Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient for our health and well-being for a number of reasons (think mood, bone health, immunity, and more).* Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t get enough. Research demonstrates an alarming 93% of Americans fail to get in just 400 IU of vitamin D per day from their diet—and the science is abundantly clear that 400 IU doesn’t even come close to cutting it, anyway.
Given that, it’s no surprise that vitamin D supplementation has become such a massive and important topic. Thing is, though, reaping the benefits of the sunshine vitamin in supplement form isn’t as simple as grabbing the first bottle you see and popping it haphazardly. Instead, getting your supplement routine right ensures you’re doing right by your health and your wallet.
So, when is the best time to take vitamin D—and how can you get the most out of your regimen? Here’s what the experts have to say.
The benefits of supplementing with vitamin D.
The reason why vitamin D supplements have become such a necessity for most people: “There are essentially no good, natural food sources of vitamin D,” says renowned vitamin D researcher Michael Holick, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at Boston University and author of The Vitamin D Solution.*
Since a 3-ounce serving of farmed salmon contains about 447 IU, while a cup of fortified milk offers up to 100 IU, and 8 ounces of vanilla yogurt provides just 86 IU, you’d have to eat a truly unrealistic amount of D-containing foods to rack up a significant amount (i.e., an amount to achieve vitamin D sufficiency). “You really cannot get enough vitamin D from your diet,” Holick confirms.
And while you can get some vitamin D from sunlight, it’s still practically impossible to meet your needs via food and safe skin exposure alone, according to Holick. “Unless you’re a lifeguard, it’s unrealistic to think you can get enough vitamin D exposure from the sun,” he says.
In fact, his research on vitamin D levels has found that average serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels (the body’s clinical biomarker of vitamin D status) of adults in the U.S. were only hovering around 18 to 22 ng/ml at the end of winter, and still only at 29 ng/ml at the end of summer. Both fall below the 30 ng/ml cutoff for baseline vitamin D sufficiency. (i.e., the cutoff, not the goal). “The difference is small regardless of season,” Holick says. “You still can’t get enough.”
Because of these different factors, Holick (along with many other health practitioners and researchers) recommends supplementing with vitamin D daily.*
(Want some recommendations that’ll actually help you meet your needs? Check out our favorite vitamin D supplements.)
What to consider with timing your vitamin D supplement.
Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it strongly prefers a source of fat in order to be properly absorbed in the body. According to integrative dietitian Whitney Crouch, RDN, CLT, vitamin D supplements are “best absorbed when taken with food containing avocado, olive oil, flax, or other sources of beneficial fats.”* So, popping your standard D supplement on an empty stomach probably isn’t the best idea.
There’s one important exception here, though. “If your supplement is already packaged with adequate fats included, there’s no need to take it with food,” Crouch adds. This is a rare feature among vitamin D supplements offered today, so it’s important to check product labels to make sure yours contains some kind of fat or oil to foster absorption, Holick says.
If that is the case, though, you can feel free to take your vitamin D sans food. And if not, you’ll still absorb some vitamin D. “We’ve done studies and shown that vitamin D with oil can be taken with a full meal, on an empty stomach, with additional fat or without it,” says Holick.
That’s why mbg uniquely and expertly formulated our vitamin D3 potency+ with three built-in, high-quality organic oils (from extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and flaxseed) to be sure you’re maximizing the fat-soluble bioavailability of this critical nutrient.* With this absorption support, you can get the most out of your vitamin D, regardless of when you take it (not to mention the healthy omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids).*
The link between vitamin D & sleep.
Perhaps you’ve heard some of the buzz out there right now that suggests that supplementing with vitamin D before hitting the hay can affect your ability to snooze. Well, it’s not a super-clear story right now.
Research has shown that vitamin D is involved in the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep. As mbg’s director of scientific affairs Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, explains, “The vitamin D and sleep relationship appears to be a bidirectional one. Suboptimal vitamin D status is linked to lower sleep quality and shorter sleep duration, and inadequate sleep is linked to a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. The science is young and emerging here.”
Holick concurs, “There is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D promotes sleep, but research is ongoing.”* Indeed, vitamin D deficiency has been linked with several sleep issues—but the true relationship between supplements and sleep still requires some investigation to understand, he explains.*
So, when’s the best time to take vitamin D, then?
According to the experts, when you take your vitamin D supplement is really up to you. “It does not have to be taken at a certain time,” says Connie Weaver, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University. “The best time is whenever in your schedule you can remember to take it.”
As long as your supplement contains fat, you’ve got plenty of flexibility. To stay consistent, though, Crouch suggests trying tying your vitamin D supplement to some other part of your routine that happens daily, like drinking your morning coffee or brushing your teeth.
If it doesn’t contain fat, try tying it to your breakfast (and just make sure you’ve got some healthy fat like avocado or olive oil in there).* If lunch or dinner works better for your D ritual, go for it!
And if you happen to take your vitamin D at different times or even forget to take it here and there, don’t panic. “Vitamin D is very forgiving,” Holick says. “If you forget it one day, you can take double the next day.” No sweat!*
There’s no question that taking a vitamin D supplement is a good idea. Once you’ve gotten your levels tested and picked out a high-quality supplement (like mbg’s vitamin D3 potency+), tack it onto an established part of your daily routine like eating your breakfast or brushing your teeth. Remember: If your supplement doesn’t contain fats to support absorption, you’ll need to pair your vitamin D with some sort of healthy fat, like avocado for optimal absorption.* Want specific recommendations? Check out our vitamin D supplement roundup.