Alright sleep fans; today we’ll follow up with the second installment of the 3 part blog series on sleep. In the previous post we discussed the melatonin production pathway, and why we become deficient in some of the nutrients involved in producing melatonin. For those of you that did not read the last post, I made the case that melatonin is a necessary trigger for normal sleep to occur, and described how our product is designed to kick-start the process of melatonin production—especially when sleep hygiene is less than ideal. I also talked about how our sleep remedy helps get things going in the right direction and best supports the full melatonin production cycle to help you get the best sleep possible.
Nonetheless, while melatonin—and the subsequent down stream effects—is necessary, it is not sufficient. To understand why, we have to do a little more geeky science talk. So, rub your eyes, sit up, splash water on your face, or whatever you need to do to ready yourself for a little neuroscience.
We have talked about how our bodies have a built in clock that helps us adjust our circadian rhythms to match the day’s length. We have also discussed that the SCN (supra-chiasmatic nucleus) is a big player in using external light to adjust our biological clock—by stimulating the pineal gland to secrete a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin leads to a host of other effects, which aren’t important to delve into right now.
However, falling asleep isn’t as simple as having enough melatonin. The SCN does several other things that help with the onset of sleep. One of these actions is to stimulate a region of the brain (known as the Ventro-Lateral Preoptic Nucleus = VLPO) to produce another neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-amino buyteric acid). Like melatonin, GABA has multiple functions. One function is to lower the resting membrane potential of neurons in our neocortex.
Okay, I know I just vomited a bunch of neuroscience gobbly-gook, but stay with me. Our “neo” cortex (new brain) is the convoluted mass that we think of when we see a picture of the brain. It is the part of our brain that sets us apart from other primates—especially the front part called the “frontal cortex”. I don’t need to go into a neuroanatomy lesson for our purposes. We only need to know that the neocortex is where most sensory and motor information is processed—meaning that it tells us about our world: temperature, touch, pain, movement, sounds, communication, etc., and it allows us to actively engage the world—by controlling movement, speech, etc.
Now, because the neocortex is telling us about the world around us, the more stuff going on around us (stimuli) the more active and energy consuming our neocortex is. That means that we have lots of neurons firing (something we’ll discuss in the next post), and it also means that the neurons are in a state that makes it easy for them to fire.
When GABA increases for sleep purposes, it changes the ions that can get into nerve cells. When these ions change the overall charge of the neuron decreases. This decrease is called “lower action potential”, which means what it sounds like: the neurons are less likely to act (or fire). Because of the GABA, it takes more energy to get one neuron to communicate to the neurons it is connected to, thereby decreasing the overall “action” of individual neurons, and groups of neurons.
This is the exact reason we have put GABA derivative in our sleep supplement. We spent a lot of time researching the best way to get GABA into the brain. There are only a few options, and we chose phGABA as our favored method for helping people get enough GABA in their brains to help them slow down, quit worrying and ruminating, and get some restful, restorative, and high quality sleep.
Breathe! Relax! We’re finished with the pseudo-science – I promise! Your SCN and the effects of GABA on the neocortex is all the groundwork we’ll need to complete our discussion on what else is interfering with how we are wired to sleep.
It goes like this: last week I described how putting light into your eyes (especially blue light)—after sundown—prevents the SCN from telling the pineal gland to secrete melatonin, and that melatonin decreases adrenal hormones (stress hormones). This week I am describing how external stimuli (sound, conversation, activity, movement, etc.) prevents the SCN from triggering part of your brain to produce GABA—and therefore makes your brain more awake.
When our neocortex’s action potential is decreased, it makes our brains less sensitive to the “wake promoting” neurotransmitters that we talked about last week, and therefore we are not as aware of our environment—we are taking in LESS stimuli.
But here is the rub; when we REALLY stimulate our brains, we can override the effects of GABA. If you’ve ever been super tired all day at work—dead set on going straight home to sleep—and then somebody talked you into going to happy hour, and after a little bit of conversation, and checking out potential mates, you felt wide awake—then you have experienced this. The same is true when you feel great after the late-day workout that you had to force yourself to do.
This principle is why simply blocking blue light isn’t sufficient to trigger sleep. Ancestrally, we would have very likely fought off the urge to sleep—using this mechanism—if we were being hunted by something or somebody. We also would use this mechanism to fight off the desire to sleep when we were starving—leading us to travel further to find food, or hunt novel prey etc. (more on this next week). In order for us to prevent external stimuli from interfering with our sleep, we need to purposefully decrease stimulation. To the extent that decreasing stimuli isn’t possible, the best solution is to leverage supplements, to help you “supplement” your brain in this effort. There is “ideal” and there is “practical”. We realize not everyone can build their lives around sleep.
By that, I not only mean sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room, but also; stopping work at least an hour before bed, not exercising late at night, decreasing noise, vibration, conversation, and stress long before bedtime. It is actually better to go to sleep an hour later—if you’ve unintentionally worked or have been highly active right up til’ bedtime. Just as you would not step out of bed and immediately start lifting heavy weights, nor should you have a busy, excited brain right up until the moment you climb into bed.
In addition to reducing light saturation—what we talked about last week—try these interventions to improve your sleep:
- Make a list of everything that keeps running through your head an hour before bed.
- Make a pact with yourself that you will be best able to deal with that list AFTER a good night’s sleep—so you won’t let it into your head after lights out.
- Stop ALL work (employment work, paying bills, emails, research on the net etc.) at least one hour before your bedtime.
- Finish your work out at least 2 hours before bed—and if you are doing intense workouts, at least 3 hours before bed (the earlier the better).
- If you live in a loud environment, put in some ear plugs or wear noise cancelling headphones an hour before bed.
- If you sleep in a loud environment; don’t. If you must, wear earplugs.
- Minimize all activity, emotional or intense conversations, pain, extremes in temperature, and stress a few hours before bed.
Try any or all of these simple steps, and see how it improves your sleep. If you find yourself stimulating your brain awake—through worry or planning—concentrate on your breath, or systematically relaxing each muscle in your body. This is also a great time to leverage our sleep remedy to give you that extra edge and the best change at having a great sleep.
With light saturation and external stimulation under control, along with a nice little wind down hot tea of our sleep remedy, you will be well on your way to a better quality and quantity of sleep.
If you just can’t settle down, or your life-style prohibits you from following the advice above, give our sleep supplement a try. You can read more about it here.