Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is Sleep Eluding You?

By Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath

So many clients enter into Depke Wellness with poor sleep habits to to point that I would share that these numbers are staggering. Proper sleep is one of your fundamentals of health that is essential, unfortunately our culture often views sleep as a luxury and not an essential component to health and happiness. I cannot say it enough, proper sleep is essential and insomnia is actually more of a norm!

Let's first define proper sleep. Many feel that proper sleep is simply getting approximately 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly, but not so fast. Proper sleep would include approximately 8 hours of sleep but it is also important to sleep at the proper times of the day to honor assist in balancing our Circadian rhythms. A good general rule is to be in bed from 10:00PM thru 6:00AM but this does shift seasonally. We typically need much more sleep in the winter months than we do in the summer months. During summer months we may be fine going to bed at 10:30PM and waking at 6:00AM but during the winter months the best times to head off to bed may be closer to 9:30PM and waking at 6:30AM. An important focus to assist in getting to bed at a proper time is to prioritize a shutting down period. This means no cell phone, television or computer. This is time to unwind from the day, read a book, journal, take a bath, converse with your spouse or roommate, or play a relaxing game.

We also want to recognize our sleep patterns. While it is not unusual to wake during the night to urinate, if this occurs we should be able to "take care of business" and easily fall back into a deep sleep. Please be sure to not turn on bright lights at this time because this will likely hinder your ability to fall back into a deep sleep quickly. I recommend having a night light with a dim red bulb that will not lower melatonin when lit.

The other factor is how you wake up. When you wake you should be ready to "rock and roll" and if you find this to not be the case and your snooze alarm is your best friend, we can recognize that you are not getting proper sleep. Basically wake as close to sunrise as possible. I would recommend setting a timer for a low wattage lamp in your bedroom to turn on about 10 minutes prior to your alarm. This is a good idea since an alarm is often stimulating to the adrenals and nervous system.

Per the definition above, if you are not getting proper sleep we'll review the most common challenges leading to this.
  • Personal Choice
    • If you are simply choosing to go to bed later than is healthy, only you can change this. It is better to go to bed earlier and get up earlier than it is to go to bed late and get up late.
  • Adrenal Challenges
    • When adrenal function is off, this can have an effect on melatonin utilization in your body among other factors with sleep disorders.
  • Poor Digestion
    • When digestion is challenged, we often find ourselves looking at nutritional deficiencies that lead to sleep issues. This most common factors behind this is food sensitivity and/or gut pathogens.
  • Poor Neurotransmitter Function
    • Neurotransmitters play a role in sleep/wake patterns. These would definitely include the four primary neurotransmitters, which I consider to be serotonin, dopamine, GABA and acetyl-choline. While most would first look at GABA, I have to share that the bigger deficiency we see in our clinic is serotonin.
Due to the significant serotonin deficiencies that we recognize, let's focus on serotonin for the remainder of this article today.

First off, how can you easily recognize if you have a serotonin deficiency? Here are some common symptoms if you serotonin is compromised.
  • Unable to fall into a deep and restful sleep
  • Loss of pleasure in hobbies and interests
  • Feelings of inner rage and anger
  • Feelings of depression
  • Difficulty finding joy in life's pleasures
  • Depressed when it is cloudy or lack of sunlight
  • Loss of enthusiasm for your favorite foods or activities
  • Not enjoying your friendships or relationships
If half or more of these are challenges for you, low serotonin would be likely. Serotonin is involved in several important body functions such as memory, emotions, moods, appetite and thermoregulation, so it comes as no surprise that this neurotransmitter is important in regulating sleep-waking also. Serotonin deficiencies have been linked to depression, anger, OCD, sleep disturbances, irritable bowel syndrome and many other emotional and physical disturbances, while proper levels also help people feel contented and safe.

Does serotonin make one more sleepy or more awake?  Seemingly both. But given we need to sleep sometimes and to be awake at times, serotonin is generally a good thing.  Scientists have found that serotonin directly promotes wakefulness and also promotes the formation of sleep-promoting brain factors, perhaps as part of an evolutionary negative feedback look.  Orexinergic wake-promoting neurons also stimulate serotoningic neurons.

So why is your serotonin low?

Serotonin and Estrogen
Estrogen play a direct role in serotonin receptor sites. With this said, if estrogen is high that can lead to symptoms of serotonin excess and if estrogen is low this can cause symptoms of low serotonin activity. Because of the estrogen/serotonin connection, taking supplements to support serotonin may not have a significant impact if you are estrogen deficient. This is one reason to consider a comprehensive adrenal panel that also reviews estrogen hormones. Thankfully, this is what we regularly utilize at Depke Wellness.

Tryptophan and 5-HTP
Both 5-HTP and tryptophan have been shown to assist in increasing serotonin and can be helpful in addressing the symptoms caused by low serotonin. Both of these substances are precursors to serotonin production and often I will suggest the use of both to assist in increasing serotonin production. 

Iron and Serotonin
The production of serotonin depends on adequate levels of iron so iron deficiency has to be a factor to consider when considering low serotonin. This is common for those that follow a vegan or vegetarian diet or for those with low stomach acid production. One of the most common challenges that leads to low stomach acid production is a H-pylori infection.

Nutritional Deficiencies
There are many nutrients that are essential to synthesize serotonin in your body. Adding to the list that we mentioned above you could add vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B12, folate and magnesium. 

Other Factors 
When addressing serotonin deficiencies you have to consider some of the typical "deal breakers" that will hinder your success. This would include general brain health, chronic stress, blood sugar imbalances. Also understand that chronic alcohol use can also hinder the serotonin pathways.

When addressing serotonin deficiencies with our clients it is important to understand all of the potential challenges listed above. We also want to provide you an opportunity to understand your current serotonin levels. If you have not assessed this recently, feel free to fill out our complimentary neurotransmitter assessment from Depke Wellness. Once you fill this out, please save this on your computer and email to the Depke Wellness team at We would be happy to review this for you!

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