Good quality sleep is something that is an absolute necessity for good long term health. There are many factors that determine the quality of our sleep but for many, the ability to switch off our monkey mind is a big deal. A lot of people I have worked with in the past have found that even if they are completely exhausted, they just cant seem to switch off their mind, stressing about their day, worrying about a million different things. It seems to be a symptom of modern life for many. So what can we do about this from a nutritional point of view. Enter…..GABA!
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that it calms and slows things down. There are many neurotransmitters with many roles to play. Some of them such as glutamate are excitatory, meaning they ramp up the nervous system and have a stimulatory effect. Others have the role of calming things down and relaxing the nervous system. We are designed to have a peak of the excitatory neurotransmitters in the morning, plus the hormone cortisol to get us awakened and ready to tackle the day. Then in the evening we tend to get an increase in GABA to help us wind down, and when it gets dark an elevation of melatonin production which combined get us off to sleep. However, with the stresses and strains of modern life we can easily get stuck in a state of elevated cortisol, over stimulation of the nervous system, and low levels of GABA. This leads to a racing mind, agitation, irritability, and an inability to relax.
The good news is though that nutrition can play a role in getting our GABA levels up and helping us to relax.
Magnesium is top of the tree when it comes to relaxing and winding down, and is one of my secret weapons when a good long sleep is needed. Firstly and most superficially it can act as a muscle relaxant. If you are feeling tense and wound up and are holding a lot of tension in your muscles, this can get in the way of you being able to fully relax and get a decent sleep. Extra magnesium can help to relax the muscles and ease tension. More importantly though, magnesium helps to elevate levels of GABA. Aim for around 400-800mg about 40 minutes before bed.
Up the B’s
B vitamins are vital for so many responses in the body, too many to list here. There is one particular form of B6 called Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate or P5P that is involved in converting glutamate into GABA. I recommend taking a good B complex BUT…..make sure you take it in the early part of the day because they can increase energy production significantly, which is great during the day but the last thing you need at night. Take it early in the day to ensure there is enough B6 in circulation to be put to good use later on, but so that the stimulatory effects of Niacin and Riboflavin have passed.
The final part of the picture is zinc. This vital mineral again has an incredibly diverse range of functions in the body. In this context it is involved in activating P5P to enhance GABA production. A dose of around 15mg for women and 30mg daily for men will cover all bases.
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