Sleep is often considered the cornerstone of well-being, yet it remains elusive for many in today’s fast-paced world.
While various remedies promise a night of restful slumber, one compound is gaining traction in sleep science: N-Acetyl Cysteine, or NAC.
But is NAC the missing piece in your quest for better sleep?
While NAC may not be a silver bullet for sleep disorders, it’s an underrated supplement with intriguing scientific evidence supporting its role in sleep improvement.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the science behind NAC, from its biochemical mechanisms to the latest research, providing you with an evidence-based resource that goes beyond mere claims.
If you’re tired of counting sheep and are ready for a scientifically-backed solution, your journey to better sleep starts here.
N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC for short, is more than just a mouthful of syllables—it’s a powerful amino acid derivative that has been a staple in the medical community for years.
Originating from the amino acid L-cysteine, NAC serves as a precursor to glutathione, one of the body’s most potent antioxidants.
It’s commonly used in hospitals for acetaminophen poisoning and has a wide range of applications, from treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to alleviating symptoms of mental health disorders. (I cover all of this in this article on NAC supplements.)
But what makes NAC a potentially useful supplement for sleep?
At its core, NAC works by replenishing levels of glutathione, thereby enhancing the body’s antioxidant capabilities. This has a ripple effect on various physiological processes, including detoxification, cellular repair, and yes, even sleep regulation.
Through replenishing glutathione levels, NAC influences various neurotransmitters that are crucial for regulating sleep. One of its most notable roles is in the modulation of glutamate levels in the brain. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, meaning it keeps your brain active and alert.
By regulating glutamate, NAC helps to balance the excitatory and inhibitory signals in the brain, helping you relax and creating a more conducive environment for sleep.
The suppression of glutamate promotes its conversion to GABA, which can help sleep.
Moreover, NAC’s antioxidant properties help combat oxidative stress, which has been linked to sleep disorders like insomnia. By reducing oxidative stress, NAC may improve sleep quality and duration, although more research is needed to confirm these effects.
In general, we need more research on all of this. However, it’s my argument that because NAC is a low-risk supplement with lots of other benefits, it’s a great addition to an existing supplement stack.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been studied for its potential effects on sleep. Here is what the research has revealed.
A 2023 study on mice found that when the mice received NAC in the evening, they fell asleep faster.
In a 2011 randomized controlled trial, the researchers gave NAC supplements to patients with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). The results showed that NAC improved deep (slow-wave) sleep, sleep efficiency, and various sleep-related parameters in the NAC group compared to baseline values.
Again, this is encouraging.
If you’ve dealt with mental health struggles, then you know firsthand how, in addition to making everything else in life challenging, it can also be hard to sleep. NAC shows a lot of promise for helping reduce symptoms of mental health disorders.
This, indirectly, could support sleep.
Over the last few years, NAC has become more and more popular for an array of functions. From heart health, to liver health, it has shown more and more effectiveness.
It’s relatively inexpensive, without much downside. The fact that it also shows potential for supporting sleep is just one more reason why it’s a no-brainer in my evening supplement stack.
Most studies look at somewhere between 600-1200mg. This is typically what you’ll find in supplements.
N-acetyl cysteine is considered to be a safe supplement. However, the supplement could interact with certain blood thinners and blood medications, so you should consult a healthcare provider before taking NAC.
N-acetyl cysteine can also cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and tiredness if taken in large doses. It has also been reported to have an unpleasant odor. So just don’t be stupid and take only the dose recommended on the label.
Experiences vary from person to person. If you want a supplement that encourages whole-body support, a NAC supplement is definitely worth a try.
There are a lot of quality NAC supplements on the market. For a comprehensive review of the most popular products, check out our article on the best NAC supplements.
To create a complete sleep stack, I recommend starting by looking into a supplement like apigenin. Apigenin is the key sleep ingredient in chamomile tea.
Next, I look at glycine supplements, because it’s a simple amino acid with an abundance of research for sleep, and virtually no downside.
Magnesium is also very popular and well-researched, but it has some downsides. Check out this article to learn the best forms of magnesium.
Disclaimer: Talk to your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement, including NAC.