In this article you will learn:
Many "sleep thieves" that can rob you of precious sleep every night
What you can do to be aware and work preventively
Take this stuff to the next level:
Many of these items are simple, but some may need a more detailed exploration (like hormones) and understanding. This is also by no means an exhaustive list of everything that can fuck with your sleep, so keep that in mind. To get a comprehensive guide (1600+ scientific references) on this material and a lot more resources, grab a copy of my landmark book here and let's dive into a new journey.
The following is a line item list of common supplements, foods and biochemical causes that can upset your sleep. They are based on dozens of citations, all available in my book, "Dance Your Way Through Life: A No Bullshit Guide to Hacking Your Body, Mind & Soul for Success." Here I am just going to outline them for you. Remember also there are over a dozen nutrients you need for good sleep, listed here, and deficiencies in these can also lead to sleep problems. Isn't adulting fun?
Hormones & Neurotransmitters
All of the below listed hormones and neurotransmitters need to come into concert to for your sleep onset (time falling asleep) and sleep duration to work properly. Although you can't really take hormones as a solution, it's good to know so that you can intervene indirectly through nutrition and other therapy (like thyroid or cortisol issues) to balance them out naturally most of the time.
Cortisol is your stress hormone and it is responsible for keeping you alert. An excess can lead to waking up at night to urinate or difficulty falling asleep, or waking up early in the night and being unable to sleep.
Dopamine is similar to cortisol, and can be stimulated by various herbs, medications or supplements (like ALCAR). If you are staying up late at night playing videogames, bingewatching a show or working - you may be increasing your dopamine too much and screwing yourself in the process.
Thyroid Hormones are intimately related to everything in our body, including sleep. If you are hyperthyroid it will affect your sleep and if you are hypothyroid it will also lead to insomnia in some cases (believe it or not).
Estrogen/Testosterone are your sex hormones, and imbalances here can lead to sleep problems. Women who are around menopause will suffer from estrogen imbalances, and too much testosterone can actually lead to higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea due to a complicated relationship. Men getting TRT are often at risk for this, so always use a good sleep test and an oximeter (oxygen measurer) to see where you're at as a baseline.
GABA is your relaxation neurotransmitter, but some people genetically are more deficient or have a harder time producing enough of it. You can take GABA as a supplement, but my first place to look would be nutrition so that the body can do it's thing. In the next section you'll see a link for an article on the 12+ nutrients needed for sound sleep. Start there.
Serotonin is your comfy, happy, connecting chemical. Interestingly, too low or too high of levels can interfere with sleep patterns. This is, again, something you don't want to mess with and rather rely on nutrition and lifestyle to balance out. If you are on SSRIs, realize that they are doing more harm than good to your body and create a plan with a good functional medicine doctor to get off of them.
Histamine is an often forgotten component in sleep because people think it is only associated to allergies. Histamine has many complex roles in the body, but the short of it is that it can be stimulating when out of balance. Nutritional deficiencies and diet create a "histamine intolerance," so this is something to watch out for. In the following section we'll go over a few items that relate to this.
Supplements & Foods
Our body needs nutrients to function (and to sleep!), but the timing of nutrients is very important when we're looking to sleep better, as some can interfere with sleep. Below is a listing of some major offenders that may mess with your sleep, so be aware. For a more complete timing guide, see here.
Iodine can be stimulatory if taken at night in therapeutic amounts.
Vitamin B1, B5 and B3 all stimulate adrenal activity, particularly B1, which may increase cortisol at night.
Vitamin D may cause insomnia if taken at night, although personally I haven't verified this.
Copper creates adrenaline and may be stimulatory if taken at night in higher amounts (over 2mg). In my own experience, the best copper is MitoSynergy's Copper chelate, as it is non-oxidized (red) copper and in true food form. I've taken 1mg of this in the evening and sleep was not affected.
Glutamine is an amino acid that some people like to supplement, but based on your genetics you may produce more glutamate (the excitatory neurotransmitter that opposes GABA) if you are taking this at night.
Creatine is an amino acid your body forms naturally to rebuild muscle and is taken as a supplement, but it can be stimulatory if taken at night - so avoid working out in the evening and supplementing with this accordingly.
Resveratrol may be stimulatory for some people and shouldn't be taken in the evening.
Phosphatidylserine is a great supplement for reducing cortisol at night, however some people may experience the reverse effect and get stimulated in larger amounts. I have taken up to 800-1000mg per night in divided doses over a few hours and not had a problem, however the famous preparation "Seriphos" which is slightly different gave me insomnia.
Coconut oil is great but contains a fatty acid that may interfere with your sleep if taken at night, because of it's energizing properties.
ALCAR (acetyl-l-carnitine) is a form of the amino acid carnitine that is used as a nootropic (brain stimulant) and can be very energizing for some people. I took 500mg and had insomnia for almost 2 days.
Whey protein contains tyrosine, a stimulating amino acid, and may impact your sleep at night. Not necessarily, but it is a possibility for some people.
Tyramine is an amino acid found in certain aged foods like dried fruit, cheese, deli, etc. and may be stimulating. Avoid these kinds of foods in general, but especially at night.
Phenylalanine is an amino acid we need and that the body eventually converts to adrenaline. If you are getting this from food it's probably fine, but taking this as a supplement at night may interfere with your sleep.
Histamine-triggering foods such as aged cheese, dried fruit, etc. that are either high in histamine or trigger a histamine reaction will interfere with your sleep because histamine is stimulatory as a neurotransmitter. The body also produces the most histamine around 3 in the morning, so if you are waking up around this time you may want to look into your lifestyle and nutrition.
If you need help auditing your current sleep schedule, routine, supplements and lifestyle don't be afraid to get in touch.