According to the CDC, short sleep duration affects a large percentage of Americans. A total of 35.2% of survey respondents were sleeping less than 7 hours per night, which increases the risk factors for conditions from obesity and heart disease to depression. An incredible 68.8% of high school students were getting fewer than 8 hours, which is the recommended amount. But why?
There are all sorts of reasons why you might not be able to sleep. Most are related to behavior and sleep hygiene. So, for example, a person might stay up late browsing the internet or playing games. Alternatively, they might not get enough exercise during the day. Psychological factors like stress and anxiety may also play a part.
People underestimate just how important diet is to healthy sleep. If you’re not eating right, it makes it so much harder to get to sleep. Our diet dictates the chemical balance of our brains and the hormones in our bodies. When these aren’t right, sleeping is much harder.
One factor which might be at play is a lack of Vitamin B complex. But Vitamin B has a complicated relationship with sleep. Can too much vitamin B keep you awake? Yes, but sometimes it can help you to sleep better. It all depends on how you take it and where you get it from.
Why Does Vitamin B Before Bed Keep Me Awake?
Does vitamin B complex keep you up at night? Yes: if you take B vitamins shortly before you go to bed, it can keep you awake. There’s an excellent reason for this. B vitamins help your body to regulate your sleep schedule. That means helping you feel sleepy or alert at the right times for a regular cycle. However, taking B complex supplements before bed can throw this cycle out of sync.
It all comes down to how the body uses serotonin and melatonin. This guide goes into more depth on both later, but for now, all you need to know is that these chemicals are ‘night and day’: serotonin makes you alert, whereas melatonin makes you sleepy.
Your body produces serotonin in response to sunlight, whereas it produces melatonin in response to darkness. B vitamins are essential building blocks for both chemicals.
Having a diet that lacks in B vitamins can, therefore, have a whole host of effects, because serotonin and melatonin are both very important, even aside from the fact that they help you to sleep. They relate to mood, depression, appetite, and more. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B, then, it can cause your whole life to be out of balance.
Having excess B vitamins before bed can cause your body to produce these chemicals at the wrong time. That means you’ll feel alert at night and sleepy during the day: the opposite of what you want. But the relationship between vitamins and insomnia is a complex one. That’s the question that the rest of this guide explores.
Which Vitamins Cause Insomnia?
Vitamins have a complicated relationship with sleep, one which has unfortunately not been extensively studied as of yet. One study in the Sleep Journal found that multivitamin users woke more over the course of a night, were awake longer overall, had to use more sleep medications, and experienced a higher rate of insomnia. They suggested that this could be because of four plausible reasons:
- Some people interact with vitamins differently, in a way that causes them to wake up more often during the night.
- The interaction of different vitamins together caused poor quality sleep.
- People who experience poor sleep are statistically more likely to start taking vitamins.
- People who experience depression and anxiety, which are linked to poor sleep, are more statistically likely to start taking vitamins.
Unfortunately, the study found that there weren’t many examples of previous studies to draw on for evidence. As such, their findings were only intended to start a discussion rather than settle a debate.
In other words, scientists still aren’t 100% sure of exactly why vitamins have a complex relationship with sleep.
Other studies into having too much B vitamin complex show that there’s a link to insomnia, too. Thiamine, also known as B1, has many side effects if you take too high a dose: a headache, irritability, rapid pulse, and insomnia. B6 can also cause very vivid dreaming, which of course can wake you up during the night. There’s also the fact that B6 is a diuretic.
Overall, then, it’s no surprise that plenty of people report B vitamins to keep them awake. The confusing part is that they have so many positive effects on sleep, too. The trick is to use them in the right way, which is what the next section is all about.
B Vitamins Can Help You Sleep
When it comes to B vitamins, it’s all about how you take them. If taken correctly, they can help you sleep better. But as you know, they can make sleep worse if you use them wrong. Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9, and B12 can all play a part, and there are many different reasons why. These are just a few:
B vitamins regulate the body’s level of tryptophan, an amino acid that’s vital for sleep. Tryptophan, medically speaking, is what’s called a ‘precursor’ to both serotonin and melatonin. This means that your body uses it as an essential ingredient in hormone production. Unfortunately, the body cannot synthesize (create) tryptophan on its own. You need to find it in your diet or through supplements.
Serotonin is a ‘neurotransmitter,’ which means that it helps the brain send messages from one neuron to another. The neurochemical helps you feel happy, energized, and positive. It also plays a part in stimulating appetite and regulating emotions.
Melatonin (B12) is the hormone at the center of the sleep cycle. Your body produces and releases more and more as it gets darker, which encourages you to sleep. Without it, you won’t feel naturally tired. You can only find very small amounts of it in meat and grains. That’s why it’s so important to produce your own, which is where B vitamins come in.
B vitamins also promote sleep by preventing certain illnesses. You can suffer from certain kinds of anemia if you don’t get enough B12. This causes dozens of common symptoms like weakness, depression, fever, diarrhea, weight loss, jaundice, and more.
These symptoms can ruin your quality of sleep. Another example is restless leg syndrome. This is linked to a lack of vitamin B12 through anemia. If you didn’t know, restless leg syndrome is exactly what it sounds like: at night, RLS sufferers experience pain in the legs, cramps, tingling, aching, and itching. More generally, B vitamins may help with:
- Reducing the risk of strokes
- Strengthening the immune system
- Reducing the likelihood of dementia in later life
- Heart disease
Because B vitamins are linked to serotonin production, they can also help prevent mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Serotonin helps regulate mood, ‘rewarding’ you for doing things that your body wants you to do. That’s why exercise gives you a buzz.
It’s also why we feel good when we eat fatty or sugary foods: early on during human evolution, it was difficult to find foods that gave us enough fat or sugar. So, when we found some, our bodies encouraged us to eat as much as we could. The more serotonin our body produces, the happier we feel.
Vitamins for insomnia and anxiety can help your body by creating natural serotonin. These effects have both been backed up by studies. At least one study has reported that B12 shortens the length of the sleep-wake rhythm; this could be exactly what you need to get your insomnia back on track.
Identifying Vitamin B Deficiency
B vitamin deficiency isn’t necessarily easy to spot. That’s because there are many different B vitamins, and a deficiency in one might look different from a deficiency in another. Each B vitamin does something different to its neighbors, and so when you lack in one, you might experience fatigue; but lack in another might cause skin rashes.
Let’s take a brief look at the different symptoms of vitamin B deficiency.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) deficiency can cause anemia, confusion, fatigue, weakness, and depression.
- Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause anemia, confusion, depression, nausea, and rashes.
- Very few people lack B1 and B2 because they’re so common. However, a deficiency can cause confusion too.
- Vitamin B3 deficiency can cause digestive issues, nausea, and abdominal cramps.
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency can cause anemia and diarrhea.
That’s an incredible range of problems. Unfortunately, diagnosing a lack of B vitamins isn’t as easy as diagnosing other physical conditions. If you have measles, for example, there are easy-to-spot symptoms that make the condition obvious. But a vitamin or mineral deficiency is much harder to spot because the symptoms are more generic. If you’re in doubt, talk with a healthcare professional to find out more.
B Vitamins in Our Diet
There are two ways to get more B vitamins. The first is through diet, and the second is through supplements. Each approach to getting more B vitamins is effective, although supplements are the easier route to take.
There are dozens of sources for B vitamins in our diets. Let’s take a look at where you can find each vitamin through what you eat:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Eggs, peas, whole grains, fresh fruit, fortified cereal, and liver.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Milk, eggs, rice, and fortified cereal.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Milk, eggs, meat, fish, and wheat flour.
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid): Eggs, chicken, beef, potatoes, oatmeal, broccoli, and whole grains.
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Milk, eggs, pork, chicken, fish, peanuts, and potatoes.
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin): This is produced naturally in your body. You only need small amounts, and the amount you produce is enough.
- Vitamin B9 (Folic acid): Broccoli, liver, spinach, asparagus, peas, and fortified cereals.
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Meat and fish, milk, cheese, eggs, and fortified cereals.
As you can see, you need a reasonably varied diet to get enough of each B vitamin. The best option is to drink more milk and eat more eggs. These two foods contain most of the B vitamins on their own. To get all of them, eat a mixture of meat and vegetables, as well as fortified cereal and milk.
B Vitamin Supplement
Of course, you can always choose a B vitamin supplement. These supplements often contain 100% of your RDA (recommended daily allowance) on their own. In addition to your dietary sources, this gives you more than your body needs.
There’s no harm in having, say, 150% of your RDA. All that happens is that your body gets rid of anything it doesn’t need. However, having many times more than your RDA- e.g. 500%- can be harmful and must be avoided.
You can choose a multivitamin that contains B vitamins, or a specific B vitamin supplement. Multivitamins are a good choice, although they are not intended to replace a varied diet. A specific supplement may be a good idea. That’s because people often lack just one or two areas, rather than every area.
Getting your B vitamins through diet can be tricky, which is where supplements come in. It’s especially tricky for vegans and vegetarians since the examples we’ve listed above are almost all animal sources. That’s because vitamin B12 is produced almost exclusively by a particular kind of bacteria that lives inside the digestive system. It’s only found in plants to a much lesser extent. Other B vitamins can be found in both animal and plant sources. To make sure you get enough of each B vitamin, a supplement is the best choice.
How To Tell if Vitamins is Causing a Lack of Sleep
There are many steps you can take to make sure B vitamins enhance your sleep, rather than interfere with it. These will help you figure out whether it’s B vitamins or another factor that’s causing your lack of sleep.
Go through each step one by one to make sure:
- Start taking your B vitamins earlier in the day, rather than later at night. Since they interfere with your sleep schedule, taking them late at night can make your sleep less restful. The problem may be as simple as that.
- Cut down on your intake, for instance by only taking half a tablet at a time. It may be that you’re taking too much without knowing, or that your body processes B vitamins slower than normal.
- Stop taking B vitamins for a brief period. Take note of how well you sleep over the course of a week, perhaps in a sleep diary. Identify any improvements, i.e., longer sleep, or more restful sleep.
- Cut out other supplements to see if it was something other than your B vitamin complex tablet. As mentioned in the study above, multivitamins can cause restless sleep, not just B vitamins.
- Talk with your doctor if you still can’t figure out the cause. It may be a completely unrelated condition that’s making your sleep less restful. Your lack of sleep may be a sign of something more serious.
If your B vitamins were causing your poor sleep, these five steps should be enough to establish the fact. Before you see a doctor, though, it might help you to look at our list of other causes of insomnia below.
Alternative Causes of Insomnia and Sleeplessness
Almost anything can cause a lack of sleep. If you’re not sure what exactly the problem is, scroll through our list and tick off each cause. You might be surprised at what’s causing your trouble sleeping.
Environmental causes are an obvious culprit. Noise, light, or other disturbances may wake you up completely; but they may also only disturb your sleep somewhat—not enough to wake you up, but enough to rouse you from a deep sleep. This can cause tiredness later in the day.
A whole host of mental conditions including stress, anxiety, nerves, and depression can cause a lack of sleep. In turn, a lack of sleep can make these conditions worse—a vicious cycle. Try relaxing techniques like meditation before bed to see if they can help.
Physical illness can cause discomfort and trouble sleeping. Obesity and diabetes can make you too hot at night, or cause cramp and pain. Any condition that causes pain can keep you awake at night, from multiple sclerosis to the flu.
Lifestyle choices may also play a part. Excess caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol can disrupt sleeping patterns, as can being overweight or obese. Having a job that necessitates working in the evening, sleeping late or going to bed late, and eating at night can also be at fault.
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
Delayed sleep phase syndrome goes by many names, but the idea is always the same. Instead of the regular 24-hour sleep clock that most people have, those with DSPD have one that’s longer or shorter. Their sleep patterns therefore vary, and without forcing themselves, these people would naturally sleep later than others. The cause is genetic.
Vitamin B Guidelines
So, if you’re interested in getting better sleep, B vitamins might be your answer. If you’d like to start taking B vitamin supplements, though, you need to do it right. Follow the guidelines below to make sure B complex helps you sleep rather than keeping you awake.
- Check that there aren’t multiple causes for your lack of sleep. A B vitamin deficiency might only be a part of the problem. Don’t be discouraged if your supplements don’t ‘work’ straight away. You may see partial improvement, complete improvement, or even no improvement at all. So check for other insomnia causes before putting all of your eggs in one basket.
- Make sure you only take the recommended dose. It’s hard to ‘overdose’ on vitamins, but there are side effects of having too many. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is set for a reason. Stick to it as much as possible. Pay special attention to whether two of your supplements provide you with the same vitamin. According to Consumer Lab, too much B complex in your diet can cause liver toxicity, nerve damage, skin lesions, kidney damage, and rosacea.
- Never take B vitamin supplements in the evening. Caffeine can help you through the day. But everyone knows that drinking coffee during the evening keeps you awake late into the night. Adopt the same attitude if you start taking vitamin B complex supplements. Take them during the early morning whenever possible.
- Pair your vitamins with food. Some vitamins—vitamins A, D, E, and K—are fat-soluble. Others—vitamins B and C—are water-soluble. This means that certain vitamins dissolve when exposed to fat, and others dissolve in water. You want your vitamins to dissolve in the digestive system because this helps your body absorb them. Make sure to take your B vitamins with water, or preferably food that contains plenty of water too.
- Check that your supplements don’t interact with other medications. B12, for example, interacts with certain antibiotics and anti-seizure medications. It’s recommended that you tell your doctor if you plan to take any supplements. They can inform you as to whether it will interact with any of your current medications.
Aside from these five points, all you have to remember is to follow the instructions provided with your supplements.