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  • Writer's pictureMartha Lewis

Neurotransmitters and sleep

You need the right amount of neurotransmitters to feel and sleep well. Neurotransmitter deficiencies happen when your gut isn't healthy and your brain isn't healthy. 90% of neurotransmitters are made by the good bacteria in your gut. So if your gut isn’t healthy (you have a pathogen like a parasite, leaky gut, or poor digestion), your gut won’t make the feel-good chemical it needs to be happy and sleep well. The main neurotransmitters relevant to sleep and mood are:

  • Serotonin, the “happy and joyful” neurotransmitter, helps us fall into deep restful sleep. Signs of serotonin deficiency are depression and lack of enjoyment, PMS, inner rage, paranoia, and poor sleep. Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin.

  • GABA, the “anti-anxiety hormone,'' is another neurotransmitter that affects sleep. If you are deficient in GABA, you find it hard to turn off your mind, leading to racing thoughts and anxiety. The most common GABA issues are anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia.

  • Dopamine is responsible for sending messages back and forth between nerve cells and is our “pleasure and reward” chemical. The main effect of low dopamine is lack of motivation.

  • Melatonin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter-like compound that regulates your circadian rhythm. Melatonin also regulates the release of the other neurotransmitters.

The 4 most important ways to keep your brain healthy and make neurotransmitters are: 1. Have a healthy gut. Since the good bacteria in your gut make the majority of neurotransmitters, it’s essential to have a healthy gut. To do this, you want to address any pathogens you might have such as parasites, H. pylori and candida. These pathogens take over the good bacteria and damage the gut wall. This doesn't mean that everyone should take a probiotic, however. Many of my clients have too many bacteria, both good and bad, in the gut and so a probiotic adds more fuel to the fire. This is why I use the GI Map to find out what’s going on in my clients’ guts so that I know exactly what’s appropriate for each of them. 2. Lower inflammation Your diet is the number one factor that causes inflammation in your brain. An inflamed brain does not have healthy levels of neurotransmitters. If you eat processed foods with unhealthy oils, refined sugar and flour, fried foods, GMO’s, and food you’re sensitive to, then you aren’t supporting your brain with the nutrients it needs. Many of my clients eat a “healthy” diet-they eat organic and they don’t eat a lot of processed foods. But many people are sensitive to inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy and they don’t realize it. They think they’re eating healthy but those foods are affecting blood sugar levels, causing inflammation and stress in the body, and damaging the gut and brain. 3. Keep blood sugar levels steady If your blood sugar is too high or low, that affects your brain health, too. I wrote about the importance of blood sugar for sleep in this article. If glucose levels in the brain are low due to hypoglycemia, insulin resistance or diabetes, your body won’t make enough neurotransmitters to be healthy. 4. Have plenty of oxygen Your brain also needs oxygen to be healthy and it’s surprisingly common for your brain to lack oxygen. Stress is the number one cause of lack of oxygen in the brain for 2 reasons. First of all, when you’re stressed you breathe shallowly instead of deeply. Secondly, stress keeps the body in a constant state of fight or flight. When you’re in fight or flight mode, blood and oxygen go to the lungs, heart and limbs and away from the brain. Anemia is another common cause of lack of oxygen to the brain. Causes of iron-deficiency anemia might be surprising: parasites that feed on iron, gluten intolerance that causes malabsorption of nutrients, and an H. pylori infection that causes low stomach acid. We think of anemia as an iron deficiency but there are other types of anemia, too, that affect the brain’s oxygen levels. Many different factors affect your brain health: neurotransmitter deficiencies, food intolerances and allergies, anemia, bacterial and parasitic gut infections, autoimmune diseases, joint pain and inflammation, poor digestion, poor diet, smoking, and more. Dr. Datis Kharrazian sums it up well in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? when he says, “a brain free of inflammation and degeneration requires balanced hormones, a healthy gut, good thyroid function, and good adrenal function.” AND you need a brain free of inflammation to sleep well. If you have symptoms of neurotransmitter deficiencies and you want to correct it so you can sleep well, let’s chat. We’ll talk about what’s going on with your sleep and your health and the simple steps to restore your health so you can sleep normally.

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