, Volume 89, Issue 1, pp 1–7

Evaluation of l-tryptophan for treatment of insomnia: A review

  • Dietrich Schneider-Helmert
  • Cheryl L. Spinweber
Original Investigations

DOI: 10.1007/BF00175180

Cite this article as:
Schneider-Helmert, D. & Spinweber, C.L. Psychopharmacology (1986) 89: 1. doi:10.1007/BF00175180


Sleep laboratory and outpatient studies of the hypnotic efficacy of the amino acid l-tryptophan are reviewed, with particular emphasis on evaluation of therapeutic effectiveness in the treatment of insomnia. In younger situational insomniacs, whose sleep problem consists solely of longer than usual sleep latencies, l-tryptophan is effective in reducing sleep onset time on the first night of administration in doses ranging from 1 to 15 g. In more chronic, well-established sleep-onset insomnia or in more severe insomnias characterized by both sleep onset and sleep maintenance problems, repeated administration of low doses of l-tryptophan over time may be required for therapeutic improvement. In these patients, hypnotic effects appear late in the treatment period or, as shown in some studies, even after discontinuation of treatment. The improvement in sleep measures post-treatment has given rise to use of a treatment regimen known as “interval therapy”, in which l-tryptophan treatment alternates with an l-tryptophan-free interval until improvement occurs. The absence of side effects and lack of development of tolerance in long-term use are important factors in the decision to embark upon a trial of l-tryptophan treatment. In addition, l-tryptophan administration is not associated with impairment of visuomotor, cognitive, or memory performance, nor does it elevate threshold for arousal from sleep.

Key words

l-Tryptophan Insomnia Interval therapy Sleep Human Disorder of Initiating and Maintaining Sleep (DIMS) 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dietrich Schneider-Helmert
    • 1
  • Cheryl L. Spinweber
    • 1
  1. 1.Naval Health Research CenterSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Naval Health Research CenterNaval Hospital (36-4)San DiegoUSA

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