Well, of course, there are many different things that can be contributing to you not being able to fall asleep. In this article, I am going to highlight what I see most often and how it can be treated effectively to get you to sleep in no time!
First let’s get a little understanding in how our brain works to put us to sleep, or to wake us up. We use neurotransmitters to cause us to either feel alert and awake, or to feel drowsy and sleepy. During the day, these “alert” neurotransmitters should be keeping us awake and alert, and as the sun goes down these should start to decline and the neurotransmitters that help us to fall asleep should start to go up. The main alert neurotransmitters are Glutamate, histamine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, while the main neurotransmitter to help us to calm down and to go to sleep are melatonin and GABA. So for bed time, we need to increase the “sleepy time” neurotransmitters and decrease the wakefulness ones.
Let’s examine how:
Melatonin is produced when the sun goes down, and our bodies are no longer being exposed to light. The problem with this is modern electronics! If we have the lights on, are watching T.V. or are reading an eBook right before bed, we are going to limit our body’s ability to produce melatonin. So one way to do this is try limit your exposure to light at night, however possible. Some people will even elect to wear amber colored glasses that block certain wavelengths of light to the eyes so that it isn’t interfering with melatonin production.
Another thing to do, is limit foods which are high in alter neurotransmitters, namely Glutamate and Histamine. A great resource for you to bookmark is nutritiondata.self.com. On that website, you can type in a nutrient, IE Glutamate, and it will give you a list of foods that are high in that nutrient. So go to that website, and look up foods that are high in Glutamate and Histamine. These foods include soy, many seeds, cheese, and milk. So you’ll want to avoid eating these things late at night, and limit them with your evening meal. This way, you won’t have a bunch of Glutamate and Histamine in your system keeping you alert when you want to be sleeping.
The next thing to do, is to try a supplement that will help to break down glutamate and histamine in your system. Magnsium and B6 are great supplements to help with the breakdown of both of them! (It’s also going to help with dopamin and norepinephrine too!) And what’s better, is Glutamate breaks down into GABA which is the “slow down” neurotransmitter that will help to calm you down and fall asleep! Many people will try and take GABA to help them to sleep (and it helps many!), but just taking GABA won’t reduce the Glutamate in your system, so chances are you still won’t sleep because the Glutamate is still keeping you too alert. So taking the magnesium, and B6, can help to “eat up” the Glutamate AND increase your GABA – two birds, one stone, I love it! As a side note, histamine intolerance is an increasingly big issue, especially with those who have MTHFR mutations and problems methylating, so supporting methylation throughout the day is going to be important as well. You can read more about methylation and histamine intolerance by clicking on the topics to the right.
So now, other than attempting to reduce our subjection to light, how can we increase our melatonin? Some people do well with melatonin supplements, but I often find that people are taking too high of a dosage. For most people, .5 (yes, POINT Five, HALF!) of a mg is sufficient. If you take too much, it can actually have the opposite effect, and keep you up. Melatonin is also a hormone, so I actually prefer to use precursors for it, as opposed to supplementing with it. Tryptophan is a great precursor for both seratonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) and melatonin. Ever wonder why you feel good and sleepy after a big thanksgiving meal? Well not only are you getting it from the Turkey (in small amounts actually, but you’re also getting a ton from the huge amounts of carbs you’re eating at the meal! Carbs are loaded in tyrptophan! So because of this, I recommend a small carbohydrate evening snack to help boost your tryptophan before bed. Now you want to make sure this snack is low on the Glycemic Index so you aren’t just having a sugar spike.. So I recommend something like quinoa or sweet potato, and maybe throw a little grassfed butter or ghee on it to lower that glycemic index, but get your little tryptophan burst!
So in review:
*Reduce Glutamate and Histamine containing foods in the evening time to reduce the amount of “alert” neurotransmitters in our body.
*Take a magnesium supplement (and consider B6 as well) to help breakdown the “alert” neurotransmitters and promote the “slow down” neurotransmitter GABA. Consider Seeking Health’s Magnesium Plus supplement. It delivers high quality magnesium and B6 in one convenient capsule.
*Eat a sensible carbohydrate snack to boost tryptophan which will in turn raise seratonin and melatonin levels.
*Reduce light exposure to help naturally raise melatonin levels.
These should help to solve most cases of the difficulty-to-fall-asleep type of insomnia. If after trying this for about a week doesn’t make a substantial change for you, talk to your doctor, or naturopath to see if there is something deeper going on that needs to be addressed.