You’ve been lying down for almost an hour, yet your mind keeps racing. Did I finish everything I was supposed to do today, you ask? Am I prepared for the tasks of tomorrow? Man, do I know the feeling. Sleep deprivation is a horrible thing. I’ve had it numerous times in the past. What do you do? Take some melatonin? GABA? We’ll cover all of those and more in this article on deconstructing sleep deprivation.
I want this article to provide you with some practical tips on how to hack your sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. One of the first topics we need to cover is an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are those molecules that your brain and other cells use to communicate certain messages. Some of the neurotransmitters include serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, histamine, GABA, glutamate and acetylcholine. Serotonin keeps us in a good mood and helps us maintain a positive outlook on life. It is also needed for quality sleep. Low levels of serotonin can be the result of chronic stress—your Aunt Gertrude calling you 3 times a day, financial stress, job stress, internal infections, blood sugar swings, and more. Taking 5-HTP may help to balance serotonin levels; an average starting dose is around 50 mg. It should always be taken on an empty stomach. Omega 3 fatty acids may also help to improve serotonin levels.
Elevated norepinephrine and epinephrine can be caused by any type of stressor, internal or external. Addressing the stressor(s) will help to lower these two catecholamines. You probably think about histamine as an allergy-related molecule. And it is. But it is also a neurotransmitter. If it’s too high, it can lead to insomnia. One way to lower histamine is to take some vitamin C before bed on an empty stomach. Two to four grams is a good dose, as long as it doesn’t cause loose stools. Too little GABA and too much glutamate may also lead to insomnia. Vitamin B6 helps an enzyme known as GAD work better, which works to convert glutamate to GABA. GABA is our natural Valium. If you’re deficient in GABA, supplementing with phenylated GABA before bed may improve GABA levels in the brain. This should help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
But many people with sleeping troubles have issues other than neurotransmitter imbalances. These include, but are not limited to, increased inflammation from infections or blood sugar swings. The infections in particular can lead to increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6, IL-1Beta, and TNF-alpha. These culprits can basically punch holes in that lining around your brain. This allows these cytokines VIP access to the brain and turns on the excitotoxic pathways, such as the microglia. But you know what else usually precedes this issue? A leaky gut! Repairing a leaky gut will help to indirectly repair the blood-brain barrier, the shield around our brain. We have to also go after those pesky systemic infections, such as viruses and bacteria, that are leading to chronic, low-level inflammation that causes serious damage over time.
A more well-known cause of insomnia is elevated cortisol in the evening. This can be picked up by a test known as an Adrenal Stress Index, or ASI. In the long-term, we want to discover what stressor is causing elevated cortisol. In the short-term, phosphatidylserine, glycine, Ashwaganda, and others may help to lower cortisol so that one can wind down at night. Cortisol is a Goldilocks hormone—too much or too little is bad. Or too much or too little at the wrong time is bad would be more correct. Cortisol should be highest in the morning and lowest in the evening. One phenomenon that we see is called a reversed curve, where cortisol is highest at night and lowest in the morning. This would make it hard to sleep at night and difficult to wake up in the morning. The ultimate goal must be to find and eradicate—or at least decrease—all internal and external stressors.
Two other hormonal causes of insomnia include decreased melatonin and/or alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone. Low levels of melatonin can be due to stress and/or neurotransmitter imbalances. In addition, too much light in the evening tells our brains that it’s daytime and that we shouldn’t produce melatonin. Therefore, it’s important to reduce light at night. In addition, wearing blue blocker glasses helps to prevent ambient light from keeping us awake. There are saliva melatonin hormonal tests available if you’re interested in testing your levels. If taken as a supplement, I recommend using it sublingually and in the extended-release format. Alpha-MSH is a pituitary hormone that is often decreased in the presence of mold and Lyme toxins. An optimal level for Alpha-MSH is 34 or higher. Low levels of this hormone has a lot of downstream negative effects on other hormones, including the sex hormones. Low levels of Alpha-MSH leads to impaired mood, since it is responsible for a lot of our endogenous endorphins and our ability to control inflammation. The low levels of endorphins dramatically impairs sleep. Unfortunately, there are no supplements or medications at this time that directly raise Alpha-MSH. The solution lies in getting rid of the mold toxins and the Lyme infection. Lastly, sleeping in a bedroom above 70 degrees Fahrenheit “prevents the release of melatonin and growth hormone, which are most vital anti-aging hormones”, according to sleep expert Anna Lemind of The Mind Unleased.
What Are Some Solutions for This Problem?
The best solution for your insomnia is in finding the cause and using tools that help to rectify the situation. For example, if your sleep issues are not caused by elevated night-time cortisol, then giving supplements to lower cortisol at night will have little to no effect on your insomnia. If you have elevated catecholamines, lowering those by lowering your stressors will help. Raising GABA tends to be a pretty well-tolerated solution across the board. Will it completely fix the problem? No. But it can provide temporary support while you’re addressing other issues. Regular GABA does NOT cross the blood-brain barrier. Thus, if you take regular GABA and it has an effect on you, that is an indicator of a leaky blood-brain barrier. We discussed above how to remedy this issue. Phenylated GABA works well, but some anecdotal reports claim that chronic use may lead to dependence. An alternative solution would be to complete a urinary neurotransmitter test through Sabre Sciences. Once the results are in, they are able to create a customized cream to help balance your neurotransmitters. This can prove helpful due to bypassing the gut.
A lesser-known, but equally effective method, is the use of a CES Machine. CES stands for cranial electrical stimulation, and many CES devices are FDA-approved for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and pain. Many reports state that it is beneficial for insomnia, although FDA approval for this use has yet to take place. Electrodes are applied behind the ears or clipped to the ears. Then, a small electrical current is applied for approximately 30 minutes at least once a day. Never heard of this technology? Neither had I until about 5 years ago. But it’s been around for almost 50 years. In general, the settings for sleep are 100 Hz pulse at 0.5 msec in length. The 100 Hz setting is believed by many to increase serotonin, which should in turn improve sleep quality. A well known CES device that is gaining momentum in the world of psychiatry is the Fisher-Wallace Device. It requires a prescription from an M.D./D.O. Ideally, a CES device should help you spend more time in delta wave sleep, which results in increased ATP in the brain.
The EmWave2 is a device produced by the HeartMath Institute. It records your pulse and heart rhythms and displays it on your computer screen. Practicing will allow you to enter a state of relaxation and calmness quickly. Diligent practice allows you to remain calm under pressure and maintain a state of clarity during times of change. And according to the HeartMath Institute website, this device helps you to “be more creative and boosts performance under pressure.”
Curcumin may sound like a stretch, but stay with me for a moment. Increased inflammatory compounds, such as IL-6 and TNF-alpha, are well-known for disrupting sleep. This occurs often in those dealing with Lyme disease and co-infections, mold toxicity, and viral infections. Curcumin works by inhibiting a transcription factor known as NF-kappaBeta, which when activated ramps up the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. So, if inflammation is contributing to your insomnia, curcumin may prove useful. I suggest 500 mg, 3 times a day if taken orally. Some companies make curcumin creams. One such company is Neurobiologix. I suggest 1 pump, 2-3x a day applied to the forearms or behind the knee area. If you choose to purchase products from Neurobiologix, you can use the code twj81 and receive a discount.
If you’d like more detailed help on resolving your sleep issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your free 15 minute consultation.