Inositol is referred to as “nature’s sleeping pills” by Dr. Robert Atkins, one of the fathers of functional medicine, the branch of medicine that employs food supplements in treatment and prevention of disorders.
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In fact, Atkins writes, inositol “virtually eliminates the need for a whole category of potentially harmful drugs: tranquilizers and sleeping pills.” Inositol not only encourages sounder sleep, but also relaxes nervous tension and lifts the spirits.
Although it is also sometimes called Vitamin B8, inositol is not a real vitamin (since the body can produce a few grams of inositol daily from dietary carbohydrates), but a type of carbohydrate (sugar) occurring naturally in many plants and animals, including in the human body where it plays a role in many important processes.
Some people have lower levels of inositol in their brain, potentially triggering symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
How to prevent inositol deficiency?
High sugar consumption may inhibit inositol availability.
Lithium, which is sometimes used as a medicine for bipolar disorder, depletes inositol levels and may cause psoriasis. Taking 3-6 grams of inositol daily may reduce the psoriasis.
Vitamin C may help prevent inositol loss.
The best food sources of inositol are beans, fruits, nuts, and whole grains, however unless one eats an exceptionally healthy, plant-based diet, one may not be getting more than 1.5 gram of myo-inositol per day.
Fruits in particular, especially oranges and cantaloupe, contain the highest amounts of inositol (in the form of lecithin, which is well absorbed and relatively bioavailable.) Fresh vegetables and fruit contain more myo-inositol than frozen or canned produce.
The problem is that the best sources of inositol tend to contain it in the form of phytic acid, also known as inositol hexakisphosphate (IP6), which is a potent anti-cancer chemical, but it does not cause any psychoactive effects since it is not directly bioavailable to humans.
Moreover, high phytic acid consumption may also inhibit the body’s ability to absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. (So you want to be careful not to take any IP6 supplements with food.)
How fortunate are we thus that nowadays inositol is also produced artificially for use as a food supplement.
Inositol is also used as a sweetener in energy drinks which dabbles as an agent which increases serotonin levels and alertness.
While there are several inositol isomers, as a supplement, you will most likely be able to procure one of the better studied forms, such as:
- myo-inositol (free of phosphate) – the most common form of inositol in the human body.
- D-chiro-inositol (pinitol) – a known anti-diabetic agent isolated from Sutherlandia frutescens leaves. It is also found in other plants, such as in the pods of the carob tree and in the sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana).
Inositol phosphates include:
- inositol monophosphate (IP)
- inositol bisphosphate (IP2)
- inositol trisphosphate (IP3)
- inositol pentakisphosphate (IP5)
- inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) also known as phytic acid or phytate.
Is there a difference between inositol and myo-inositol?
As we’ve seen there are different substances called inositol, including the inositol phosphates (which have anti-cancer properties, but are poorly digested unless processed properly) and the more bioavailable types pinitol and myo-inositol.
When I say inositol, I refer to myo-inositol mainly because it is the most bioavailable type and the most abundant form of inositol in our bodies.
Best Food Sources of Myo-Inositol
If you prefer to get your nutrients from food, then here are some ideas to consider:
- 120 g Grapefruit Juice – 469 mg myo-inositol
- 100 g Great Northern Beans (canned) – 440 mg myo-inositol
- 100 g fresh Cantaloupe – 355 mg myo-inositol
- 100 g fresh Orange – 307 mg myo-inositol
- 25 g Bread (from stone ground wheat) – 287 mg myo-inositol
- 100 g Rutabaga (canned) – 252 mg myo-inositol
- 40 g creamy Peanut Butter – 122 mg myo-inositol
- 200 g fresh Artichoke – 120 mg myo-inositol
- 15 g Almonds – 42 mg myo-inositol
(For more ideas, go here or get in touch with me.)
Uses of Inositol
Inositol can be used to treat the following conditions:
- Diabetic neuropathy (pain in the arms and legs associated with diabetes) – a daily 1 gram dose may ease pain and improve nerve function.
- Obesity due to slow metabolism – supplementing with inositol, choline, and methionine may increase the burning rate of excess fat.
- Metabolic syndrome – may improve insulin resistance, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure in postmenopausal women with the syndrome.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – may lower triglyceride and testosterone levels, decrease blood pressure, and improve ovarian function and fertility in women with PCOS.
- Preterm birth – for premature babies, inositol may increase survival rates as well as prevent vision loss and respiratory distress. Moreover, taking inositol with folic acid during pregnancy may lower the chance of having a preterm birth in the first place when compared with folic acid alone in women with higher chances of developing diabetes during pregnancy.
- Infant health – for babies using formula, make sure it contains inositol since newborns require ample quantities for healthy growth (contained naturally in breast milk).
- OCD – a 6 week-treatment may improve OCD symptoms in people who are not already being treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Panic disorder – may help control panic attacks and fear of public places or open spaces (agoraphobia).
- Depression – though some research has shown reductions in depression with daily dosages of 6-12 grams taken for several weeks, other studies were unable to replicate this effect.
- Bipolar Disorder – a combination of 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids and up to 2 grams of inositol taken daily for 12 weeks may reduce symptoms of mania and depression in children with the disorder.
Quite impressive for a supplement which should not cost more than 10-20 cents per dose…
However, for me, as a sleep therapist, I’m more interested in the effects of inositol supplementation on sleep and on sleep disorders such as insomnia.
The Roles of Inositol in the Human Body
Inositol plays many roles in your body, including:
- glucose metabolism
- a major component of cell membranes
- controlling levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
By helping insulin work better, inositol may improve blood sugar control and is beneficial for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and diabetes during pregnancy.
But by altering neurotransmitter levels within the brain, inositol is able to produce a psychoactive calming effect, which may be beneficial in treatment of sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.
Specifically, the effects of inositol on mood disorders are believed to at least partially result from increased serotonin levels. So if an SSRI medication is able to treat a symptom, there’s a chance inositol will have a similar effect, with less side effects.
However, the exact mechanism for how it improves anxiety is not clear.
Learn more about Inositol
This video contains some additional information, such as the benefits of inositol as a nootropic, a substance which can improve cognition.
Inositol & Sleep: Why is Inositol Important for Sleep?
Inositol has been shown to reduce sleeplessness and improve sleep quality in some populations. For example, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine demonstrated that taking myo-inositol with folic acid may improve sleep during pregnancy more than folic acid alone.
How does inositol help with sleep?
Insomnia is often linked to various psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, which are associated with low serotonin levels.
So inositol may help sleep indirectly by treating any mood-related symptoms which may be disrupting sleep.
However, not every insomniac also suffers from depression, anxiety, or low serotonin levels.
Can inositol help other forms of insomnia?
A 2017 study published in the in the journal Neuropsychobiology found that low levels of inositol in the brain are associated with
- Impaired psychosocial functioning
- Depression and anxiety symptoms
- Tiredness during the day
- Shorter sleep
The researchers conclude that “Short sleep and daytime sleepiness may be associated with frontal cortex mI [myo-inositol] independently from depression.” (Emphasis mine.)
Moreover, the anecdotal evidence that inositol consumption benefits sleep is quite promising.
This makes sense because inositol promotes a feeling of calmness and peace, which are unarguably important for getting good rest.
In addition, chronic sleep deprivation and SSRI use may cause desensitization of serotonin receptors, an effect that may be countered by myo-inositol supplementation.
This can also be useful for people experimenting with psychedelic substances which also cause the same type of serotonin desensitization forcing the users to take breaks of 1-2 weeks between consecutive uses of substances such as LSD and Psilocybe (magic mushrooms). Perhaps inositol may shorten the required break.
As a psychoactive supplement, inositol produces an altered state of consciousness characterized by a general relaxed feeling and calmness, which may facilitate an easier and healthier transition into sleep, potentially resulting in an overall better sleep.
Some people report the following dream effects on inositol:
- vivid dreams
- bizarre/weird dreams
- improved dream recall
- bad dreams and nightmares to the point of insomnia: not being able to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
These effects have been reported from doses as low as 2 grams per day of myo-inositol.
Dreams may be affected immediately upon starting to use inositol. Sometimes these dreams pass after a few days.
Why is inositol affecting your dreams?
Firstly, it could also be a related to concerns regarding taking a new supplement. When taking a new supplement, one may be anxious to see how it affects one, thereby causing dream problems.
However, this doesn’t explain why so many inositol users report dream disturbance, while for other supplements, there are not always so many such reports.
Another possibility is that inositol affects dreams through influencing levels of neurotransmitters within the brain, including serotonin.
Indeed, other supplements which increase serotonin levels, such as 5-HTP, may also cause increased dreaming when taken before bedtime, specifically in the second half of the night.
How to relieve dream symptoms?
While some people may enjoy the improved dream recall and vivid dreams under the influence of myo-inositol supplementation, others may find them disturbing.
To stop inositol dreams, you can try lowering the dosage or taking it earlier during the day.
The half life of inositol is about 5 hours so if you take it in the morning, by the time you go to sleep at night, your inositol levels should be almost normal.
What Type of Inositol to Use?
You already know why you should probably avoid taking inositol phosphates…
First, you need to choose between myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol, the two common commercial forms of inositol supplements.
Studies showing that taking the two forms together is more beneficial than taking just one of them alone suggest that a combined approach might be best.
Indeed, there are supplements on the market which contain both forms mixed together in one product.
Inositol supplements come in capsules, tablets, or powder.
How to use inositol powder for sleep?
The powder is sweet (recall that inositol is a type of sugar) and water soluble so it should be easy enough to just dissolve it with some water and drink without suffering too much in the process…
Dosage: How much Inositol for Sleep?
As for dosages, they have ranged in studies in doses of up to 18 grams per day.
Insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep): 500 mg – 2 grams before bed.
Doses for insulin sensitivity and fertility are usually much lower than those used for neurological conditions like anxiety disorders and depression
Metabolic Syndrome: 2 grams myo-inositol twice per day.
PCOS: 1000-1200 mg D-chiro-inositol; 4 grams myo-inositol plus 400 mcg of folic acid; or 550 mg of myo-inositol and 150 mg of D-chiro-inositol. Twice daily.
Preventing preterm birth: 2 grams of myo-inositol plus 200 mcg of folic acid twice daily; 1100 mg of myo-inositol plus 27.6 mg of D-chiro-inositol and 400 mcg of folic acid daily.
Depression: 6-12 grams a day.
OCD: 18 grams daily.
Alzheimer’s Disease: 6 grams daily may improve language and orientation.
Moderate anxiety: 1-2 grams a day.
Severe anxiety: Up to 12-18 grams per day.
Panic disorders: 18 grams of inositol each day reduced the number of weekly panic attacks by 4 – more than the reduction of 2.4 per week seen in individuals on anxiety medication
Type 2 diabetes: 1 gram of D-chiro-inositol and 400 mcg folic acid daily.
When should you take inositol for sleep?
If you are using inositol regularly to help with sleep, then you should probably take it before bedtime.
But if you are only using inositol occasionally and want the calming effect to kick in before attempting to sleep, then take it about 1-2 hours before bedtime.
How long can I take Inositol?
Can you take inositol everyday?
Yes. In fact, it is often suggested to take inositol regularly, instead of just taking it occasionally. That is because it takes time (2-4 weeks) to reach healthy levels of inositol, serotonin, and other brain chemicals. For the same reason, SSRIs may take weeks to start exerting their effects.
However, it’s unclear whether inositol supplements are safe for long-term use.
While these inositol dosages appear to be helpful for certain conditions in the short-term, more research is needed to determine if they’re safe and effective over longer periods.
Here are some usage periods used in research:
- Metabolic Syndrome: 1 year.
- PCOS: up to 3-6 months.
- Preventing preterm birth: throughout pregnancy.
- Depression: 4-6 weeks.
- Diabetes: 6 months.
What are the Side Effects of Inositol?
As a dietary supplement, inositol has a very good safety record and is well-tolerated by most people.
The FDA classifies inositol as GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe).
Because inositol is water-soluble, it doesn’t have a high risk of overdose.
Few mild adverse effects may occur in moderate to high doses (12-18 grams per day), including:
- stomach pain
- upset stomach
- paradoxically, difficulty sleeping / insomnia
- vivid/strange dreams
Slightly reducing the dose of inositol will usually improve these symptoms.
In fact, being mindful of any side effects may help you determine your ideal dosage.
Once you make up for any inositol deficient, you will get diarrhea, which will be relieved upon lowering the dose to a maintenance level.
Warnings & Tips
Inositol can be taken with or without food.
As with any supplement, talk to your doctor before taking inositol, especially in the following cases:
- If you are overweight, be cautious. Inositol is a type of glucose and high doses may inhibit weight loss.
- If you are underweight, also be cautious because it may increase your metabolic rate too much, causing overheating and increased sweating.
- If you’re pregnant (though inositol supplements have even been given to pregnant women at doses of around 4 grams per day with no concerning effects).
- If you’re breastfeeding, then again, ask your doctor. Breast milk is naturally rich in inositol.
- For children ages 5-12, inositol may be safe when taken for up to 3 months.
- For premature infants with a sudden and serious lung condition (acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS), inositol may be safe for up to 10 days. Longer than that may be unsafe.
What can I take with inositol to help with sleep?
Here are some of the best natural sleep aids you may want to try.
And check out this list of Sleep States inducers.
Bottom Line & Purchase Options
Inositol supplementation may be beneficial if you’re having trouble sleeping due to anxiety or depression.
It may also enhance sleep in people not suffering from insomnia, so if you’re interested in getting the best sleep possible, you should definitely experiment with inositol, especially because it is so safe.
For oneironauts, inositol may be used as a supporting supplement as part of a broad dreamwork strategy, mainly for improving dream recall.
It is recommended to take the two inositol isomers, myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol, in their physiological ratio, which is 40:1 of myo- and D-chiro-inositol respectively.
Also, ideally get a supplement which has been verified by a third party. For example, Ovasitol is an inositol supplement independently verified for content accuracy, purity, and freedom from contaminants through a not-for-profit certification program (NSF International).