Battling insomnia

Earlier in July, I had a terrible case of insomnia. I’d just lie awake all night and wonder why I was still awake. Finally, about 4 AM, I’d doze off for a couple hours until the kids woke up, then I’d stumble around all day in a fog.

This went on for four days before I finally started doing research. I knew my diet was deficient in some vitamins, and something wasn’t being triggered correctly in my brain. As I’d doze off, I’d feel my body fumbling for that sleep-trigger, and that trigger would never fire. It was the weirdest thing.

Eventually I found my way to this page, all about the biochemistry of insomnia.

The major cause of insomnia is the failure of the body to produce sufficient amounts of the neurotransmitter melatonin. This chemical induces us to sleep in conditions of total darkness. Thus an appropriate dark room is one necessary condition. The bedroom should never be used for reading or watching television. When you happen to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, try to do so in the dark. Don’t switch on the light as this will switch off melatonin production. Melatonin production also decreases with age. (Source).

The neurotransmitter, melatonin, is produced in the pineal gland from serotonin – our feel good chemical – which in turn is derived from typtophan – an amino found in food. Thus biochemical pathway is

Tryptophan —> Serotonin —> Melatonin

Therefore insomnia is merely a symptom of a wider problem of metabolism.

The lights started to come on. My body wasn’t manufacturing melatonin! But why? I’d been getting lots of sunlight. Then I found this.

For instance, if we were to take SAM-e a very well recognized antidepressant nutritional supplement – it could help produce serotonin IF, and only if, we have sufficient amounts of tryptophan, vitamin B6 and magnesium. SAM-e can only supply a methyl group to trigger a change in the shape and function of chemical molecules, i.e., convert tryptophan into serotonin or in the methylation of norepinephrine. The same applies to St John’s wort failure to induce relaxation if the real cause of insomnia is a tryptophan deficiency or B6 deficiency.

The body can produce its own SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine). It is present in every cell of the body and is derived from methionine in the presence of vitamin Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid, plus a molecule of biological energy (ATP). ATP is the end product of glucose metabolism and without that energy the body cannot manufacture the neurotransmitters necessary in sleep.

When the brain is threatened with energy starvation it will send a hormonal message to the adrenal glands to pour adrenaline into the system. Adrenaline is a hormone that converts glycogen – strings of glucose molecules stored in the body – back into glucose, so as to feed the brain again. (See image). But abnormal adrenaline secretion during the night can also cause insomnia and nightmares.

However, if the body has a deficiency of Vitamin B3 (Niacin), all the available tryptophan in the body may be used up in the conversion of tryptophan into niacin, leaving little for conversion to serotonin.

When there is a niacin deficiency tryptophan is converted to vitamin B3 at the ratio of 60 to 1, which may create a tryptophan deficiency despite adequate amounts in food !

The supplement of niacin alone has miraculously cured depression in some people.

So, something in my body’s chemistry was off. The chain to manufacture the various hormones was broken somewhere, and I’d probably screwed it up with my diet.

I try to eat a low-carb, low-sugar diet. But lately I’d been eating sweets and white breads (cinnamon rolls!). And not just a few, I’m talking every day. Slowly that took its toll on my body until wham. Biochemistry broken, no sleep.

The first thing to do was to get my yeast in line. Eating high-acid foods like bread and sugar feed the bad yeast in your intestine until it devours pretty much all the nutrients your body needs. You can’t absorb vitamins until balance is restored.

So I took a ton of probiotics over the course of the day. (Probiotics being the good yeast to balance out the bad yeast. You need both the good and the bad in balance. Either one getting the majority is bad for you.) As the hours passed, I felt something in my body ease back toward normal. The fog cleared a little and I didn’t feel so frantic.

That night, I slept like a brick.

Moral of the story: if something is out of whack in your body, check your diet first. If you’re eating a lot of processed foods, chances are, cutting them will improve your overall health dramatically.

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3 thoughts on “Battling insomnia

  1. Be careful with a low-carb diet. Carbs are what gives your body energy. Not that you should go NUTS with carbs, but just don’t eat too little either or your body will start eating your fat reserves because it’ll think you’re sick.

    Low sugar though… can’t go wrong there. XD

    I mainly pay attention to what I’m eating in general. I try to eat a lot of white meat (vs. red meat) some fish, lots of fruits and veggies, and very little sugar. To fight my sugar cravings, I try and eat just a couple of squares of dark chocolate a day. Cocoa is really healthy for you, and since dark chocolate has less sugar, two squares a day is all you need. It’s a great way to fight those cravings without blowing a diet. =D

    Good luck with your sleeping. XD And your novel for that matter! lol.

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    1. When I said low-carb, I should have specified the flipside, which is high protein.

      I function best when I’m treating my body like I’m hypogycemic. Get everything in balance, lots of wholesome snacks like nuts and fruits. I’d rather snack on dried mango slices than anything else in the world (so sweet!). I know the pitfalls of a low carb diet, but there are ways to get carbs that don’t involve white rice, potatoes, and white flour. Also soy. If you do some research on what soy products do to your body, it’ll freak you out. And you thought corn syrup was bad for you. :-p

      Also high fat foods like bacon and steak actually lower your bad cholesterol. High (bad) cholesterol comes from high blood sugar, which comes from eating carbs. Eating animal fats, on the other hand, helps your body generate proper hormones and makes you feel full longer. One study I read actually advises women to eat as much fat as they want, because it’s so vital to a woman’s health. Your brain is basically made of fat cells. Avoiding fats deprives your brain.

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  2. Wow that is neat you wrote it out here. It was interesting when you were telling me. When I saw the title of this my first thought was oh no not insomnia again. This is all very interesting and you have taught me so much from what you have learned. 🙂

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