I may receive a commission if you purchase through links in this post. I am not a doctor; please consult your practitioner before changing your supplement or healthcare regimen.
How and Why to Use L-arginine for Insomnia shares how L-arginine works in the body to restore a good night’s sleep. Tried other methods and need a better solution for insomnia? This supplement may address the cause of your affected sleep better than other remedies.
Does l-arginine affect sleep
In a word, yes.
L-arginine affects sleep because it’s a nitric oxide precursor. When nitric oxide is released in the blood, it relaxes blood vessels.
This helps to relax the endothelium cells and neural firing. Induced sleep is a positive side effect.
Arginine also increases Human Growth Hormone and reduces ammonia in the brain. I’ll discuss these two factors more below.
L-arginine before bed and growth hormone
Both L-arginine and ornithine are amino acids that help the body eliminate ammonia from the gut. Too much ammonia causes the brain to experience stress and anxiety.
Additionally, these amino acids improve growth hormone levels.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is produced by the pituitary gland.
HGH is responsible for growth in children and adolescents. It also helps to regulate body fluids, muscle and bone growth, sugar and fat metabolism and heart function. HGH maintains tissue and organ health.
Most importantly in regard to sleep, HGH decreases cortisol. Typically as we age, we tend to have reduced growth hormone and increased cortisol levels.
Human Growth Hormone gets released during stage 3 sleep. This is the stage of deep sleep which occurs about an hour after you fall asleep.
No wonder so many wake up feeling rested after taking L-arginine.
Some sources say L-arginine helps insomnia because of its effect on the heart. If the heart is functioning properly, we are able to breathe deeply and sleep better.
Some people combine arginine and ornithine before bed for HGH release while they sleep.
L-arginine dosage before bed
Not everyone should take L-arginine before bed. For some it’s stimulating first, before bringing on a sensation of rest and calm.
This is why many body builders use it before a workout.
Personally, I prefer to take L-arginine in the morning. I get energy all day, sometimes take an afternoon nap, and then feel ready to sleep at bedtime.
It may also work well to take L-arginine in the afternoon. This provides a good dose of energy for that stage of the day, while still allowing the body to let down and relax at night.
Some people do successfully take arginine before bed for insomnia, or about 30 minutes before bedtime.
How to take L-arginine for insomnia: dosage
The suggested dosage of L-arginine is between 2 and 8, or even up to 18, grams a day. However, I take just 250-500 mg — a lot less! I find it increases my heart rate, and that’s as much as I need.
Start with less, and ask your doctor to help you find the right dose for your body.
Negative side effects from too high of a dose may include nausea, diarrhea or a recurrence of gout symptoms.
Please read about the dangers of L-arginine here.
How and why to use L-arginine for insomnia in regard to ammonia
Ammonia is a cellular toxin created from the building of protein. If there is too much ammonia in the body, ammonia can reach the brain. There, it interferes with important functions that affect sleep.
Taking supplements like arginine, ornithine (more on this below) and glutathione (specifically this one) can promote sleep. These amino acids detoxify ammonia as part of the urea cycle.
(Ammonia is derived from digested proteins. The liver converts ammonia to urea, which is non-toxic and excreted by the kidneys. Liver dysfunctions can lead to an inability to convert ammonia, which then builds up in the blood. Very high protein intake can also cause too much ammonia in the body.)
Glutathione, L-arginine and GABA
GABA is one of the inhibitors in our central nervous system that helps us to relax and sleep.
GABA improves sleep and increases the release of Human Growth Hormone. But the effect of direct supplementation is often underwhelming. This is mainly because it is difficult for GABA to pass the blood brain barrier.
Studies show that glutathione directly stimulates GABA release, and L-arginine increases GABA uptake by the brain.
Personally, I take both amino acids for this reason (and other gut wellness benefits).
Ornithine and Citrulline
Who should take arginine, and who should take ornithine or citrulline?
Instead of taking a higher dose of L-arginine, one strategy when taking arginine is to take L-ornithine or L-citrulline as well. Some people take only ornithine or citrulline.
L-citrulline is converted into L-arginine. Therefore, L-citrulline is sometimes supplemented to increase levels of L-arginine.
Ornithine is more commonly used for bodybuilding, due to its potential for boosting athletic performance. But it’s also growing in popularity as a sleep aid. Ornithine seems to enhance sleep quality by reducing stress and anxiety.
Taking L-arginine with L-ornithine can make a smaller dose of arginine more available to the blood vessels. The kidneys convert arginine to ornithine.
However, if ornithine is provided from a supplement, the kidneys are more likely not to convert arginine to ornithine. This leaves more arginine in circulation.
The result for some is improved sleep (even more so than with arginine alone).
Support for liver function, accelerated healing of wounds and detoxification may be additional benefits.
CONCLUSION on which supplement to choose
Some bodies seem to use up L-arginine in the urea process. Taking ornithine or citrulline additionally or instead can be more effective, for those people (not everyone).
Taking L-citrulline increases plasma levels of ornithine and arginine. This improves the ammonia recycling process and nitric oxide metabolism.
Ask your doctor, or start with L-arginine. Try adding in ornithine or citrulline if needed.
Dosage for L-citrulline usually ranges from 6 and 18 grams per day.
The most common dosage for L-ornithine is 500 mg. When stacked with L-arginine, dosage is typically 250 mg.
Find these supplements here:
More about ammonia as a cause for insomnia
The brain is usually protected from the low levels of ammonia in the body by the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
But sometimes ammonia levels reach such heights that it crosses over.
Ammonia disrupts communication between neurons. This damage, in part, can manifest as sleep disturbances. Also: moodiness, poor cognition, anxiety and depression.
There are many causes of high ammonia in the brain, including:
- genetic deficiencies
- extra large amounts of protein at every meal
- alcohol-related liver disease
How long does it take for L-arginine to work
Personally, I get energy right away from L-arginine.
So, when should you take L-arginine morning or night? You may need to experiment to see what timing is best for your body.
For those who take theirs at night, about 30 minutes before bedtime is suggested.
L-arginine’s other benefits
ScienceDirect praises L-arginine’s anti-aging benefits:
… reduction in the risk of vascular and heart diseases, reduction in erectile dysfunction, improvement in immune response and inhibition of gastric hyperacidity … The demonstrated anti-aging benefits of l-arginine show greater potential than any pharmaceutical or nutraceutical agent ever previously discovered.
These benefits are attributed to arginine when taken in doses larger than normal dietary consumption.
Why to use L-Arginine for insomnia and more? It:
- produces nitric oxide, which is critical in several physiological processes including neurotransmission, vasorelaxation and immunity.
- is an essential component of the urea cycle, the pathway in mammals that allows the elimination of toxic ammonia from the body.
- is required for the synthesis of creatine, a necessary energy source for muscle contraction.
- has a protective role against NSAIDS, ulcers and has been repeatedly shown to protect gastric mucosa against damage. L-a. has also been shown to speed healing of ulcers and gastric surfaces from various causes.
- is credited with wound healing and reducing inflammation. It is often used after surgery to assist recovery.
- is suspected to play an important role in protection from age-related degenerative diseases and benefit brain function.
- promotes hair growth. The nitrogen oxide generated from arginine opens the potassium channels of the cells. The blood supply to the hair root then improves, which in turn stimulates hair growth.
- stimulates the release of insulin and is sometimes used to treat diabetes.
- can help increase muscle growth, burn fat and support the metabolism.
- with L-lysine has been documented to normalize hormonal stress for those who have anxiety.
- may be effective for angina and keeping someone off statins.
- increases sexual performance for some men.
- reduces aging spots from the face and may help with other skin conditions as well.
- provides relief from headaches.
L-arginine requirements in humans
Normal dietary intake of L-arginine only meets the body’s minimal requirements for tissue repair, protein synthesis and immune cell maintenance.
L-arginine for bodybuilding
Recommended 45 minutes before bed for bodybuilders, L-arginine’s dilating effect on blood vessels may help to repair damaged muscle tissue and restore enzymes.
Under these resting conditions, L-arginine has been shown to increase growth hormone levels.
Many bodybuilders use arginine before workouts for the increased oxygen to muscles it provides. Thus more powerful and effective sessions. (source)
By dosing before bed at night, the body experiences an increase in growth hormone production, which can boost workouts.
Where does L-arginine come from
Our bodies naturally produce L-arginine. We also get L-arginine through our diet.
I first noticed arginine’s effect on my body from eating hazelnuts. I noticed I slept better, but I also got a canker sore — both results of L-arginine!
Other foods that are high in L-arginine are sources of protein: red meat, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, certain beans and nuts.
Humans produce less arginine as we age, so supplementing is an option when we find we’re deficient. Certain illnesses can also deplete supplies more quickly.
Looking for more causes of insomnia? Read related articles here:
- How to Use DIM for Insomnia (from high estrogen)
- Why Oral Magnesium is Effective for Insomnia
- Ashwaghandha as a Sleep Aid
- 9 Natural Supplements for Insomnia (+2 modalities)