PEA supplements may help people fall asleep and boost cognition on waking: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Jacob Wackerhausen / Getty Images
© Jacob Wackerhausen / Getty Images

Related tags Sleep sleep supplements endocannabinoid palmitoylethanolamide

Eight weeks of supplementation with palmitoylethanolamide, an endocannabinoid-like molecule, may improve sleep measures in healthy adults, according to results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.

Daily supplementation with 350 mg of Gencor’s branded PEA ingredient Levagen+ was associated with significant reductions in the time people needed to fall asleep compared to placebo, reported scientists in Sleep Science and Practice​.

In addition, PEA supplementation was associated with better cognition on waking and a shorter time to feel fully awake, reported the scientists from RDC Clinical (Australia) and the Universities of Queensland and Sydney.

“This is of particular interest as sleep inertia and daytime grogginess is a common side effect of many pharmaceutical options for the treatment of sleep disturbance,” ​they wrote.

However, there were no differences between the placebo and PEA groups for sleep quantity or quality.

“The combination of the PEA group reporting falling asleep faster and waking up feeling more alert and awake compared to the placebo group, suggests that future studies on PEA and sleep should focus on populations with difficulty getting to sleep and/or waking up,” ​wrote the scientists.


Interest in the endocannabinoid system has grown significantly in recent years. For companies seeking a way to impact the endocannabinoid system beyond CBD and hemp, an option is palmitoylethanolamide (PEA).

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA at Expo West 2019​, R.V. Venkatesh, CEO of Gencor, explained that palmitoylethanolamide was first discovered in 1957 as a component in egg yolk, when egg yolk was being researched for its anti-inflammatory properties.

PEA is produced by our body as a first responder to pain, stress, inflammation and is used up locally in all tissues, he said.

The new study indicates the ingredient may also be useful for formulations for sleep, a category that has experienced impressive growth in recent years as consumers seek out natural alternatives to OTC sleep aids. Leading the list of natural ingredients used in sleep supplements are melatonin, chamomile, valerian root, L-theanine, hops, lemon balm extract, and passion flower extract.

As reported by NutraIngredients-USA last summer​, US sales of stress management supplements, which includes mood support and sleep products, were reported to have increased over 35% year-on-year, according to data provided by SPINS.

Study details

The researchers recruited 103 Australian adults to participate in their double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The people were randomly assigned to receive either 350 mg per day of Levagen +  or placebo for eight weeks.

The data indicated that people in the PEA group fell asleep three times faster compared to placebo, thereby improving so-called sleep latency or the time taken to fall asleep after going to bed. Specifically, sleep latency in individuals in the PEA group was an average of 19 minutes shorter at the end of the study compared to the start, while sleep latency in placebo improved by less than 6 minutes.

Upon waking, members of the PEA group reported significant improvements in how long it took them to feel fully awake, going from about 26 minutes at the start of the study to less than 15 minutes after eight weeks. On the other hand, there were no significant changes in this measure in the placebo group (23.6 minutes at baseline and 22.4 minutes after eight weeks).

Statistically significant improvements between the PEA group and placebo were also recorded for cognitive scores upon waking, said the researchers.

“These findings support PEA as a potential sleeping aid capable of reducing sleep onset time and improving cognition on waking,” ​concluded the researchers.

Source: Sleep Science and Practice
2021, 5​, Article 12. Doi: 10.1186/s41606-021-00065-3
“Palmitoylethanolamide for sleep disturbance. A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled interventional study”
Authors: A. Rao, et al.

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