Stabilizing Serotonin for Healing Sleep
Sleeping is probably the most important thing we do every day. Not only does it leave us feeling rested, it restores vital subconscious parts of our brain through REM sleep, the sleep intervals when we dream. Though it may seem silly, these dream-filled sleep intervals are the most necessary part of our nightly snooze. During these times, our brains restore and rehabilitate themselves in ways that we can't even comprehend. The neurotransmitter, serotonin, and sleep have a complex relationship that is vital to our health. Serotonin regulates the body's need and ability to sleep; consequently, any fluctuations in serotonin lead to fluctuations in sleep—and in our quality of life.
Improving Sleep Through Serotonin Management
Serotonin is instrumental in helping our brains run smoothly. It helps to regulate mood, sleep, appetite, muscle contraction, digestion, and cognitive functions like memory and learning—all things that we usually take for granted in our lives. Research has shown that serotonin plays a big role in our sleep cycle as well. When we are awake and active, serotonin levels are at their highest. But the neurotransmitter's levels drops sharply when we sleep, and especially when we go into deep REM sleep. When we sleep, our bodies produce melatonin to regulate our circadian rhythm. It's produced in the pineal gland—which uses serotonin as fuel. Serotonin and sleep are inseparable, and without correct levels of serotonin, our brains just can't maintain function.
When this cycle of serotonin production and use is disrupted, it affects every aspect of life. This can happen for many reasons—severe jet lag, lack of sunlight in the winter, and anxiety or clinical depression are examples. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: difficulty sleeping.
A class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be able to help ease sleepless nights. They prevent the brain from reabsorbing the serotonin it produces, which means that there is more serotonin available to stabilize sleep. These antidepressants sleep aids are somewhat hit-or-miss, with some SSRIs even causing insomnia themselves, among other side effects like nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth. However, in the right patient, antidepressants’ serotonin-regulating properties may outweigh the risks of side effects. SSRIs may be just the thing to provide a good night's sleep for some people.
If you're not interested in taking an antidepressant, there are other ways to help your brain regulate serotonin levels. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of carbohydrates can help control serotonin and sleep levels, as can things like mastering a new skill or repetitive motions like knitting. All of these will help your brain produce serotonin to normalize sleep patterns. Exercise and a generally healthy diet will help your brain function optimally. Serotonin works to provide a rhythm for your sleeping and waking, so make sure you're not sabotaging your sleep patterns in other ways. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day so that your daily cycle can stay consistent.
Serotonin and sleep are inseparable, and regulating serotonin production is vital for good sleep and mood. Do your brain a favor and work to keep your serotonin levels consistent. You'll sleep, work, and feel better!