Caffeine right before bed is not a good idea. Neither is spending time on your phone or computer from all the mental and visual stimulation. For many people it’s hard to get a night of good, deep sleep and the first thing to do is eliminate self-imposed reasons why it may be disrupted. Alcohol, sugar, spicy foods and even exercise too close to bedtime can also be possible culprits.
The external environment in which we sleep can definitely play a factor. Temperature, noise, brightness and snoring spouses can all make it difficult to either fall or stay asleep. Other conditions like apnea, reflux, pain or bowel and bladder problems may also play a role. But if those have been eliminated, it’s time to look a little deeper for a root cause.
One factor to consider may be your serotonin level, but not just the neurotransmitter itself, as several nutrients have to be present in order for your body to even be able to produce enough serotonin. Some of those that are important in the process include:
Tryptophan is an amino acid from which serotonin is made. Low levels have been shown to lead to insomnia, feeling unrested after a night’s sleep, the inability to stay asleep, and just lying there all night watching the clock. Most protein foods contain tryptophan, the highest amounts being found in foods like turkey and eggs. Studies have shown that tryptophan can contribute to not only better sleep, but also has helped with improved mental clarity, fighting depression and anxiety, and dealing with conditions like PMS, fibromyalgia and eating disorders.
Vitamin B6 helps to transform tryptophan to serotonin, and a deficiency here may lead to low serotonin levels. Low B6 can be brought on by conditions like poor quality diets, GI issues that prevent absorption, and excessive alcohol consumption. Good dietary sources are fish, pork and poultry, whole grains and some legumes and vegetables. Most multivitamins have an abundance of B6 in them.
Lastly, we must also consider zinc levels. It is needed in the body to convert B6 to its active form so the serotonin creation process can proceed. Zinc deficiency is usually due to inadequate intake or absorption, so keeping the diet balanced and the stomach healthy is key here. Meats, shellfish, nuts and seeds are good sources.
As you can see, there is a chain of factors we need to evaluate in order to get to a possible root cause for poor sleep, and this is only one aspect. As we age or are faced with an overload of stress, serotonin levels typically decline. Issues like irritable bowel syndrome, reflux and bloating can all indicate poor digestion, and if the gut isn’t healthy, serotonin levels can be affected as 95% of serotonin is made in the gut. Therefore, a good functional medicine health workup may be in order if your sleep isn’t what it should be. It can help you get to the root cause of your problem and get you on track to having consistent, healing sleep. The result? Better energy, improved mental state and being able to tackle your days at full speed!