We’ve all heard of different ways to get better sleep, ranging from room darkening curtains to various remedies. We try one thing after another, hoping to catch a few more Zzzzs. Despite all our efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports over 35% of the population continues to get less than the recommended eight hours.1
Adequate sleep is essential for health and wellness. Lack of sleep impairs how well your nervous and immune systems work. You may find yourself getting sick more often, experiencing mood swings, or being unable to focus.2 Imagine how this could impact your ability to work. Poor sleep can disrupt your social and family life.2 In fact, people with sleep problems report a much poorer quality of life overall than those who get enough sleep.3
Many people are aware of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Perhaps you have tried it. However, for many people, supplementing with melatonin does not provide the rest they need. That might be because melatonin isn’t the only substance involved in sleep. There may be other neurochemicals that are out-of-balance.
Several other neuroactive substances that can play an important role in sleep. Some of them are hormones, like melatonin. Others are known as neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that nerves use to communicate with each other. While some of these brain chemicals stimulate the nervous system, others calm it down. Beyond melatonin, some of the other important hormones and neurotransmitters involved in sleep include:
There you are, five new ways or targets for getting better sleep. Here’s more about how they impact sleep and how you can find out if they’re keeping you awake.
1. Cortisol: Another Hormone Affecting Sleep
While melatonin is critical to sleep, another hormone could interfere with getting better sleep. Normally highest in the morning, cortisol helps you wake up. It then decreases throughout the day, so you can go to sleep. However, if this pattern is off and cortisol is high before bed, it can be difficult to get to sleep. Indeed, a review of data from individuals who reported moderate-to-severe poor sleep on their initial quality-of-life questionnaire showed that this cycle was basically opposite what it should be.4
This may have been the result of stress. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it increases in response to stress. And when you’re stressed, cortisol is higher and sleep can become more difficult. When you are under stress, how often have you laid in bed with a racing mind, thinking about what you need to get done?
2. Serotonin: You Can’t Have One Without the Other
You may have heard of serotonin. It is well known for its role in mood. While serotonin is a neurotransmitter, the hormone melatonin is made from it. In addition to acting as a building block for melatonin, serotonin plays roles in both sleep and wake.5 It is important to have adequate levels of serotonin in order for the sleep-wake cycle to function properly. Individuals with moderate-to-severe levels of sleep difficulties saw vast improvements in both sleep and mood when serotonin levels were increased when they completed eight weeks on Sanesco’s NeuroWellness Program™ .4
3. GABA: The “Big Chill” of the Nervous System
If melatonin is the sleep hormone, one might consider GABA the “chill” neurotransmitter. GABA is the main calming agent in your nervous system. It is also one of the most important for sleep. You see, GABA shuts down the brain regions that keep you awake.6
When it gets dark out, GABA is released from specific sleep centers in your brain.6 If your GABA levels are too low, you may not be able to get better sleep. Additionally, low GABA adds to anxiousness and worry, which can make getting better sleep hard as well.
4. Glutamate: “GABA’s Alter Ego”
Light promotes the wake cycle in two ways. It stops the release of melatonin and stimulates the release of glutamate.3 If GABA is the “off” switch, glutamate is the “on” switch. Light causes glutamate release, which signals a part of the brain considered to be the master circadian clock.7 This region of the brain sends the signal that essentially keeps sleep-promoting GABA locked up.6 This explains why a dark room is so important to achieving better sleep.
However, glutamate is used throughout your nervous system. So, levels may be high even when the room is dark. In addition to interfering with sleep, high levels of glutamate are known to play a role in anxiousness. Worrying thoughts are a common complaint cited by people having a hard time falling asleep.
5. Norepinephrine: Staying Awake
Norepinephrine (NE) is an excitatory or stimulating neurotransmitter. NE is found throughout your body. It is the chemical released from an area in the brain that helps keep you awake.2 It is one of the main areas GABA shuts down. NE is also known as the hormone noradrenaline. As a hormone, it is released from the adrenals in response to stress.
If NE levels are high, your body may fight sleep and stay awake. On the flip side, if levels are low, you may find yourself tired during the day. In fact, many people with sleep difficulties also complain of fatigue. In addition to improvements in mood, fatigue decreased greatly after individuals with moderate-to-severe sleep participated in the NeuroWellness Program.4
Are These 5 Keeping You from Better Sleep? Find Out.
NeuroLab offers a painless, simple, and easy test you can collect in your own home. The HPA test measures all five of the sleep markers discussed using saliva and a small urine sample. Your healthcare provider can use the results as a map to develop a plan designed just for you. The plan may include lifestyle changes and products targeting the imbalances causing you to lose sleep. And, since the plan is made specifically for you and targets your problem areas, it will put you on the fast track to catching those Zzzzs. It may even help with other complaints such as anxiousness and stress.
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- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Population Health. Getting enough sleep? Accessed 2018 Sept 16. https://www.cdc.gov/features/getting-enough-sleep/index.html
- American Sleep Association. What is Sleep? Why is it needed? Accessed 2018 Sept. 16. https://www.sleepassociation.org/about-sleep/what-is-sleep/
- Shepard JW Jr, et al. J Clin Sleep Med. 2005 Jan 15;1(1):61-82.
- Data on file. Sanesco International, Inc. 2010.
- Ursin, R. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2002;6(1):57-69.
- Schwartz JRL and Roth T. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2008 Dec;6(4):367-378.
- Michel S, et al. J Neurphysiol. 2002 Aug;88(2):817-828.