Does 5-HTP Cause Insomnia?


I read your article on 5-HTP. I have developed insomnia while following a low carb diet. I have recently added more carbs, but am considering adding 5-HTP to get my brain levels of serotonin up. I continue to have slightly high cortisol and am wondering about the correlation between 5-HTP, serotonin and cortisol. I’ve read on several sites that 5-HTP raises cortisol. If this is true, then 5-HTP would be likely to cause insomnia, not alleviate it.

Please set the record straight!

Thank you for your time,


Hi, Susan,

I’m not sure what effect, if any, being on a low carb diet has to do with insomnia. And while you are correct that 5-HTP may raise cortisol slightly, I think you may be jumping to some unsubstantiated conclusions. Although sleep disturbances and the stress of insomnia can cause elevations in cortisol, there are no data of which I am aware that implicates elevated cortisol as a cause of insomnia.

You didn’t say how old you were, but as we get older, our cortisol levels tend to rise. Likewise, DHEA and pregnenolone levels drop predictably with age. DHEA and pregnenolone replacement act as “cortisol blockers,” helping to normalize elevated levels of cortisol. Phosphatidylserine (100-200 mg) may also help normalize cortisol. Metformin and berberine also act as cortisol receptor sensitizers, and should also help keep your cortisol levels in check.

If you want to raise your serotonin levels, 5-HTP will certainly help in that regard. And 200-300 mg an hour or two before bedtime on an empty stomach should help with your insomnia.

Ward Dean, MD

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