Insomnia is your worst nightmare. The ability to get sound, undisturbed, restful sleep is essential to cognitive function, cell renewal, hormonal balance, energy production, detoxification, a healthy immune system and so much more! If your sleep suffers, life's stressors seem to snowball. Insomnia creates a vicious cycle of exhaustion and fatigue; a sure sign your body is trying to get your attention!
So what causes insomnia?
Usually it's the result of a lifestyle imbalance, particularly nutrition and stress. When your body gets low in nutrients and becomes inefficient at producing energy, you rely strongly on stress hormones (adrenaline & cortisol) to get you through the day. These hormones are built in mechanisms designed to help you handle short-term stressors, but when your diet leaves much to be desired, it relies MORE on stress hormones to make up for the fuel deficit. "But in energy-deprived humans, increases of adrenalin oppose the hibernation reaction, alter energy production and the ability to relax, and to sleep deeply and with restorative effect," Ray Peat, PhD.
The good news is, you can use food to down regulate these stress hormones to improve sleep and soothe insomnia!
- Get some calcium throughout the day from a food source (not supplements) that agrees with you. This helps quiet your parathyroid, keeping parathyroid hormone (PTH) low. When your blood calcium levels decrease (from lack of dietary calcium), it triggers parathyroid hormone (which controls calcium metabolism in the body) to break down bone to buffer the pH of the blood. This increases stress, and is an INFLAMMATORY process that can play a role insomnia. "The parathyroid hormone (PTH) is an important regulator of calcium metabolism. If dietary calcium isn't sufficient, causing blood calcium to decrease, the PTH increases, and removes calcium from bones to maintain a normal amount in the blood. PTH has many other effects, contributing to inflammation, calcification of soft tissues, and decreased respiratory energy production." Ray Peat, PhD.
- Eat a calcium rich snack right before bed with a little bit of salt and carbohydrate to fight insomnia. Examples might be ice cream, warm milk with honey/salt, cheese and a piece of fruit, or bone broth and fruit for someone who avoids dairy completely. "Combining milk and cheese with fruits adds to the antistress effect. The additional sugar and potassium and other minerals allow the milk protein to be used more efficiently, by moderating the secretion of cortisol, and helping to inhibit the secretion of PTH," Ray Peat, PhD.
- Keep a snack bedside if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night and find it hard to go back to sleep. A small sip of juice with gelatin or a little pinch of sugar and salt is a great place to start!
- Balance blood sugar throughout the day by always eating protein, fat, and carbohydrates together. Eat snacks as needed to keep blood sugar from falling (often every 2-3 hours for people with poor blood sugar regulation).
- Avoid allergic foods! Any food that causes anxiety, rapid pulse rate, or other immediate reactions can indicate your body's stress response has been activated.
- Try an Epsom salt bath before bed using 1-4 cups in a bath. Soak for 15-30 minutes.
- Avoid using L-tryptophan and melatonin supplements for insomnia. These products increase serotonin which is a mediator of stress.
- Try diffusing or applying 1-2 drops of Lavender and/or Cedarwood essential oil at bedtime. You can apply 1 drops to the temples or soles of the feet before bed to support relaxation and a restful night of sleep.
Do you have any special strategies for fighting insomnia? If so, I would LOVE to hear them in the comments!
Love this article, and totally agree! I have a bedtime tea that you might like that follows the same beliefs as Ray Peat. http://wholelifestylenutrition.com/recipes/drinks/my-bedtime-drink-that-guarantees-a-restful-nights-sleep/
Did I miss it? At the top, you have a picture Insomnia + ice cream = sleep but I don't see it included in your Anti Insomnia List?
Thanks! And yes-- I think I forgot mention ice cream, updated now 🙂 Will have to try your bedtime tea 🙂
Here's are some great articles: http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/serotonin-depression-aggression.shtml & http://raypeat.com/articles/aging/tryptophan-serotonin-aging.shtml
"Serotonin and its derivative, melatonin, are both involved in the biology of torpor and hibernation. Serotonin inhibits mitochondrial respiration. Excitoxic death of nerve cells involves both the limitation of energy production, and increased cellular activation. Serotonin has both of these actions.
In hibernating animals, the stress of a declining food supply causes increased serotonin production. In humans and animals that don’t hibernate, the stress of winter causes very similar changes. Serotonin lowers temperature by decreasing the metabolic rate. Tryptophan and melatonin are also hypothermic. In the winter, more thyroid is needed to maintain a normal rate of metabolism." -Ray Peat, PhD.
Catherine, you may have saved my life! My mom died 3 weeks ago of 8 yr battle with Alzheimer's. Since my dr gave me the 5-HTP to help me sleep thru the night cos of menopause he said take whenever I need a good nights sleep. I have along with taking St John's wort. My mental clarity has diminished in the past 2 months cos I've been taking these more to handle stress of bad marriage & losing mom. I've been having odd inflammation, edema in fingers, craving salt & eat 2 eggs in coconut oil every morning. Dr recommened I eat eggs every day. I crave bad carbs. Very sensitive to caffeine in anything. Much more mysterious things that I've been trying to find an answer to. Those articles you posted made me sit back with astonishment!
I've heard for yrs that I could be genetically linked to getting Alzheimer's too but my lifestyle is so much purer than my mom's. I deal with Candidiasis with sugar & my sinuses.
I wish you were in town near me to finally solve this thing. I keep thinking it's mental with depression but it's my supplements! I'm going cold turkey ( pun not intended ) from supplements & see if there's a difference. I may be somewhat addicted to the HTP now since I can't seem to get a good nights sleep, hoping it's attributed to grief only & will subside.
Thanks for your kind words Julie! I'm so sorry for your loss, and all that you are going through! I do work with people remotely! Feel free to send me a message and we can set up a free consult to see if Butter Nutrition can help you 🙂
Thank you. I just saw your link. I'll try later, I'm going to read up on Dr Peat's site you gave, fascinating articles. I think I'll do some experimenting with what is available there putting together more pieces of my better health & will contact you if I see a need. Have a great day & thanks!
I make magnesium lotion (which I now sell online) and it makes a huge difference for our whole family- even our teething toddler! I can't use the magnesium oil spray because it irritates my skin horribly, but made into lotion it is wonderful! 🙂
I've done a post on how to make magnesium lotion, if you're interested.
Re: Tryptophan, I'm sorry, I don't currently know of any studies. I'm not a fan of amino acid therapy, especially for insomnia, because it doesn't really address the underlying problem/issues.
Appalling that exercise is NOT number one on this list. Want to sleep better at night? Get a minimum of 20 mins. of cardio exercise a day.
Exercise might work for some people but for people like myself who have a hugely disabling condition, a 20 min daily cardio workout is just impossible. When i was able to exercise, many years ago i foundit helped with feeling happy and relaxed but i still had insominia. Sometimes exercise is not the be all and end all.
Surprisingly, I've discovered a few more techniques (natural of course) that work great for insomnia:
1. Bright light therapy
2. Infrared heating pad/mat
4. Acupressure mat - Especially if you're sleep deprived because of back pain...
I've be use these regiments
iDo you really think Magnesium oil is a form of Amino acid? How can you possibly say that you may not recommend Magnesium oil because there is no research on it but list an Epsom salt bath as Tip no 5? Have you ever heard of vasodilation and are you aware that you can control your biorhythms with breathing to induce sleep?
That comment was not about magnesium. I was answering a reader's question on amino acids (like tyrptophan) for sleep, but it looks like the reader deleted the question. Sorry for the confusion!
i just can't seem to buy this (the serotonin and melatonin creating stress and reducing the ability to sleep).. the only evidence to back this up is one site on the internet, and any schmuck can post anything on the internet, add "scary" words and people will believe it as fact.
the evidence i have seen to completely contradict these statements, are from the fact that i am a psychology major, i have read several validated-by-legit professionals articles, journals, studies, books, etc on this matter. neuroscience also happens to be my main field of interest.
now, yes, the linked articles clearly state that all of that is a lie, and they use LSD as proof the government lies (and i 100% agree that LSD is an effective drug for mood disorders), but even if i were to believe that,
for me, the proof is always in the pudding.
i have had chronic insomnia my entire life (due to early childhood trauma), and the ONLY things that put me to sleep when it gets bad are melatonin and valium. i have tried everything else on this list, incorporating it into my lifestyle. i haven't just been sitting around for almost 30 years NOT doing anything and everything to cure my insomnia. i believe in what i see, and what i have seen and felt with my own eyes is this: an SSRI cured a panic/anxiety disorder i had as a teenager.
i don't believe it was a placebo as i had tried just about every single one, and only one of them worked.
and tryptofan? i can't count how many people i've seen involuntarily pass out after eating a big turkey dinner.
you really can't trust the internet, and never ever trust something as fact when witnessed by only one source. even if they are wearing a lab coat.
refusing my previous comment will prove how full of bologna you really are and i will make mention of it.
if what you've stated is right, prove it.
with more than just words.
Peach... I have been dealing with sleep maintenance insomnia for 3 years now. I have tried many things - including 5HTP, tryptophan and melatonin and none of them worked for me. Melatonin actually made me agitated so it took me hours to fall asleep - I usually don't have problems with falling asleep... So I guess I am one example of serotonin and melatonin not working out... How do you explain that? I think the bottom line is that we are all different and your experiences only prove that certain things are right for you, but not necessarily for others.
Great! I will try the sleepily powder tonight! Sometimes I do some bedtime yoga that lowers the heart rate and prepare you for bed, might be useful.
What about serotonin in ocd. The serotonin myth may have been challenged regarding depression, but its pretty much accepted universally that almost always serotonin deficiency is a factor in ocd. Your thoughts please.
Robert J Hudson
Great checklist Catherine. My favorite drink before bed is banana tea.
I cut off ends of a banana and put it in the hot water, without any peeling or chopping. I leave it for 10 min. and then filter the tea and let it cool.
It's effective because banana contains magnesium which calms your body and relaxes your muscles.
It works wonders for me. 🙂
Great checklist! I would vouch for a calcium effectiveness, been there, done it and just a tiny increase with calcium rich foods made a significant difference for me. I've suggested the same to a few friends of mine and they thanked me soon after, so well worth trying. 🙂
I will be trying some of these .I have went almost a week with very little sleep. I have tried melatonin and it doesn't work for me ... Thank you.
I knew it! I've been having issues sleeping and I always look tired and feel tired but after drinking Au Bon Broth it definitely changed. I'm now much more energetic and thank goodness, I can now easily sleep at night.
Good article. I had to increase my magnesium intake greatly to help me get to sleep - more than an epsom salt bath. It's hard to keep nutrients/minerals all balanced when you have hypothyroidism.
I make magnesium lotion (which I now sell online) and it makes a huge difference for our whole family- even our teething toddler! I can’t use the magnesium oil spray because it irritates my skin horribly, but made into lotion it is wonderful!
With the exception of the suggestion of eating ice cream before bed, this article is wonderful.
Why do you suggest ice cream to your readers? Taking a look at any ice cream ingredients can tell you that is a poor decision to make when you're trying to fill your body with nutritious things. Especially right before bed--consider all the refined sugar and unnatural ingredients.
Perhaps there are better choices of calcium, like almonds or broccoli.
One of my favorite things to have before bed if I'm having trouble sleeping is hot chocolate made with milk. It's basically like a cup of warm milk, but well, it's hot chocolate instead 🙂