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We've all had days or weeks when we have felt a little more stress than normal. That additional unwanted stress can cause us to feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, short tempered and leads to that annoying 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome.
Stress is a major cause of an over stimulated or excited nervous system. When we are presented with a challenging situation, whether it be rushing out the door, running late for an appointment, pressures of work, financial problems, finding ourselves on the wrong side of the law or struggling to accept some terrible news, a stress response is triggered.
Your nervous system has 2 major components; the first is the relaxed, mellow part called the parasympathetic nervous system and the other part is called the sympathetic nervous system and it's what keeps you awake, motivated and is heightened when it senses danger. What happens in any stressful situation is your sympathetic nervous system stimulates your adrenals to secrete adrenaline. Adrenaline is responsible for increasing your heart rate, breathing, blood flow to your arms and legs, it amplifies your 5 senses and increases your muscle strength. This is all done in preparation for you to either run away or fight, hence the name 'fight or flight' response. This response was great a couple of 1000 years ago if you were confronted with a saber-tooth tiger, or a waring tribe, but in today's society this over-activation causes real harm to your body. One such area, which sufferers from the fight or flight response, is your parasympathetic nervous system. When it's activity is decreased you find yourself suffering from a range of health issues such as poor digestion, nervousness, an inability to relax or remain calm, low libido, impairment in sexual arousal and of course sleep problems.
After the release of adrenaline, your body scrambles to reduce its side effects by producing another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol triggers an increase in protein breakdown and mobilisation of fats in order to support the fight and flight response. Unfortunately, in prolonged times of stress, elevated cortisol has a negative effect on your body causing a multitude of health complaints ranging from depression to obesity, all the way through to cancer.
To have a good nights sleep your body needs ample amounts of the sleep molecule melatonin. Melatonin is manufactured from your feel good neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin which is made from the amino acid tryptophan. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety, anger and carbohydrate cravings. Cortisol unfortunately has a double whammy effect on serotonin by increasing the production of a substance called tryptophan pyrrolase. Tryptophan pyrrolase inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin as well as causing the destruction of available tryptophan. The unfortunate results are many, in particular depression and the 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome.
The quickest way to deal with elevated cortisol and the 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome is to look to mother nature for some answers. There are some wonderful herbs that lower elevated cortisol especially St John's Wort, Withania, Korean (Panax) Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba which are all found in our herbal tonic, Cortisol Calm, as well as Magnolia, Zizyphus and Horny Goat Weed 3. These herbs are renowned for their calming and relaxing effects on your nervous system.
Reducing caffeine containing stimulants such as coffee, tea, yerba mate, cocoa beverages, energy drinks, some soft drinks and chocolate will decrease strain on your adrenal glands, as will reducing alcohol intake.
Improving your diet and incorporating a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, seafood and grass fed meats will go a long way in providing your body with the correct fuel it needs to function properly. The end result of a healthy diet is that it improves your body's ability to handle stress thus helping to break the 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome.
Regular exercise keeps stress hormones under control by decreasing cortisol, this has been particularly successful in depressed patients 1.
Meditation practices have been shown to decrease cortisol levels 2. The more you practice, the greater the stress reducing effects. As little as 20 minutes a day is all that’s needed to produce a calmer, happier you.
Various nutrients are essential in supporting your body in times of stress. In particular vitamin C, magnesium and B group vitamins. Interestingly magnesium, also known as the 'lullaby mineral', is highly beneficial for sufferers of the 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome. Not only is it a cofactor in melatonin’s production, but it also functions as a brain, muscle and nervous system relaxant.
Luckily for anyone suffering from the 'I can't sleep at night' syndrome there are medical tests available that accurately measure night time Melatonin/Cortisol and morning Serotonin levels. Test kits are available to purchase online through our store for your convenience to collect a urine or saliva sample at home and send away to our pathology laboratory for testing. The results of these tests then provide the best treatment plan for your insomnia.
Also available is a complete Sleep Profile Test that not only measures melatonin, cortisol and serotonin but also other important initiators of sleep namely GABA, glutamic acid, tryptophan and glutamine. GABA's your major tranquillising neurotransmitter and is essential for a good night's sleep whilst Glutamic acid is your major stimulating neurotransmitter. Tryptophan is the amino acid that is converted into serotonin and glutamine is the amino acid converted into GABA. This is a comprehensive test that accurately measures and identifies the many different causes of insomnia.
Visit our website pages on Low GABA Levels
Read our blog post on I Can't Stay Asleep
Read our blog post on I Can't Fall Asleep
Please let us know if you found this post helpful, or if you have any comments to share. We would love to hear from you.
As always, stay healthy and happy!
1. Ida, M., Ida, I., Wada, N., Sohmiya, M., Tazawa, M., & Shirakura, K. (2013). A clinical study of the efficacy of a single session of individual exercise for depressive patients, assessed by the change in saliva free cortisol level. Biopsychosocial Medicine 7(1), 18. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-7-18
2. Fan, Y., Tang, Y., & Posner, M. I. (2014). Cortisol Level Modulated by Integrative Meditation in a Dose-dependent Fashion. Stress & Health: Journal Of The International Society For The Investigation Of Stress, 30 (1), 65-70
3. Rountree, R. (2012). Roundoc Rx: Insomnia: The Impact on Health and Interventions to Improve Sleep. Alternative & Complementary Therapies 18 (3), 116-121. doi:10.1089/act.2012.18306