The Chemistry of Insomnia

July 20, 2018
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Yesterday we discussed the brain as a single organ and how insomnia affects the tissue and cognitive aptitude of the afflicted individual.  Conceptualizing that was child’s play compared to breaking down the biochemistry of insomnia. I want to preface today’s newsletter by underscoring the importance of lab testing to identify your unique chemical balances/imbalances. As we move further into the weeds of neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and hormones, I’m confident you’ll understand why.

For our bodies to carry out every function from feelings, to thoughts, to movements, they require vitamins and minerals.  While this sounds incredibly simple, it’s the truth; vitamins and minerals yield neurotransmitters and hormones which go on to communicate with one another by way of the nervous system which tells our muscles and organs what to do and when to do it.

For the purposes of our topic this week, insomnia, let’s talk about the biochemical pathway of sleep.  You’ve likely heard about Melatonin on TV and from what you’ve seen, you’re led to believe that it’s the magic pill to drift off to dream land.  While Melatonin is essential for sleep, the things that create Melatonin in our bodies are even more essential.  There are a finite number of vitamins and minerals that our body has to put into a hierarchy of need to create the chemicals that we require.  The pathway of Melatonin is Tryptophan à Serotonin à Melatonin.  But for our bodies to manufacture each of these, we need to identify their co-factors.  Co-factors are simply the building blocks (think parts of the equation) to create the final product.

For Tryptophan to become Serotonin, we need the perfect balance of Vitamin B6, Magnesium, and Vitamin D.  The catalyst for this chemical reaction is ATP, our body’s energy, which is from the normal breakdown of the carbohydrates we consume.  Interestingly enough, insomnia can be a sign of hypoglycemia.  Also interesting, Vitamin D comes from sunlight.  Vitamin D is necessary for Serotonin production, which is necessary for Melatonin production.  Sun in the day impacting our sleep ability at night — pretty neat!

Another biological cause of insomnia can be a deficiency of Niacin in the body, aka Vitamin B3.  If your body does not have enough B3, all your Tryptophan may use itself to create sufficient B3, thereby not leaving enough to create Serotonin.  Don’t forget, Serotonin is the last stop before creating Melatonin.

Vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of everything in our bodies and a great number of biochemical reactions require Vitamin B6 which is obtained from food.  For our bodies to utilize Vitamin B6, it has to be converted into a form that we can use which is known as P5P.  The enzyme converting B6 to P5P is Zinc, so it is not far off to say that when the body is deficient in Zinc, it cannot utilize B6.  When it cannot utilize B6, normal chemical reactions cannot take place, such as the conversion of Tryptophan to Serotonin to Melatonin….aka sleep!

Complicated is an understatement.  Even as a doctor, explaining chemical reactions is challenging which is why I wanted to break it down to the building blocks – vitamins and minerals.  Everything in the body starts there, so if there’s a problem, that’s the place to begin rather than jumping to the end of the equation to try and fix it. This is not to say that pharmaceuticals are never the answer.  The reality is, they save lives.  The problem is that we abuse them rather than use them.  Utilize the technology that micronutrient lab tests offer, exactly as I do with my patients, and find out what’s causing the problem before strategizing as to finding “the fix.”  If you would like to undergo micronutrient testing, please contact me directly and we can get you on the road to wellness!

Your heart is the greatest healer of your life.  And your soul is the heart of your life.  Let’s start living, folks.  Today starts now.  Until we meet again, this is Dr. Higgins saying, good bye.