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Sleep is something we all need, and lets face it not too many of us can function well without it. For many people trying to capture that elusive good night's sleep is a never-ending battle, one filled with feelings of frustration, fatigue, a lack of mental clarity and if you ask any other family members you can be seen to just be downright grumpy! There are many types of insomnia and in this health blog we are going to discuss Sleep Maintenance Insomnia or the "I can't stay asleep" syndrome.
Of all the different types of insomnia, sleep maintenance insomnia is one of the most common. It is generally characterised by a persons inability to stay asleep. People afflicted with sleep maintenance insomnia generally toss and turn throughout the night and never get continuous sleep, or they awake during the night and just lie there counting the hours before they can fall back to sleep. Sufferers of sleep maintenance insomnia can also have what is termed a racing mind. This basically means that a multitude of thoughts are continually running through your head while you are lying there trying in vain to fall back to sleep.
One of the main causes of sleep maintenance insomnia results from low levels of the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called GABA. GABA is your main relaxing and tranquillising brain chemical. It's what calms you down and plays a major role in reducing nervousness, panic attacks, anxiety, epileptic attacks and of course the "I can't stay asleep" syndrome.
Sleep maintenance insomnia can also be caused by overstimulation of the N–methyl–D–Aspartate receptors, a lot of big words that we'll just abbreviate to NMDA. The main roles of your NMDA receptors is maintaining alertness, learning and long term memory. As you can imagine if these receptors are overstimulated you would feel like you are wired and going 1,000,000 miles an hour, which is the racing mind that many of the sleep maintenance insomnia sufferers experience. Overstimulation of the NMDA receptors means there are low GABA levels available for your brain, and conversely the more GABA available, the less overstimulation of the NMDA receptors.
Your NMDA receptors can be overstimulated by excessive consumption of;
A nonessential amino acid commonly found in foods such as sprouted seeds, beef, fish, poultry, cheese, spirulina, lentils, almonds and walnuts. However, eating a diet rich in aspartic acid is not enough to overstimulate your NMDA receptors. Unfortunately there are two other potential sources of aspartic acid that can cause NMDA receptor overstimulation. The first are mineral supplements bound to aspartic acid such as; magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, and zinc. They go by the names of magnesium aspartate, calcium aspartate, zinc aspartate, manganese aspartate and potassium aspartate. These forms of mineral supplements are generally found in a variety of multivitamins and other nutritional supplements. Excessive amounts of these supplements can overstimulate your NMDA receptors but small amounts should be OK - for most people. By far the main cause of overstimulation of the NMDA receptors is from artificial sweeteners, especially Aspartame, which is found in many diet products and goes under trademark names such as; NutraSweet, Equal or AminoSweet. Aspartame (label additive number 951) is comprised of the two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, as well as methanol, a highly toxic alcohol which can cause serious neurological health problems.
A nonessential amino acid that is manufactured within your body from another amino acid called glutamine. When it is required Glutamic acid is converted in your brain to GABA with the help of vitamin B6. However low levels of vitamin B6 cause an increase of glutamic acid within your brain resulting in the overstimulation of the NMDA receptors.
A common food flavour enhancer (label additive number 621), MSG is made from the sodium salt of glutamic acid and once in your body is converted back to glutamic acid. As you can guessed by now excessive amounts of glutamic acid equals an overstimulation of those wonderful NMDA receptors.
Too much caffeine, especially in the afternoons or evenings, can cause sleep maintenance insomnia by producing fewer periods of slow wave or deep sleep. Eliminating or reducing your caffeine intake (coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks) during the day, or at the very least abstaining from caffeine after midday can result in less chance of suffering from the "I can't stay asleep" syndrome.
To convert Glutamic acid to GABA an important enzyme called glutamate decarboxylase is needed. Unfortunately people who suffer from gluten sensitivities produce immune substances called gliadin antibodies. These gliadin antibodies inhibit glutamate decarboxylase's activity, which results in less GABA production and a worse nights sleep 1.
Alcohol causes a temporary increase in GABA levels which results in us feeling relaxed and allows us to easily fall asleep. However for some people, excess alcohol will ultimately reduce their brain GABA levels, resulting in night time waking with an inability to fall back to sleep. Physical ailments such as restless legs syndrome, constipation, fibromyalgia, prostate problems, bladder issues, hyperthyroidism, chronic pain, Lyme's disease, PMS, depression and excessive stress can all contribute to sleep maintenance insomnia.
To effectively increase GABA levels certain nutrients are essential, in particular the amino acid glutamine. Glutamine is converted to glutamic acid, which in turn is converted to GABA. For this process to go smoothly other essential nutrients; vitamin B6, zinc and the amino acid taurine are required. A deficiency in one or more of these nutrients will inhibit the conversion of glutamine to GABA, resulting in sleep maintenance insomnia.
Pyroluria is a condition that robs your body of zinc and vitamin B6. This condition may also contribute to sleep maintenance insomnia.
There are a variety of other nutrients that help enhance the function and effectiveness of GABA and reduce the "I can't stay asleep" syndrome in particular glycine, theanine, inositol, magnesium, potassium, chamomile, kava kava, valerian and passionflower. To learn more about how to increase your GABA levels naturally click here.
Visit our our website pages on Pyroluria for information on what could be inhibiting zinc and vitamin B6 from doing their job within your body.
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. Hadjivassi, R., et al. (2004). Gluten sensitivity: from gut to brain. Trends in Immunology, 11: 578-82.