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, filled with feelings of frustration, fatigue, a lack of mental clarity and if you ask loved ones of the sufferer they can be downright grumpy! There are many types or causes of insomnia, including Trouble Falling Asleep and Stress the Hidden Cause of Insomnia, but in this health blog we are going to focus on Sleep Maintenance Insomnia or the "I can't stay asleep at night" 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 throughout the night. People afflicted with Sleep Maintenance Insomnia can toss and turn and never get a continuous restful nights sleep. Alternatively they lie awake throughout the night with increasing frustration while counting the hours before they can fall back to sleep, which is generally 10 minutes before the alarm goes off. Many sufferers of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia endure what is termed a racing mind, which means that a multitude of thoughts continually run through their head. The racing mind is a by-product of GABA deficiency, which causes the mind to remain in an overactive state, making relaxation and that elusive sleep near impossible to achieve.
For some sufferers there is one underlying cause, but for others there can be a multitude of contributing factors. Below is a list of common causes of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.
Low GABA Levels: One of the main causes of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia results from low levels of the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) GABA. GABA is the body's main calming, relaxing and tranquillising neurotransmitter. Besides a racing mind and Sleep Maintenance Insomnia GABA Deficiency can also present as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, feeling overwhelmed, digestive problems, nervousness, convulsions and Tourettes syndrome. Employing strategies to help Naturally increase GABA goes along way to permanently reverse Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.
Overstimulation of the NMDA Receptors: In addition to GABA deficiency Sleep Maintenance Insomnia can be caused by overstimulation of the N–methyl–D–Aspartate (NMDA) receptors. The main roles of the NMDA receptors is in maintaining alertness, learning and long term memory.
If the NMDA receptors are overstimulated people feel as though they are out of control and things are happening at a 1,000,000 miles an hour plus their mind and thoughts won't keep quite. This overstimulation of the NMDA receptors indicates that the break needed to quieten the mind, GABA is deficient.
Besides GABA deficiency the NMDA receptors can be overstimulated by excessive consumption of;
Aspartic acid is a non-essential 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 the NMDA receptors.
There are two other potential sources of aspartic acid that can cause NMDA receptor overstimulation. Firstly mineral supplements bound to aspartic acid such as magnesium aspartate, calcium aspartate, zinc aspartate, manganese aspartate and potassium aspartate. These forms of mineral supplements are generally found in a variety of nutritional supplements. Excessive amounts of these supplements can overstimulate the NMDA receptors, but small amounts should be OK - for most people.
By far the biggest cause of NMDA receptor overstimulation 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 and in excess, death.
Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that helps maintain wakefulness, learning and memory. When needed Glutamate is converted to GABA with the help of vitamin B6. However low levels of vitamin B6 can cause an increase in Glutamate levels resulting in the overstimulation of the NMDA receptors.
MSG is a common food flavour enhancer, label additive number 621 and is made from the sodium salt of Glutamic Acid (Glutamate), which when ingested it is converted back to Glutamate. As we have mentioned excessive amounts of Glutamate leads to an overstimulation of the NMDA receptors.
Excess Caffeine: Too much caffeine, especially in the afternoons or evenings, can cause Sleep Maintenance Insomnia by producing fewer periods of slow wave sleep throughout the night. It is slow wave sleep that is responsible for the deep sleep that often eludes sufferers of Sleep Maintenance Insomnia. Eliminating or reducing caffeine intake, which includes coffee, tea, chocolate, cola and energy drinks during the day, or at the very least abstaining from caffeine after midday can reduce the incidents of laying in bed at night staring at the ceiling while the rest of the world is happily in the land of nod.
Effects of Gluten: To convert Glutamic acid to GABA the important enzyme glutamate decarboxylase is required. Unfortunately people who suffer from gluten sensitivities produce immune substances called gliadin antibodies. These antibodies inhibit glutamate decarboxylase activity, which results in less GABA production and a worse nights sleep 1. To help overcome Sleep Maintenance Insomnia it may be prudent to eliminate gluten from the diet.
Excess Alcohol: Alcohol causes a temporary increase in GABA levels, which results in us feeling relaxed and allows sleep to come easy. However, for some people moderate to excessive alcohol consumption reduces the amount of GABA stored in the brain, resulting in night time waking with an inability to fall back to sleep.
Physical Ailments including restless legs syndrome, constipation, fibromyalgia, Pyroluria, enlarged prostate, bladder issues, hyperthyroidism, chronic pain, Lyme's disease, PMS, depression and excessive stress can all contribute to Sleep Maintenance Insomnia. These health conditions are often successfully treated by a Naturopath or other alternate health care professional.
To effectively increase GABA levels certain nutrients are essential, in particular the amino acids glutamine and taurine plus vitamin B6 and zinc. A deficiency in one or more of these nutrients will inhibit the conversion of glutamine to GABA, resulting in Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.
Nutritional Supplements containing these nutrients can help increase GABA naturally while having the added benefit of allowing the body to regulate the amount of GABA it requires. GABA supplementation will help increase GABA levels, but how much GABA does a person need at any given time? Too much GABA will inhibit the happy brain chemical serotonin and Dopamine, which is responsible for memory, learning and concentration. In addition excessive amounts of GABA can cause drowsiness and reduced mental process.
Additional nutrients and herbs such as glycine, theanine, inositol, magnesium, potassium, chamomile, kava kava and valerian help to enhance the function and effectiveness of GABA, thus resulting in an improvement in Sleep Maintenance Insomnia.
The information provided here is of a general nature intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.
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