Boost serotonin and enhance your sleep with these simple practices
If you’ve already mastered your sleep ritual but you’re still not getting good quality sleep, you may be suffering from low levels of serotonin. By making some simple adjustments to your nutrition & lifestyle you can naturally elevate serotonin to help regulate your body’s sleep cycle and and achieve a restful night’s sleep.
Why we need serotonin
Did you know that certain types of food can help unlock serotonin, aka “the happiness hormone”? Serotonin is most commonly associated with mood, learning and appetite control, but it is also a precursor for melatonin, the hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm and our sleeping patterns. Serotonin is a natural happiness drug that promotes positivity and relaxation. Insufficient levels of serotonin can cause depression chronic fatigue and sleep disturbance.
Unfortunately, you can’t just increase levels of this hormone by popping an over-the-counter “serotonin pill” (anti-depressants can be prescribed to increase serotonin for the short term). You can however, make some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle to boost and restore your serotonin levels naturally. Here a few influential factors for your consideration.
Carbohydrates (except fructose) indirectly promote serotonin in the brain as they allow tryptophan (an amino acid) to travel across the blood-brain barrier to be utilized for serotonin synthesis. Stay with me now! Consuming foods that contain tryptophan, like turkey, chicken, meat, cheese, yogurt, eggs and fish, is important, but eating complex carbohydrates, like oats, rice, sweet potatoes and other whole grains and vegetables, is the key to unlocking tryptophan’s potential.
Try to avoid simple carbohydrates before bed time as they are fast digesting and cause a boost in energy, which is not so helpful when you’re trying to soothe your body into a calm and tranquil state.
Avoiding a heavy meal before bedtime is also advisable to prevent discomfort and conditions such as acid reflux. A big meal before bed can also fire up your metabolism which makes it difficult for your body to relax and prepare for sleep. Keeping your dinner relatively small compared to other meals and then having a carbohydrate-dominant snack of around 150-200 calories around bedtime, can help with priming your body for sleep.
Aside from serotonin and melatonin, studies suggest that magnesium plays a crucial role in sleep. Magnesium is considered to be an “anti-stress” mineral because it works to calm the nerves and relax the muscles. We recommend ensuring your diet contains foods that are good sources of magnesium, such as leafy green vegetables, black beans, avocado, dried pumpkin seeds and bananas. Maximize your absorption of magnesium rich foods by avoiding eating foods that contain phytates (nuts and grains) at the same time, or take the extra measure to remove phytates from your foods.
Elevated levels of cortisol are a common cause of sleep disturbance. If you’re in too much of a caloric deficit, dealing with a tough training schedule or depriving your body of carbs, you may find yourself waking up early because of disrupted cortisol rhythms – usually this is some-time between 3-5am.
Alternatively, you may find yourself suffering from the “wired and tired” phenomenon, where you find it hard to go to bed and difficult to wake up in the morning. This is usually caused by inappropriately elevated levels of cortisol in the evening.
Either way, you’re most likely dealing with chronic stress and a disrupted cortisol rhythm.
A stress management protocol is recommended – you might want to check out our 14 Hacks to Sleeping Better than Ever for some destressing lifestyle strategies – but the following supplements may be helpful additions to your diet.
Supplements for better Sleep
Sometimes supplements can be beneficial for a short period when you might not have as much control over your nutrition or the stress that is present in your life. Here are some recommendations for supplements that will help bring your body back in to balance and assist with helping you achieve better quality sleep.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is effective in cortisol regulation/suppression and can help to control evening cortisol levels, leading to better sleep quality. Try 100mg an hour or so before bed.
Valerian root is known to cause sedative and calming effects and is often prescribed to help combat insomnia and anxiety.
5-HTP can help to increase tryptophan stores that have been depleted by chronic stress. Try 50 mg, 30 to 60 minutes before bed.
Relora is a proprietary blend of Magnolia Officinalisand Phellodendron amurensethat can relieve stress and calm neurological excitation. It is also thought to help relieve stress-related eating. Take as directed before bed.
Low levels of Vitamin D can make you intolerant to stress. You can either get yourself tested and take appropriate supplementation or ensure you get a daily dose of sunshine to help boost your stores! 20 minutes of natural light at midday, should help regulate your circadian rhythm.
Regulating Sex Hormones
Sleep is well-known for naturally promoting levels of testosterone and growth hormone in the body which help your body to build muscle. If you’re not getting enough sleep you could be wasting all that effort your putting in at the gym!
Low testosterone can be caused by stress or age and can contribute to poor sleep. Have your hormone levels checked and then work with your doctor and coach to investigate hormone supplementation and stress management protocols.
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps calm our brain function. Low estrogen and progesterone may mean inadequate GABA action. PMS or excessive menstrual bleeding could also be a sign of low GABA. Try taking 500 mg 30-60 minutes before bed. Women who also struggle with fat loss and body composition change may want to check for estrogen dominance (typically indicated by low progesterone relative to estrogen). Bio-identical progesterone supplementation can improve fat loss.
Women in particular can be deficient in Magnesium. Magnesium helps to relax muscles and release tension in the body. Take 100-400 mg, 30-60 minutes before bed. Magnesium-based Epsom salt baths are also beneficial for athletes looking to improve their recovery.
Thyroid activity may be keeping you “revved up”. L-theanine is recommended and can be found in green and black tea.
Supplements & Lifestyle tips for shift workers & travelers
We know that not getting our beauty sleep can have detrimental effects on our overall health. But if you’re a shift worker or you travel a lot for work, you’re going to have to take extra steps to ensure you get sufficient and good quality sleep. You can offset the effects of skewed wake/sleep cycles with the following strategies.
Melatonin: 3–5 mg, 30–60 min before bedtime (whenever that is). Also get bright light (sunshine if possible) during the desired “daytime”, then dim the lights during the desired “evening”.
Fasting and meal timing: If you’re crossing time zones, try fasting during the afternoon or evening and then have breakfast immediately after waking in the new time zone. This will help to reset your body clock.
We don’t recommend blindly taking supplements in an effort to cover all bases. Aside from adverse side effects of over-supplementation, you’ll find that this is a costly protocol. Instead, why not let InsideTracker tell you what your body needs with their blood test analysis and customized recommendations. Save 10% with the code ACKERMAN at checkout.
Do you take any supplements to help you sleep? What works well for you and why? We’d love to hear from you!