night, reading a book, or practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing exercises. The key is to establish a calming routine that becomes a consistent signal for our bodies to transition into sleep mode.

Sleep routines are important to improve sleep quality.

So now, coming back to the question we kept hearing last weekend:

How does a sleep supplement that does not contain melatonin can help with sleep?

Beyond the timing of sleep onset, the following factors play critical roles in ensuring a night of quality sleep. Let's delve deeper into these factors:

  1. Ability to unwind and avoid overstimulation. We need the active, anxious parts of our brains to pump the brakes. This can be hard if you’re workout out late and using stimulants (think caffeine and sugar, but also social media, shows, movies, and video games) close to bed time.
  2. Brain chemistry and sleep spindles: Sleep spindles are brief bursts of electrical activity in the brain that occur during non-REM sleep. These spindles are believed to play a crucial role in consolidating memories and promoting overall sleep quality. Achieving the right chemical balance in the brain, including the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters and hormones, contributes to the generation of robust sleep spindles.
  3. Synchronization of brain waves during deep and REM sleep: Deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep are two vital stages of the sleep cycle. Deep sleep is associated with restorative physical processes, such as muscle repair and hormone regulation. REM sleep, on the other hand, is linked to cognitive functions, memory consolidation, and dreaming. The synchronization of brain waves during these stages is essential for optimal sleep and overall sleep quality.

So for a supplement to help with sleep it needs to help either:

  •  Counteract over stimulation and help you to wind down 

  • Support your brain chemistry and hormones for strong sleep spindles and deep and REM sleep brain waves.

Here are some of the best natural compounds that help do those things:

  1. Collagen: The Relaxing Power of Glycine 
    Collagen is made of amino acids, most of them being one called glycine. Glycine is an amino acid known for its calming effects on the brain. It acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which helps to reduce nerve activity and promote relaxation. By including glycine in your nighttime routine, you can enhance the quality of your sleep, making it more restorative and rejuvenating. In studies, glycine has been shown to help lower core body temperature, which is important for deep sleep and to reduce next day fatigue on the same amount of sleep (compared to no glycine). 

  2. L-Theanine: Unwind and De-stress 
    L-Theanine is a naturally occurring compound found in tea leaves, particularly in green tea. It has been widely studied for its ability to counteract over-stimulation, promote relaxation, and reduce anxiety. L-Theanine works by increasing alpha brain waves, which are associated with a state of relaxation, and REM sleep. 

  3. GABA: A Neurotransmitter for Tranquility 
    Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in promoting relaxation and sleep. By inhibiting nerve activity in the brain, GABA helps to quiet the mind and prepare it for deep, uninterrupted sleep.

  4. Magnesium: The Mineral for Muscle Relaxation 
    Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It plays a significant role in muscle relaxation and the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle by supporting your natural production of melatonin.

While melatonin can be beneficial for short-term use or in specific situations such as jet lag or shift work, relying on it as a long-term sleep aid may have unintended consequences on your metabolism and hormones.

Add some more tools to your sleep toolbox and discover the benefits of natural alternatives to melatonin.


Our PM Recovery Collagen harnesses the power of glycine, L-theanine, GABA, and magnesium, in carefully researched amounts, to provide Crossfit athletes with a comprehensive approach to improving sleep quality, optimizing overall health, and boosting recovery potential.

Remember, sleep is not just about the quantity of hours spent in bed; it's about the quality of rest we obtain. Prioritizing our sleep health and exploring natural alternatives empowers us to unlock the full potential of restorative sleep.

So, let's embrace the power of consistency, explore diverse tools, and embark on a journey towards better sleep and overall vitality. Your body and mind deserve it.

Sleep tight,

Dr J


This blog is not intended to be used as medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before initiating any supplementation, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications. 




Consistency of Sleep Habits (Timing) References


  1. Kang, Hyeonjin, Miyoung Lee, and S. Jang. "The Impact of Social Jetlag on Sleep Quality among Nurses: A Cross-Sectional Survey." *International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health*, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, p. 47. [MDPI](https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18010047).
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  3. McGowan, N., et al. "The Impact of Social Jetlag and Chronotype on Attention, Inhibition and Decision Making in Healthy Adults." *Journal of Sleep Research*, vol. 29, no. 4, 2020, e12974. [Wiley Online Library](https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12974).
  4. McMahon, Daria M., et al. "Relationships between Chronotype, Social Jetlag, Sleep, Obesity and Blood Pressure in Healthy Young Adults." *Chronobiology International*, vol. 36, no. 4, 2019, pp. 493-509. [Taylor & Francis Online](https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2018.1563094).
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Collagen References

  1. Bannai, Makoto, and Nobuhiro Kawai. "New therapeutic strategy for amino acid medicine: glycine improves the quality of sleep." Journal of pharmacological sciences 118.2 (2012): 145-148.
  2. Bannai, Makoto, et al. "The effects of glycine on subjective daytime performance in partially sleep-restricted healthy volunteers." Frontiers in neurology 3 (2012): 61.
  3. Clark, Kristine L et al. “24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain.” Current medical research and opinion vol. 24,5 (2008): 1485-96. doi:10.1185/030079908x291967
  4. Clifford, T., Ventress, M., Allerton, D.M. et al. The effects of collagen peptides on muscle damage, inflammation and bone turnover following exercise: a randomized, controlled trial. Amino Acids 51, 691–704 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00726-019-02706-5
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  9. Oesser, Steffen, Milan Adam, Wilfried Babel, and Seifert Jürgen. Oral Administration of 14C Labeled Gelatin Hydrolysate Leads to an Accumulation of Radioactivity in Cartilage of Mice (C57/BL) The Journal of Nutrition 129, no. 10 (October 1999): 1891–95. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/129.10.1891.
  10. Song, Hongdong et al. “Effect of Orally Administered Collagen Peptides from Bovine Bone on Skin Aging in Chronologically Aged Mice.” Nutrients vol. 9,11 1209. 3 Nov. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9111209
  11. Yamadera W, Inagawa K, Chiba S, Bannai M, Takahashi M, Nakayama K. Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep and Biological Rhythms. 2007;5(2):126-131. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00262.x.


Magnesium References


  1. DiNicolantonio, James J et al. “Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis.” Open heart vol. 5,1 e000668. 13 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
  2. Cao, Yingting et al. “Magnesium Intake and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up.” Nutrients vol. 10,10 1354. 21 Sep. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10101354
  3. Abbasi, Behnood et al. “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences vol. 17,12 (2012): 1161-9.
  4. Schutten, Joëlle C et al. “Long-term magnesium supplementation improves glucocorticoid metabolism: A post-hoc analysis of an intervention trial.” Clinical endocrinology vol. 94,2 (2021): 150-157. doi:10.1111/cen.14350
  5. Boyle, Neil Bernard et al. “The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 9,5 429. 26 Apr. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9050429
  6. Held, Katja et al. “Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans.” Pharmacopsychiatry vol. 35,4 (2002): 135-43. doi:10.1055/s-2002-33195


L-Theanine References


  1. Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.06.006. Epub 2006 Aug 22. PMID: 16930802.
  2. Kim, Suhyeon, et al. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharmaceutical biology 57.1 (2019): 64-72.
  3. Dietz C, Dekker M. Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(19):2876-2905. doi: 10.2174/1381612823666170105151800. PMID: 28056735.
  4. Lopes Sakamoto F, Metzker Pereira Ribeiro R, Amador Bueno A, Oliveira Santos H. Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Sep;147:104395. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2019.104395. Epub 2019 Aug 11. PMID: 31412272.
  5. White DJ, de Klerk S, Woods W, Gondalia S, Noonan C, Scholey AB. Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an L-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 19;8(1):53. doi: 10.3390/nu8010053. PMID: 26797633; PMCID: PMC4728665.
  6. Williams JL, Everett JM, D'Cunha NM, Sergi D, Georgousopoulou EN, Keegan RJ, McKune AJ, Mellor DD, Anstice N, Naumovski N. The Effects of Green Tea Amino Acid L-Theanine Consumption on the Ability to Manage Stress and Anxiety Levels: a Systematic Review. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2020 Mar;75(1):12-23. doi: 10.1007/s11130-019-00771-5. PMID: 31758301.
  7. Rao, Theertham P., Motoko Ozeki, and Lekh R. Juneja. "In search of a safe natural sleep aid." Journal of the American College of Nutrition 34.5 (2015): 436-447.
  8. Nathan PJ, Lu K, Gray M, Oliver C. The neuropharmacology of L-theanine (N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent. J Herb Pharmacother. 2006;6(2):21-30. PMID: 17182482.
  9. The Role of Supplements and Over-the-Counter Products to Improve Sleep in Children: A Systematic Review." International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 24, no. 9, 2023, https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/24/9/7821/pdf?version=1682413061.


GABA References


  1. Ono, Daisuke et al. “Role of GABA in the regulation of the central circadian clock of the suprachiasmatic nucleus.” The journal of physiological sciences : JPS vol. 68,4 (2018): 333-343. doi:10.1007/s12576-018-0604-x
  2. Szymusiak, Ronald, Irma Gvilia, and Dennis McGinty. "Hypothalamic control of sleep." Sleep medicine 8.4 (2007): 291-301.
  3. Brown, Ritchie E., and James T. McKenna. "Turning a negative into a positive: ascending GABAergic control of cortical activation and arousal." Frontiers in neurology 6 (2015): 135.
  4. Brooks, Patricia L, and John H Peever. “Unraveling the mechanisms of REM sleep atonia.” Sleep vol. 31,11 (2008): 1492-7. doi:10.1093/sleep/31.11.1492
  5. Boonstra, Evert, et al. "Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior." Frontiers in psychology 6 (2015): 1520.
  6. Holst, Sebastian C, and Hans-Peter Landolt. “Sleep-Wake Neurochemistry.” Sleep medicine clinics vol. 13,2 (2018): 137-146. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2018.03.002
  7. Winkelman, John W et al. “Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS).” Sleep vol. 31,11 (2008): 1499-506. doi:10.1093/sleep/31.11.1499
  8. Kim, Suhyeon, et al. "GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep." Pharmaceutical biology 57.1 (2019): 64-72.