Updated: May 11
A good night of sleep is vital to our health and well-being.
Sleep deprivation depresses our immune system's disease-fighting abilities.
It affects our mood, concentration, memory, and cognition.
It even puts us at a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, high blood pressure and so much more.
So, if getting a decent night's sleep is an issue for you, please consider these root causes and simple natural solutions.
1. Poor gut health and nutritional deficiencies
Essential for healthy sleep are adequate levels of the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Since ninety five percent of serotonin is made in the gut and there is 400 times more melatonin in your gut than the pineal gland of your brain, good gut health should be a priority.
The amino acid tryptophan found in foods that contain protein is a necessary precursor to these hormones. A number of conversions take tryptophan through to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) to serotonin to N acetyl serotonin and finally melatonin, a hormone that naturally regulates sleep. However these conversions cannot occur without the help of a number of nutrients. Of note are the minerals magnesium and zinc, and the active form of vitamin B6, pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P).
Iron and a few other B vitamins also play a role, but zinc and magnesium deficiencies are a common underlying cause of poor regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. Zinc is also required to convert dietary vitamin B6 to its active form of P5P.
Even if dietary intake of these nutrients is adequate, (which is rare in this modern age), poor absorption in the gut can lead to deficiencies.
So if you have signs of poor gut health such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramping, food intolerances, diarrhea or constipation then your chances of solving your insomnia problem may be futile until you fix your gut. (Learn more on gut healing here).
So while you address your poor gut health, consider if supplementing with zinc, magnesium and P5P could be right for you. Increasing your protein intake or taking tryptophan or 5-HTP as a supplement may also be an option. (Note: It is not recommended you take 5-HTP if you are on anti-depressants).
Keep in mind that most over the counter B vitamin supplements do not contain activated B vitamins. Vitamin B6 as pyridoxal-5-phosphate (P5P) is preferred over pyridoxine hydrochloride to avoid the additional step required to be activated. In the case of vitamin B12, methyl or hydroxy cobalamin (vitamin B12) is preferred over cyano cobalamin. With vitamin B9, methyl folate or folinic acid preferred over synthetic folic acid. Thorne Stress B or Basic B Complex are great options as they contain all the active forms of B vitamins.
Your diet and gut health are not the only factors which influence how much serotonin and melatonin we produce. Exposure to natural light and exercise are also important. So avoiding screens before bed and going for a walk outside daily can be highly beneficial.
2. Hypoglycemic rebound
If getting to sleep is a breeze but you tend to abruptly wake a few hours later and then struggle to get back to sleep, consider a hypoglycemic rebound reaction as the cause.
Think back to what you ate or drank hours before bed. Was it high in sugar or carbs, highly processed or did you have a few alcoholic drinks? Caffeine before bed is also not going to help.
If you get the night time munchies, don't reach for the biscuits, instead snack on a few nuts. Nuts provide protein and fat, which are more satiating and because they are slowly digested and high in magnesium can provide a calm sleep.
Stabilized blood sugar levels require optimal levels of nutrients like chromium, magnesium and manganese. Which again, comes back to your diet and gut health.
3. Poor liver function and toxicity
You are exposed to numerous toxins on a daily basis from the exhaust fumes and fragrances you inhale, to the pesticides and medications you ingest, to the chemicals you lather on your skin. Reducing toxin exposure can go a long way toward improving your sleep.