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When you were just a few months old, your brain had you programmed to sleep about eighteen hours a day. Upon reaching adulthoodsay about twenty years of ageyour nightly allotment of sleep had been slashed to less than seven hours (six hours and fifty-four minutes, according to the National Sleep Foundation). That’s around two hours less than the eight to nine hours recommended by sleep experts for optimal physical and mental health.
Progressive changes in your brain’s internal clock (the suprachiasmatic nucleus), combined with alterations in your patterns of hormone secretion, have you going to bed later and waking up earlier with each successive decade, resulting in nearly thirty minutes less sleep per night with each passing decade. By the time we reach our thirties and forties, we’re getting 80 percent less time in the most restful “slow-wave” period of sleep (as compared to our teenage years), and by the time we hit our fifties and sixties, we get almost no uninterrupted deep sleep. (We still get some deep sleep, but it tends to come in short fragments that do little in terms of recovery and repair for mind and body.)
About 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were filled in 2005, up nearly 60 percent since 2000. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), almost six out of ten Americans report having insomnia at least a few nights weekly. Insomnia is defined as an “inability to fall asleep or remain asleep long enough to feel rested, especially when the problem continues over time.
Nine out of ten Americans are losing sleep over news of a declining economy, increased cost of food and energy, rising unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, and plunging home values. The vicious cycle of economic stress, lack of sleep, diminished immunity and magnesium depletion is fully evident in the medical literature.
Lack of sleep is a health concern because it can cause attention and memory problems, depressed mood, and body chemistry changes that foster heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. As many as 47 million adults may be putting themselves at risk for injury as well as health and/or behavior problems because they aren’t fulfilling their minimum sleep requirement in order to be fully alert the next day. Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are estimated to cost Americans over $100 billion annually.
In an effort to combat this, as many as 25 percent of the people in the US use medications to help them sleep. The problem is that pharmaceutical sleep aids do not resolve the underlying cause of the problem, plus they stay in the bloodstream, resulting in a hangover the next day, along with impaired memory and less than optimum performance on the job or at home.
Aside from the well-known bad mood and inability to concentrate that we’ve all experienced from too few hours in the sack, sleep researchers have recently linked a chronic lack of sleep to increased appetite, problems with blood-sugar control, and a higher risk of diabetes and obesityand chronically elevated cortisol is the obvious culprit. The average fifty-year-old has nighttime cortisol levels more than twelve times higher than the average thirty-year-old!
Not only will an indequate quality or quantity of sleep result in elevated cortisol levels, but high cortisol will also limit both your ability to fall asleep and the amount of time that your mind spends in the most restful stages of deep sleep. This sets you up for a vicious cycle of poor sleep, elevated cortisol, and subtle changes in metabolism that leads you down the path toward chronic diseases. Getting back into a more normal sleep pattern (eight hours per night) can reverse many of these detrimental changes and bring cortisol levels back to normal.
Inadequate sleep may actually cause insulin resistance. There is a well-known link between sleep deprivation and elevated cortisol levels. During the aging process, when we begin to sleep fewer hours per night, our cortisol levels begin to rise, and our cells begin to become resistant to the effects of insulin. In 1910, the average American slept a whopping nine hours per night in 1975, it was down to only about seven and a half hours, and today we get only about seven hours a nightand many of us get far less than that.
You can’t win any mood contests either, if you’re losing sleep on a regular basis. Sleep is a vital recharging process for both your mind and your body, so a good night’s sleep should leave you feeling not only rested but serene. If you don’t get enough sleepor don’t sleep wellyou’ll suffer various physical consequences, but you’ll also suffer emotionally. And you won’t be alone: 80 percent of us are sleep deprived. More than half of people seeking holistic help come with both mood problems and sleep problems. Some of the same biochemical imbalances that are causing mood problems are often disrupting sleep at the same time. Once these imbalances are corrected, normal sleep is restored along with normal mood. There are outside factors, too, that may be keeping you up at night, such as wakeful children, marital discord, or an overly demanding job.
The best sleep takes eight hours, runs from dark to dawnideally from 10 P.M. or earlier to 6 A.M. or soand leaves you feeling great. You should actually start to feel sleepy within about three hours after the sun sets as your sleep-promoting brain chemicals are triggered by the reduced light. When you actually hit the pillow, it should take only a few minutes for you to get to sleep. Once you get to sleep, you should stay asleep through the night (without bathroom trips!). Ideally, you’ll go through a series of vital sleep sequences that take at least eight hours to complete (children need twelve hours). At least six of those hours should be uninterrupted.
There are five stages of sleep that constitute a sleep-cycle, and you need to go through four to five sleep cycles in one night. You’ll usually pass through the first two superficial sleep stages in your first half hour of sleep. Then, hopefully, you’ll drop into two progressively deeper sleep stages and stay there for most of the next few hours. This first-half of the night, literally between 10 P.M. and 2 A.M., potentially provides the most restorative sleep, because only while you sleep deeply can your immune system, your growth hormones, and other repair crews emerge to heal your body from the day’s ravages. Finally, you dream in the REM (rapid eye movement) stage, which seems to be designed particularly for psychic repair.
These five stages repeat throughout the night, though the second half of the night has more rapid ups, downs, and dreams than the first half.
If you sleep poorly, your mind and body are deprived of crucial cellular repairs that can be made only if you sleep long and deeply. You know what happens when you can’t bring your car into the shop for its routine maintenance? You run it into the ground and shorten its “lifespan.” Same thing here. So let’s find out what’s really keeping you up.
Magnesium and Sleep Disturbances
The majority of Americans do not get the government’s minimum daily requirement for magnesium, and unfortunately, we pay for it when it’s time to go to sleep. Insomnia is one of the central, or neurotic, symptoms of chronic magnesium deficiency. Sleep disorders caused by magnesium deficiency are usually agitated with frequent nocturnal awakenings. Magnesium helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep. A number of parasomnias (night terrors, nocturnal verbal and motor automatisms, restless leg syndrome) are highly correlated to magnesium deficiency. When we lose magnesium, we lose sleep and then we lose our balance emotionally, and then depression or even hyperactivity can set in.
Magnesium chloride oil, when applied transdermally to the legs, is effective in relieving restless leg syndrome. Approximately 12 million Americans have restless leg syndrome, a sleep and movement disorder characterized by unpleasant feeling (tingling, crawling, creeping and/or pulling) in the legs, which cause an urge to move in order to relieve the symptoms; this is obviously highly disruptive to one’s sleep.
There is nothing like a hot soak in a magnesium chloride bath before bed. Such soaks are heaven on earth for people who suffer from insomnia and the feelings of restlessness in the limbs. Instead of ingesting further chemical toxins in the form of pharmaceutical sleeping pills, which further deteriorate health, a person can bathe in a deep relaxing hot magnesium bath similar to what is available at some of the most famous spas around the world. Not only will you sleep better, but your overall health will also be enhanced. All you have to do is pour into your bathwater some magnesium chloride along with a pound of sodium bicarbonate and some sodium thiosulfate. Nothing could be simpler.
Sodium thiosulfate is a natural substance found in hot water springs. It is one of the secret ingredients, which gives these springs their healing power. Sodium thiosulfate is an exciting natural medical substance useful in a surprisingly broad range of clinical situations. Though normally used intravenously, orally and transdermally it can and should be used for treating tap, distilled and reverse osmosis water for water detoxification, mineralization and other extended health benefits. It is extremely inexpensive, safe to use and widely available. The EPA states, “Sodium thiosulfate has been safely used for over 100 years as a therapeutic agent; medical uses of sodium thiosulfate have been well documented since 1895.”
Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system and is considered the “anti-stress” mineral and a natural tranquilizer. More than half of all people aged 65 years and older have sleep problems. In the elderly, magnesium supplements were found to improve sleep by decreasing the release of cortisol, a known cause of sleep disruption. Poor sleep is not a natural part of aging.
Stress depletes magnesium and magnesium relieves stress. When your magnesium levels are low, your nervous system gets out of balance and you feel on edge, naturally resulting in tightening muscles. A risk factor for low magnesium status in older women is the use of calcium supplements for bone health without sufficient magnesium. High calcium intakes can make magnesium deficiency worse.
Lack of sleep can lead to chronic fatigue, which is associated with sudden-death heart attack. Chronically sleep-deprived adults commonly develop magnesium shortages that are also associated with a tendency for blood cells to clot, which is what causes strokes and heart attacks. Several studies show a lack of magnesium can alter electrical activity in the brain, causing agitated sleep and frequent waking up.
The newest generation of sleep aids causes strange side effects including sleepwalking and short-term amnesia. Ambien, the nation’s best-selling prescription sleeping pill, shows up with regularity as a factor in traffic arrests, sometimes involving drivers who later say they were sleep-driving and had no memory of taking the wheel after taking the drug.
We find none of these side effects when taking magnesium to help one relax and sleep. Animals placed on magnesium-deficient diets will commonly develop disorganized sleep and periods of wakefulness. Sleep problems occur more frequently in adults as they age, making it increasingly difficult to deal with stress. Magnesium supplementation partially reverses age-related sleep abnormalities. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a major role in the functioning of the musculoskeletal system. Magnesium allows the muscles to relax, providing a calming effect that allows for deeper relaxation and better sleep.
When using magnesium chloride as a means of combating insomnia, waking tiredness disappears in 99 percent of people. Anxiety and tension diminish during the day.
Magnesium is poorly absorbed orally. The problem with oral magnesium is that all magnesium compounds are potentially laxative. Giving magnesium intravenously is the quickest way of restoring normal blood and tissue levels of magnesium, but the injections are just too painful to be considered for children and for long-term use in adults. They are also expensive because they have to be administered by a doctor or nurse. Transdermal magnesium chloride therapy is inexpensive, safe, and a do-it-yourself at-home technique that can replace uncomfortable injections in anything other than emergency room situations.
Transdermal magnesium therapy speeds up the process of nutrient repletion in much the same way as intravenous methods in terms of intensity and speed of effect. Transdermal application of magnesium is superior to oral supplements and is in reality the best practical way magnesium can be used as a medicine other than by direct injection.
The skin is actually an amazingly complex organ and, by weight, the largest organ in the body. It covers, on average, some 22 square feet and weighs around nine pounds (roughly 7% of body weight). The skin is involved in dynamic exchange between the internal and external environments through respiration, absorption and elimination. It is highly permeable though it has the ability to maintain its important function as a bacteria-inhibiting barrier.
Dr. Norman Shealy has done studies on transdermal magnesium chloride mineral therapy where individuals sprayed a solution of magnesium chloride over their entire body once daily for a month and did a 20-minute foot soak in magnesium chloride also once daily.
Typical results before and after 4 weeks of foot soaks/body spraying:
Reference range: 33.9 – 41.9 (mEq/l) mg
Before soaking/spraying: 31.4 (mEq/l) mg
After soaking/spraying: 41.2 (mEq/l) mg
Transdermal administration of magnesium bypasses processing by the liver. Both transdermal and intravenous therapy creates “tissue saturation,” the ability to get the nutrients where we want them, directly in the circulation, where they can reach body tissues at high doses, without loss. Transdermal “magnesium oil” delivers high levels of magnesium directly through the skin to the cellular level, bypassing common intestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, associated with oral use.
Because the magnesium oil can be absorbed easily through the skin many have found that they can get almost instant relief from the pains of arthritis by massaging a generous amount of magnesium into an area of discomfort or by taking a hot magnesium bath with sodium bicarbonate added.
This is not to say that magnesium oil cannot or should not be taken orally. Taking minerals in liquid form is the best solution for oral intake and Ancient Minerals is the purest medicine, being from a 250-million-year-old buried sea. You can drink it as well as use it transdermally and to take it up to bowel tolerance level because this will clean out the intestines. Taking magnesium oil orally is the very best medical solution for constipation.
Doctors should know that this magnesium oil can be added to IVs and is a better and certainly purer source of magnesium chloride than industrially-manufactured magnesium chloride, which tends to be much higher in heavy-metal contaminants.
Inefficient stomach digestion and intestinal absorption can lead to deficiencies of magnesium. When magnesium is deficient, magnesium absorption is hindered even more.
When you are under serious physical or even emotional stress, or you are on a salt-restricted diet, your body might not produce sufficient stomach acid, which is required for digestion and for chemically changing minerals into an absorbable form. Minerals are usually bound to another substance to make a mineral complex; for example, magnesium bound to citric acid creates magnesium citrate, and bound to the amino acid taurine, it makes magnesium taurate. When a magnesium complex hits the stomach, it needs an acidic environment to help break the two substances apart, leaving magnesium in the ionic form and ready for action in the body.
People with arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoporosis, or gum disease are often deficient in hydrochloric acid. All of these conditions are also associated with magnesium deficiency.
The roiling and burning in the gut from sugary junk food and greasy fast food is being inappropriately blamed on too much stomach acid. In many cases, heartburn is due to sugar fermentation in the stomach and a backflow of pancreatic enzymes from the small intestine. When we are deficient in hydrochloric acid, the stomach cannot be sterilized by a low pH, so microorganisms that come in with the food can colonize the stomach and when carbohydrate is eaten, it is fermented by the yeast living in the stomach, creating gas, bloating, reflux, GERD, hiatal hernia, etc. By neutralizing normal stomach acids, antacids make it impossible for us to absorb minerals or digest our food properly. Our magnesium can be even further depleted if we use calcium carbonate antacids because the calcium they contain causes more magnesium to be excreted.
Calcium is entirely dependent on stomach acid to put it into solution. When it leaves the stomach’s highly acidic environment it enters the alkaline environment of the small intestine and precipitates out of solution unless sufficient magnesium is present. Without magnesium to keep it in solution, calcium quickly deposits in soft tissues throughout the body.
In the large intestine, it interferes with peristalsis, which results in constipation. When calcium precipitates out in the kidneys and combines with phosphorous or oxalic acid, kidney stones are formed. Calcium can deposit in the lining of the bladder and prevent it from fully relaxing, and therefore from filling completely with urine. This leads to frequent urination problems, especially in older people.
Calcium can precipitate out of the blood and deposit in the lining of arteries, causing hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). It can coat and stiffen cholesterol deposits (plaque) in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. This, in turn, can cause blood pressure to rise as well as increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Calcium can even deposit in the brain, and is suspected of causing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.
Calcium can deposit in the lining of the bronchial tubes and cause asthma symptoms. Calcium in the extracellular fluid can surround cells in body tissue and decrease the permeability of the cell membranes. This makes it increasing more difficult for glucose (a large molecule) to pass through the cell membrane to be converted into ATP in the cells’ mitochondria. High glucose levels created by excess calcium may be misdiagnosed as diabetes.
You may experience a decreased need for your drugs as magnesium deficiency is corrected or as magnesium treats your symptoms or reverses your condition. In other words, the symptoms for which the drug was prescribed may clear up due to the magnesium, making the drug unnecessary or toxic and causing new symptoms. Patients and doctors should be on the alert for a shift in symptoms. Be sure to work with your physician to lower your medication doses safely.
All pharmaceutical drugs cause a depletion of magnesium in the body.
Are you a night owl? If so, like many people, you may not think that you have a sleep disturbance at all. You may actually consider your late nights a blessing. It can be funyou get things done, you get some time alone when everyone else is asleep (unless you’ve spawned some baby night owls). But it’s not fun in the morning if you need to get up so early that you can’t get a full eight hours of sleep. Chances are, you are chronically under-sleeping and feeling out of sync with your spouseand the rest of the world. Being a night owl is a key symptom of either abnormally low serotonin or excessively high stress-coping hormones.
On the other hand, you may lie awake in frustration most nights far too long. Do you go over and over worries about the past day or the next day before you can finally get to sleep? Or do you just lie there? Do anxiety, pain, panic, or disturbing dreams wake you up in the night or too early in the morning? Or do you wake in the night or early morning “to go to the bathroom?” Do you take too long to get back to sleep or not get back to sleep at all? Are you a restless, thrashing sleeper or a light one? Do you wake up at the slightest sounds?
Are you proud to call yourself a “morning person” who wakes up very early no matter what time you get to sleep? Do you rarely get more than six hours of sleep a night? Do you wake up worried or anxious and have to get up and exercise or work on whatever is bothering you? Finally, are you one of the four million poorly adjusted shift workers who try to sleep during the day?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are likely to have at least one deficiency in your body’s sleep-producing chemistry. The most common cause of sleep disturbance has to do with the brain chemical serotonin. This extraordinary biochemical mood marvel is also the only substance from which your brain can produce its most potent knockout drop: melatonin.
Your sleep is supposed to be induced by a biochemical concert that features gradually increasing levels of melatonin, starting in the afternoon and reaching crescendo at about 10 P.M. Melatonin is produced out of serotonin by your pineal gland, a pea-size structure embedded deep within your brain. The pineal gland, which consists of pigment cells similar to those found in your eyes, is light-sensitive. Very gradually throughout the afternoon and evening, as light gives way to darkness, the transformation of serotonin into melatonin is supposed to increase until it lullabies you to sleep. But here’s the catch: Melatonin can be produced in adequate amounts only if you have enough serotonin on hand from which to make it.
Our understanding of sleep has come a long way from the belief that it is just a time of nothingness. Research has brought us to the current knowledge that sleep is a time of brain activity necessary for health and restoration of the body. This restoration is accomplished through five stages of sleep that a healthy person will cycle through about five times a night. Integral to managing the proper sleep cycles are the hormones melatonin and cortisol.
Our circadian rhythm is managed by melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin levels rise in the evening, allowing us to grow tired, peak early in the night, and maintain high levels until early morning. Cortisol levels drop in the late afternoon and begin to rise again in the early morning, peaking around midday. If one is experiencing a healthy sleep cycle, these hormones rise and fall in opposition at dawn and dusk. This interplay allows the sleep cycles to accomplish such diverse tasks as managing pain and inflammation, prevent diabetes, avert disease, fight cancer, maintain blood pressure, heighten intelligence, and more. When the sleep cycles are interrupted or malfunctioning, these important tasks are compromised. It is possible now to correlate symptoms with hormone disruptions that are occurring during the various stages of sleep.
The Bedroom Environment
About one-third of people are suffering from poor-quality sleep, but rarely does anyone consider the possibility that their home and bedroom environment could be sabotaging their most diligent efforts. As humans, we are part of our environment and are interacting at all times—even when we are asleep. There are six factors in our environment that can disrupt the activity of melatonin and cortisol. They are noise, light, microwaves, electricity, contact chemicals, and air pollutants. We know that loud noises can awaken us from sleep, but noise also boosts the cortisol level and subsequently throws the cortisol out of its proper rhythm. Light reduces the level of melatonin, which may keep a person in an alert state well beyond bedtime. Even a low level of white light can reduce the melatonin level by half in 39 minutes. Red light and moonlight will have no effect.
Microwaves, not just from microwave ovens, are a growing source of artificially-produced wavelengths and radio frequency waves that increase cortisol levels. We find these sources in an ever-increasing line of consumer products, such as cordless phones, remote-controlled equipment, wireless computers, routers, and games. These products do not even need to be in your own home to affect you, as the signals travel through building structures and through power lines from neighbors who have them as well. Outside the home, we can find additional sources in cell towers, broadcasting transmitters, and airports.
Today, millions of Americans in cities awaken around 3 in the morning and then struggle to get back to sleep. As the number of devices (cell phones, iPods, GPS, Wi-Fi, smart meters, wireless broadband for laptop computers, etc.) that emit microwave radiation has increased in the past 10 years, so has the number of Americans who suffer from sleep interruptions. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the percent of people who are not satisfied with the quality of their sleep has increased from 15% of the population (43 million) in 2002 to 40% (120 million) in 2009.
In addition, there has been a proportional increase in the number of people using prescription drugs for insomnia. Marching in step with both these numbers has been a steady and proportional increase in the number of cell phone towers and antennas and devices that use wireless technology based on high-frequency microwave radiation. Today we have over 100,000 cell phone relay towers in the US and 2 million antennas.The increasing level of electromagnetic pollution has caused the nation's health to spiral downward. It is like watching a train wreck in slow motion; no one seems to be able to stop it.
5-HTP and Tryptophan
What can interfere with this crucial biothythm? The most common problem is lack of brain fuel. Your brain can’t make serotonin without two key nutrients, tryptophan and 5-HTP. The amino acid tryptophan found in the protein-rich foods you eat converts into 5-HTP. 5-HTP converts into serotonin, and serotonin converts into melatonin. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to get enough of the tryptophan we need from food these days, so using supplements to produce melatonin can be critically important.
If you have the symptoms of low serotonin, you probably don’t have enough to get through the day, let alone the extra stores you’ll need to get through the night. Fortunately, to make enough serotonin to convert to adequate melatonin, you can use supplements of 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). People are now discovering or rediscovering how good a good night’s sleep can be by using 5-HTP. Whether their trouble has been getting to sleep, staying asleep, or both, this supplement tends to be the solution; side-effect free, and typically on the first night.
Most sleep-deprived people do very well with 50 to 150 milligrams of 5-HTP at bedtime. In the rare event that 5-HTP doesn’t work for them, they can take 500 to 1,500 milligrams of an L-tryptophan supplement, which usually works better for them. The precise dosage of both these nutrients may vary from person to person. Start with a single 50-milligram capsule at bedtime, and if this doesn’t work in fifteen minutes, take a second or even a third capsule. Sometimes you’ll need an additional capsule or more later, too, if you’re prone to waking up in the night. And, especially if you have the mood symptoms of low serotonin, you’ll want to add 1 to 3 capsules in the mid-afternoon both to get your serotonin levels up and to get a gradual melatonin buildup started. Tryptophan and 5-HTP have been shown to raise melatonin levels by 320 percent in ten minutes.
Some may need to use melatonin if they don’t find enough benefit from 5-HTP or tryptophan, if you they a shift-worker with disrupted sleep cycles, or if they are suffering from jet-lag. But if you have low-serotonin mood symptoms don’t skip the basic job of providing your brain with enough serotonin to do its crucial mood jobsin addition to its job of converting to melatonin. By starting with 5-HTP or tryptophan, you are allowing your brain itself to decide how much of which mood and sleep chemicals it needs to make.
By using these nutrient concentrates, you can most exactly duplicate the natural brain flow that culminates in the adequate production of both serotonin and melatonin. Some people don’t have mood problems, just sleep problems. If you fall into either of these categories, it’s time to start considering other options. The first one is to try adding melatonin to your regimen. Don’t drop your 5-HTP or tryptophan, though, if you have low-serotonin moods. Take melatonin in addition. Melatonin is a powerful immune system-promoting antioxidant, which partly explains why so much healing occurs during sleep (melatonin levels are low in breast cancer victims). To determine whether low melatonin levels are interfering with your sleep, order a home saliva testing kit.
Saliva testing is very accurate and convenient. One of the benefits of testing your melatonin levels is that you get to find out about your immune system as well as your sleep system. Test your melatonin levels either at bedtime, if you can’t get to sleep, or whenever you wake up sleepless in the night. Some people need to test their levels day and night, to rule out melatonin reversalwhen people are sleepy in the daytime and too wakeful at night. You might be particularly apt to suffer from melatonin reversal if you live in a dark climate like Seattle, especially if you don’t have bright light during the day in your home or work environment.
Melatonin typically comes in 0.5 milligram (half-milligram) to 3-milligram doses. Because too much leads to morning grogginess, you can start with as small a dose as possible. Try half of a 1-milligram capsule or sublingual tablet (placed under the tongue) at bedtime by nine-thirty p.m. and see if you get to sleep quickly.
When it comes to dosing melatonin, there are no hard-and-fast rules. Researchers have actually found that melatonin can be effective, given any time between noon and nine, and in doses from 0.3 to 10 milligrams. If taking melatonin right before your targeted bedtime doesn’t get you to sleep, try adding 1 milligram or more of time-release melatonin, taken at 8 P.M.
Melatonin is typically a short-term repair tool. Stop after a week to be sure you still need it or to see whether you can use less. Since you are now supplying your brain with more serotonin (via the 5-HTP or tryptophan you’re taking with your melatonin), you should soon be producing enough melatonin on your own to get ideal sleep. Caution: Some depressed people become more depressed on melatonin. In addition to taking amino acids and/or melatonin supplements, there are other ways to raise your melatonin levels:
Avoid Melatonin’s Enemies: It’s important to keep from suppressing your melatonin production by avoiding melatonin’s most common enemies.
· Alcohol (may get you to sleep but wakes you up in the night)
· Chocolate (especially dark)
· Aspirin, Tylenol
· Most antidepressants like Prozac, tranquilizers, and sleep medications (all promote shallow, not deep, sleep)
· B-complex near bedtime (especially B12)
· Being close to (within three feet of) electrical appliances (like electric blankets, mobile and cell phones, wireless routers, etc.)
Darkness and Light
As the natural light around you dims in the afternoon, your body will try to increase its production of melatonin. Avoid exposure to bright light close to bedtime, as it could retard this melatonin production. The darker the better as the evening wears on. Ideally, your rooms should be lit by no more than a reading light (directed on the page, not in your eyes!) or light from a TV. Make sure there are no lights on in your bedroom while you are sleeping--even a nightlight or LED clock can give off enough light to keep our pineal gland from turning on fully. We need to mimic, as much as possible, the natural awake-in-the-light/asleep-in-the-dark sleep rhythm we were designed for. Remember, electricity is a modern invention, the human being is not.
Even though bright light at night can diminish your melatonin production, if you are around bright light early in the day, your melatonin levels will rise higher at night. When you can’t get out in bright natural daytime light (by far the best kind), you can use 150-200 watt incandescent bulbsor full-spectrum lamps that supply 2,500 or more lux (equivalent of 150-200 watts). You’ll need to be within three feet of this light for the full effect. This is also a great way to survive the winter blues.
If test results and/or your response to melatonin supplements and light therapy indicate that melatonin is not the problem, it could be an imbalance in your stress hormones making you super-alert just when you need to be winding down and getting to sleep. When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands produce stress-coping hormones, notably adrenaline, which gets you ready to “fight or flee,” and cortisol, which keeps you alert and increases your stamina. If your adrenals are pumping these hormones day and night, you may be too revved-up when it’s time to wind-down. If you have enough melatonin, it can help rebalance your nighttime stress chemistry, but only up to a point.
If excess stress is your problem, inciting the release of too much adrenaline and other over-stimulating chemicals, you’ll want to try the amino acid GABA (gamma aminobuteric acid). GABA can have a relaxing effect on your entire body because it can instantly neutralize the surge of stress chemicals, allowing you to drift off to stages one through five (deep sleep). It can be used alone or in combination with 5-HTP, tryptophan, or melatonin, since it affects entirely different but complementary brain and body functions.
GABA supplements come in various strengths: 100 to 500 milligrams of GABA can be found alone or combined with two other calming aminos, L-taurine and L-glycine. GABA is available in doses up to 750 milligrams, but you should start with 100 milligrams and go up only if you need to. Too much GABA can sometimes have a reverse effect and agitate you. Caution: GABA lowers blood pressure a bit, so if your blood pressure is already low, be careful.
The popular homeopathic formula Calmes Forte can also have a soothing effect, and it’s worth a try if stress is clearly the problem, but GABA is not the answer for you.
One of the primary stress-coping hormones produced by your adrenal glands is cortisol. It is an even more potent hormone in some ways than adrenaline, but it is not agitating. It’s strengthening, even super-strengthening. It’s your wake-up-and-tackle-life’s-challenges hormone. Cortisol’s levels are supposed to be highest in the morning and lowest between about midnight and 3 A.M. Under intense stress, though, cortisol stays high day and night, subsiding only when the stress is gone or your adrenals can no longer keep up the surge. If its levels are high at night, instead of low, as they’re supposed to be, you’ll be kept up too late with a “second wind.” Or your cortisol levels could rise too early in the morning and wake you up prematurely. Sometimes levels have been high for so long that the body just forgets to shut them off, even when the stress is over. A simple one-day home saliva test will reveal your bedtime and early morning cortisol levels.
Many have been exhausted by too much stress. Their cortisol levels in the morning, at noon, and in the late afternoon are on the low side (and that’s how they feel). But their bedtime levels may still be surprisingly high. Even if they’re in the normal range at bedtime, if these levels seem to be higher than the levels earlier in the day, they may keep rising in the night and wake them up at some point. If this is your case, and testing finds that your cortisol is above normal levels in the evening when it should be dropping to its lowest levels to allow melatonin to rise, then a supplement containing a cortisol-regulating nutrient called phosphorylated serine (not to confused with the more readily available phosphatidyl serine), taken before dinner (approximately six hours before bedtime), should get you to sleep.
Take it again six hours before you would typically wake up in the night or early morning, if middle-of-the-night wake-ups are also a problem. Phosphorylated serine encourages your pituitary gland to stop sending the order for more cortisol. After a month or so, this message should be permanently programmed, and you should not need any more supplementation.
Caution: Do not take phosphorylated serine for more than three months total. Take a break for at least a week after each month’s use. You don’t want to turn your cortisol levels down too low.
If your early morning cortisol levels are high (or at least quite high compared to the rest of your day’s output), they can wake you up too early. But don’t use phosphorylated serine until you’ve investigated why your body is raising the levels of its top stress fighter. Your body may be putting up a fight at that time of day for a very good reason, and you could be getting an important wake-up call here. The typical reasons for early morning struggles are usually reactions to some kind of chronic yeast or parasite infestation or, sometimes, a bacterial infection, as odd as that may sound. Sometimes, though, you just need a bedtime snack to keep your blood sugar from dropping in the night, triggering an inopportune cortisol release, until your body is back in balance.
If your cortisol levels are too high most of the day and at night, you’ll need to figure why your body is fighting so hard and what hidden and/or obvious stressors may be the causes. You’ll need to get rid of the causes before you can calm your system enough to get it to sleep. Retest your early morning and/or bedtime cortisol again (whichever was abnormally elevated) in three months to see if your levels have dropped to normal.
Your adrenal glands not only make stress hormones, they also make sex hormones, including sleep-regulating estrogen and progesterone. Adrenals exhausted by stress coping often make insufficient sex hormones, which can lead to sleep disturbance. This is typically a factor for women with menopausal and premenopausal sleep problems. But men can be affected as well.
Especially in premenopause (also called perimenopause) and menopause, a common sex-hormone-related sleep problem is low estrogen. Estrogen is needed in your brain to stimulate the activity of serotonin. Low levels of estrogen can result in low serotonin, which often means reduced melatonin. Women can get remarkable and quick sleep improvement where they got no help from any nutrient supplements, and so decided to take an estrogen-stimulating herb like black cohosh or natural micronized estrogen. Estrogen augmentation (17-beta estrodiol) can also help to subdue the hot flashes that can so easily interfere with sleep.
Low progesterone can prevent the GABA supplies in your brain from activating thus not allowing you to relax enough to get to sleep. This could happen to you if you are male, but it’s more likely to happen to you if you are a female under 35. A sudden drop in progesterone during the week before your period (when progesterone should be at its highest peak) can contribute to PMS insomnia. After prolonged stress, especially around the start of menopause, progesterone levels sometimes drop too low all the time. You may need more estrogen or progesterone, or both.
Poor Eating Habits
If you are not eating well, regularly, or enough, your blood sugar may drop sometime between bedtime and the early morning. This can set off a bodily alarm and an attendant rise in stimulating cortisol and adrenaline as they attempt to raise your blood sugar. It could wake you up when you should be sleeping. So try eating more protein and fat through the day. Both keep your blood sugar levels stable and your brain supplied with sleep-promoting nutrients. Don’t skip meals, and don’t eat between meals.
You can become deficient in the amino acids tryptophan and GABA by not eating enough protein, so eat at least 20 grams (3-4 ounces, or a palm-of-your-hand-size portion) three times a day with each meal.
Food Allergies or Toxic Exposure
Is reflux, asthma, or indigestion interfering with your sleep? You might be eating bad-mood-foods. These problems are almost always caused by allergic reactions to certain foods. The most common culprits by far are made from wheat flour (bread, pasta, and cookies, etc.) and pasteurized cow dairy products, like milk and cheese. Some people have insomnia caused by exposure to excessive levels of mercury or other heavy metals. A hair analysis can be done to rule this out.
The Thyroid Gland
There are three kinds of thyroid malfunction, and all three could affect your sleep.
1. Hypothyroidism can make you sleep either too little or too much. A slow thyroid gland can interfere with sleep in some people because it doesn’t put out enough T3, to allow the brain to produce serotonin and melatonin.
2. Hyperthyroidism, with its excessively high levels of thyroid hormones can keep you hyper-awake. It can get your heart palpitating, too. In fact, your whole system can be racing when this energizing gland is turned up too high.
3. Thyroiditis, a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, can also cause disturbed sleep as the thyroid gland struggles to do its job under siege. You may not have heard of this problem, but it is not uncommon. Thorough blood testing that includes two measures of the immune system’s anti-thyroid antibodies is vital.
Do you fall asleep easily during the day but have trouble getting a good night’s sleep? Do you snore or stop breathing while you sleep? One of the causes of sleep apnea is serotonin deficiency. Studies using the amino acids tryptophan and 5-HTP have shown them to be helpful. Serotonin directly affects the function of our lungs. Lots of oxygen is required for serotonin production, so if physical obstructions block oxygen flow, serotonin production can be diminished. If a preexisting low-serotonin condition caused characteristic afternoon and evening carbohydrate craving, increased weight could easily result, contributing to obstructed breathing.
Regarding other solutions to sleep apnea that have been found helpful:
· Food allergies are a common cause of a stuffy nose.
· Low thyroid conditions, known to cause sleep apnea (and unneeded weight gain), can be identified and addressed successfully.
· Among women, apnea most commonly occurs during menopause. Low progesterone is often involved, and saliva testing will identify ifsupplementing natural progesterone will help.
· High levels of the stress-related chemicals cortisol and norepinephrine are often present in apnea, as in other sleep problems.
· Excessive weight gain could be caused by overeating triggered by a number of factors other than low serotonin.
Alcohol and drugs can stimulate temporary serotonin releases, improving your mood and, by enhancing the melatonin conversion process, helping you get to sleep. One study showed that a whole joint of marijuana could raise a man’s melatonin levels 4,000 percent! But artificial boosts can never get melatonin to stay at optimal levels, as the nutrients can.If your basic levels of serotonin and melatonin are just too low, over time the drugs will reduce them further, until they quit working or make you totally drug-dependent. Alcohol, for example actually reduces melatonin after a few hours and wakes up most drinkers in the night. Drugs cannot provide the deep restorative sleep stages or even the dream (REM) stages that are so vital.
To help get back on track to the eight hours most of us need each night:
* Establish a regular bedtime and a regular wake-up timeand stick to them for one week, even on teh wekends (no matter how hard it is for the first few days). Within a week our body clocks will reset themselves to the new schedule.
* Do something calming in the hour or so before bedtimesuch as relaxing with a book and a warm cup of chamomile tea, doing a crossword puzzle, or whatever else provides you with a few moments of peaceful reflection. Some people include a 100 mg dose of theanine (thirty to sixty minutes before retiring), some light reading or a magazine to flip through, and a background of low-key music.
* Avoid exercise within three hours of bedtime. exercise causes an increase in hormones, body temperature, and alertnesseach of which will thwart efforts to fall asleep. For most people, exercising after work or even right after dinner (assuming bedtime will be three to four hours later), because sufficient time is still allowed for the body to calm down and return to resting levels.