Over the last newsletters we’ve talked about many behavioral skills and strategies to help ourselves sleep well naturally. Sometimes though, we do everything in our power to sleep well, but without success. At that time, other therapies are in order.
One of the options is supporting neurotransmitters with specific nutrients. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals which help us sleep at times and be alert at others. Some of the ones we think of which promote sleep include serotonin, dopamine, GABA, histamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine.
In the clinic, neurotransmitter levels can be tested by doing urinary analysis. This test has been used by holistic physicians for the last 12 years.
When neurotransmitter levels are out of balance, the nutrients which are their building blocks can be used to increase their levels. These are primarily amino acids (parts of proteins) and the vitamins and minerals to help form the neurotransmitters. This can be a very effective treatment for people whose sleep hasn’t improved with other strategies.
Because this is a powerful therapy, it is not a treatment to try on your own. If you would like to try amino acid therapy for yourself, go to a licensed holistic healthcare provider. They will get a detailed history of your sleep problem and current medications, do testing as appropriate, then recommend the right combination of amino acids and other nutrients.
Many stories abound about how the tryptophan in turkey or a glass of milk before bed will help you sleep. Is this true or not? Let’s look at the information.
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in foods. Many amino acids combine to make a protein. These proteins are then digested and broken down into the amino acids. Amino acids are carried by the blood throughout the body. When we think about sleep, the important organ is the brain. There is a “blood-brain barrier,” which substances in the blood need to be transported across. Tryptophan uses the same transporter as several other amino acids. If those amino acids are in the blood at the same time, they will compete with tryptophan, so less tryptophan will cross into the brain.
Why is tryptophan relevant to sleep?
Several of the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) of sleep rely on tryptophan for their production. Among these are serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin has been discussed in other blog posts here. Increasing tryptophan by taking tryptophan supplements does help treat insomnia. These supplements provide higher doses of tryptophan than can be found in food. Cottage cheese has the most tryptophan per serving, at 400mg tryptophan in 1 cup. A 3oz serving of turkey provides 283mg of trytophan, and 1 cup of milk 110mg.
Does the tryptophan in our Thanksgiving turkey help sleep?
Thinking about the tryptophan basics we first discussed above, the tryptophan in turkey probably doesn’t help you sleep. This is because there are other amino acids in the turkey, some of which may compete with tryptophan to be taken into the brain. That said, enjoy the sleepy reverie that often follows the Thanksgiving feast!