We all want the quick fix to help us get to sleep. Especially if you haven’t been sleeping well. Here is my advice.
“WITH SLEEP MOST PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR QUICK FIX SOLUTIONS. GREAT SLEEP IS THE PRODUCT OF A LOT OF INTELLIGENT DECISIONS OVER THE LONG TERM.”
Optimizing your sleep requires that you implement smart strategies over the long-term. That said, I will provide you with the GO-TO foods that you can consume if you’re “in a pinch” and want to help yourself get to sleep. Sound good? Only thing I want you to promise me is that you’ll also learn the long-term strategies because those are what will really help you.
To improve sleep, we want to raise two specific neurotransmitters, Serotonin & GABA. In essence, Serotonin and GABA are the brakes in the brain and Acetylcholine and Dopamine are the gas pedals. Obviously at night and the way some brains work, we need a lot more “breaks”!
- Dopamine Dominance During the Day, Serotonin in the Evening To Relax the Night Away. CARBS to raise serotonin levels.
During the day I recommend eating more ketogenic to enhance mental focus. That is eating only protein, fat and greens. In the late afternoon / evening, thats when I’d recommend eating whatever carbohydrates you like. The carbohydrates will raise serotonin levels by promoting amino acid absorption, raising relative tryptophan levels in the blood. This will raise serotonin levels.
This eating strategy is appropriate to optimize mental focus at work during the day. If you are an elite athlete or weightlifter an entirely different strategy applies.
Out of the neurotransmitters, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, GABA, which one do you think is the precursor to Melatonin?
Did you know Serotonin is the precursor to Melatonin?
Serotonin is the “good mood” “stress-vaporizing” neurotransmitter. Serotonin boosts feelings of optimism, self-esteem, security, relaxation, and peacefulness. Adequate levels of serotonin in the occipital lobes are necessary for delta deep wave sleep. Also, the more serotonin you have, generally the less sensitive to pain you’ll be.
Serotonin converts into melatonin. Raise serotonin in the evening and you’ll likely increase melatonin as well. Conversion of serotonin to melatonin depends on SAMe, which your body synthesizes from methionine, requiring adequate vitamin B6, folate and vitamin B12. High levels of methionine can be found in eggs, meat, fish, sesame seeds, and Brazil nuts. Oysters, scallops and seafood are very high in vitamin B12.
Superfood Cacao, raw chocolate, is loaded with serotonin and serotonin pre-cursors.
Chocolate containing 85% cocoa has the most serotonin with 2.9 micrograms per gram, and chocolate containing 70 to 85% cocoa has the most of the serotonin precursor L-tryptophan, with 13.3 micrograms per gram, according to a study published in “Journal of Chromatography A”
Smelling vanilla also increases serotonin. In fact, chocolate and vanilla is a match made in heaven. For your mood that is! Also, superfood Noni boosts serotonin and enhances the functioning of the pineal gland. Superfood Mucuna is high in both serotonin and 5-HTP and is a great anti-stimulant to consume alongside stimulants like coffee. An ancient shamanic beverage is a combination of Mucuna and Chocolate. Spirulina is also high in tryptophan. Reishi Mushroom also has very calming, balancing effects on the nervous system. Lavender is also a natural tranquilizing and stress relieving herb.
- Cacao (at least 70%, 85% minimum for maximum serotonin)
- Reishi Mushroom
Ancient Insomnia cure – Raw Honey.
Honey is an ancient remedy for Depression. The Romans would consume it to increase happiness. Honey reduces brain inflammation, contains tryptophan and raises blood serotonin levels. If you are sleeping lightly, going to bathroom often and are restless in the night, your cortisol and stress levels may be out of whack. 1 tbsp of raw honey is a great way to relax the body.
An awesome sleep remedy is to consume Honey, with a calming herb like Chamomile and then a calming adaptogen like Reishi. Add a tablespoon of Almond Butter or Coconut Oil to stabilize your blood sugar throughout the night.
I prefer using foods to balance overall neurochemistry. As a short-term tool
you can supplement with L-tryptophan. I’ve tried L-tryptophan with clients, all of whom reported terrific sleep. L-Tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP and then to serotonin. L-tryptophan the dose is 1000-3000 mg per day, taken on an empty stomach ideally in the evening before bed. Its something you can try in the short- term while you implement the healthy sleep strategies to build good sleep for the long-term.
TRYPTOPHAN -> SEROTONIN
Tryptophan is used by the brain along with B6, niacin, and magnesium to produce serotonin. Magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral.
Best natural food sources for Magnesium are: green leafy veggies, nuts and seeds
Niacin: chicken breast, fish, eggs, avocados, dates, figs
Vitamin B6: eggs, walnuts, cabbage
Almonds, Walnuts and especially pumpkin seeds are high in tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin. Avocados, spinach and fish in general are high in tryptophan.
Nuts and Tart Cherry Juice increase melatonin. As do Olive Oil, Tomatoes, cherries and walnuts. Ginger and Mangosteen also increase melatonin.
Bacopa is an ayurvedic super-herb has been used for centuries as a memory- enhancing, anti-inflammatory, relaxant. Research shows that Bacopa reduces stress and anxiety by elevating your mood and reducing levels of cortisol, which is closely linked to stress levels. Bacopa reduces cortisol, enhances antioxidant activity in the synapses, and increases plasticity and choline transmission. Bacopa also increases GABA and the effectiveness of serotonin, increasing serotonin uptake. Bacopa is great for students to enhance learning, memory and combat stress. Bacopa may also beneficial for those with epilepsy, anxiety, depression and memory problems.
TART CHERRY JUICE
For Athletes Tart Cherry Juice may help to reduce pain and thus improve sleep. In a study, runners given cherry juice experienced three times less pain during and after the race compared to those given a placebo. Tart Cherry Juice would also be a good evening choice for the elderly or anyone with arthritis and chronic pain.
Tart cherries are naturally rich in melatonin, and contain a good amount of tryptophan and anthocyanins, two compounds that may help the brain create melatonin.
Research shows that supplementing with tart cherry juice increases levels of melatonin and improves sleep quality and duration.
Another study showed that Tart Cherry Juice was just as effective as Valerian at improving sleep.
Studies show that Valerian root helps you fall asleep faster and sleep better. Valerian root is often referred to as “nature’s valium”. Valerian is available as a supplement and can also be consumed as a tea. Valerian helps to raise GABA levels by inhibiting the breakdown of GABA in the brain. This is the same way medications such as Valium work. Chronic stress, anxiety, and insomnia are all associated with low GABA levels. Valerian also contains antioxidants which may inhibit excessive activity in the amygdala, the fear and emotional centre of the brain. Valerian can be used to improve sleep, reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. Valerian may also improve restless leg syndrome (RLS).
GABA is the “OFF BUTTON” in the brain. GABA is your brain’s’ valium, the neurotransmitter of calm and relaxation. Adequate amounts of GABA are essential for memory, sleep, speech, language, emotional and mental stability. GABA boosters include Green Tea, with naturally occurring L-theanine, which increases Alpha brain waves, creating a Zen-like focus. Green tea does contain some naturally occurring caffeine, hence you may want to drink it earlier in the day. The effects of the caffeine are modulated by the L-theanine. Supplements like Magnesium and Taurine increase GABA. Foods like cherry tomatoes, and superfood Noni increase GABA, helping to vaporize stress and anxiety. Magnesium is a co-factor in GABA production. Foods high in magnesium such as green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, cacao (100% chocolate) will all help raise GABA levels. Speech, Anxiety and Sleeplessness often are associated with a GABA deficiency.
Flavonoid, antioxidant rich foods like Resveratrol in chocolate, and anthocyanin in blueberries not only have anti-cancer and heart-protective properties, but also enhance GABA function. GABA boosters include apples, berries, citrus fruits, chocolate, tea and wine. Medicinal plants that raise GABA include chamomile, passionflower and valerian. St. John’s Wort and KAVA can also help raise GABA levels and therefore reduce anxiety and insomnia and increase relaxation. They can also protect against excessive norepinephrine, which can cause your mind to race around and around in circles. Magnolia bark is an herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and has been shown to increase GABA levels.
SUMMARY GABA BOOSTERS:
- Green Tea (earlier in day)
- Magnesium, Taurine, Vit. B6
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Green Leafy Vegetables
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Cacao (Raw Chocolate)
- Blueberries, Tart Cherry Juice, Cherries (rich in Flavonoids)
- Chamomile, Passionflower, & Valerian
- St. John’s Wart & KAVA
- Magnolia Bark
Glutamine is a precursor for GABA. Therefore you can eat foods higher in glutamic acid. You want to also consume anti-inflammatory herbs such as curcumin, rosemary, ginger. Inflammation can disrupt the GABA-Glutamate Balance. I would not supplement with glutamine directly as this can elevate glutamate levels, the exact opposite of what we want. Especially if we are working with a child with autism, ASD and hyper-sensitivity.
Eat foods containing higher levels of glutamic acid per 100g
▪ Almonds, tree nuts (10.3 g.)
▪ Beef liver (6.5 g.)
▪ Broccoli (740 mg.)
▪ Halibut (7.9 g.)
▪ Oranges, citrus fruits (210 mg.)
▪ Spinach (680 mg.)
▪ Walnuts (5.4 g.)
Fermentation is known to increase GABA significantly. GABA derived from Lactobacillus has shown promising anti-anxiety effects.
Potassium is also needed to release GABA. Sufficient intake of green leafy vegetables and greens juices is necessary. Insufficient green vegetable consumption, and over-consumption of salty inflammatory processed foods, no doubt is a contributor to excessive Glutamate, and GABA deficiencies. This can exacerbate sleep, mood issues and problems like restless leg.
Magnesium, Zinc Vitamin B6, taurine all increase GABA.
Low levels of GABA can contribute to a variety of health issues such as anxiety, panic disorders, depression (including postpartum depression), epilepsy, convulsions, stress, insomnia (especially waking with a racing mind or waking and not being able fall back to sleep), Tourette’s syndrome, muscle spasms, hypertension, emotional issues associated with premenstrual syndrome, dry skin and wrinkles.
Epilepsy and Seizures are associated with a GABA deficiency. Tinnitus is essentially a seizure in the ears, and is associated with a GABA deficiency. Chronic Pain is associated with a GABA deficiency.
To reduce your risk of excessive glutamate stay away from any product that contains “Artificial” or “Natural Flavors” The words natural flavor or natural flavoring on a package typically means it contains MSG or some other excitotoxin, used to stimulate your taste buds and artificially intensify flavor. There may be nothing “natural” about these additives at all.
I do not recommend taking GABA directly. Rather raise your GABA levels and improve your sleep with intelligent nutritional choices.
WHAT ABOUT SMOKING MARIJUANA?
Cannabis has long called the “giver of joy” and does raise serotonin levels.
But marijuana depletes acetyl choline in the brain, which is why memory and brain fog usually ensue. Don’t smoke too much Dope, which depletes dopamine and acetyl-choline. Otherwise you might become a slow, unmotivated Dope. If you smoke marijuana ensure you replenish dopamine and acetyl-choline. Then you’ll remain neuro-chemically balanced and not suffer the common side effects.
Many people smoke marijuana because they have anxiety, stress or sleep problems. However, anxiety is a double-edged sword. Smoking marijuana may help you relax however it may also mess up your productivity and motivation. Since the majority of people motivate themselves via stress, by taking that away you can mess up their motivation.
Something like marijuana is something I’d look at as a short-term tool. Something you can use in the short-term while you make intelligent decisions to fix your sleep for the long-term.
Now you have some GO TO FOODS to help you sleep. Ready to learn everything you need to know about the brain to build the best sleep possible?
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