Insomnia Nutrition

After a return in January to the stressed lives we seem to live, I thought I’d write a few notes about insomnia as high levels of stress can impact sleep quality. Insomnia can be caused not only by a disruption to the circadian rhythm caused by stress, but also obesity and alcohol. If you’ve taken all the normal steps to address insomnia by losing weight, avoiding evening caffeine, and reducing alcohol intake then there are[more] steps to take nutritionally which may help.

To ensure melatonin production (the hormone which helps to regulate sleep cycles) we need to ensure that we have the correct nutrition available to us, this includes:

Although there are various foods which directly contain the similar plant hormone phytomelatonin (such as onions, asparagus, pineapples, oats, bananas, barley, rice and wheat) it would be better to safeguard our own production.

We can do this by ensuring that we have a good intake of the nutrients above. Firstly we need plentiful supplies of the amino acid tryptophan as it is this which is synthesised first into the hormone serotonin (which incidentally is needed to boost mood) and from that into melatonin. Vitamin B6 is vital as a co-agent in the synthesis of serotonin. Vitamin B3 is needed, not specifically for melatonin but if B3 levels are low then tryptophan is diverted to create it, thus leaving less for melatonin production. Once synthesised magnesium is believed to enhance melatonin secretion.

Something you might not expect me to advocate though is a diet rich in simple carbohydrates, yet when tackling chronic insomnia they may actually be of benefit. This is because simple carbohydrates cause a peak in insulin and this facilitates the uptake of amino acids other than tryptophan into muscle. Consequently this causes serum levels of tryptophan to[more] dominate the other amino acids and therefore helps brain serotonin concentration.

To conclude then, a dietary protocol to combat insomnia would be one rich in tryptophan, B3 and B6 during the day. The last meal of the day would then be a magnesium rich, phyto-melatonin containing, carbohydrate heavy meal! Thus boosting the release of evening melatonin levels having provided all the building blocks with earlier meals.

For more information or if you’re interested in the food sources of these nutrients please contact me at This Life Nutrition

By Saffron Rogerson

28 January 2014