Sleep and the role of neurotransmitters

Specific Health Concern 25 July 2017

Trouble sleeping: difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night or early in the morning and non-restorative sleep are very often associated with depression. This isn’t at all surprising, since neurotransmitters play a role in both cases.

How do our neurotransmitters influence the quality of our sleep?

A quick reminder:

There are 2 large families of neurotransmitters:

Catecholamines: dopamine and norepinephrine, which are responsible for concentration and memory. We can describe them as “stimulating neurotransmitters”.

The indolamines: serotonin and melatonin which, on the other hand, allow you to decompress, relax and sleep well. We can describe them as “relaxing neurotransmitters”.

 The quality of your sleep will depend on the balance between these different neurotransmitters.

If you are stressed and constantly living life in the fast lane, your norepinephrine levels will be too high by the end of the afternoon. Don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to relax and get to sleep!


Test your neurotransmitters*!

(*according to Dr Olivier Coudron, neuronutrition and micronutrition teacher)

Do you lack serotonin or melatonin (or both)?

Give yourself a point for each true score and add up your total score.

Telling signs of a lack of serotonin

  • I am irritable, impulsive and quick to get angry
  • I am impatient, I can’t stand waiting
  • I can’t stand pressure
  • I’m drawn to sugar and chocolate at the end of the day
  • I feel dependent on: tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sport
  • I find it difficult to take a step back and remain calm
  • I find it difficult to fall asleep and to get back to sleep at night
  • I feel prone to stress and noise…
  • I am sensitive, it takes nothing to annoy me
  • I’m moody


Telling signs of a lack of melatonin

  • I feel like a social outcast, excluded and uneasy in groups of people
  • I am rather discrete and withdrawn from society
  • I am a light sleeper
  • I have trouble going to sleep in the evening
  • I don’t like to share my secrets, I’m rather secretive and reserved
  • I’m not very accommodating or flexible
  • My pace of living is often irregular or out of sync
  • I find it difficult to put myself in the shoes of others and understand them
  • I have some trouble explaining myself and sharing my thoughts


4 key actions to optimise the production of relaxing neurotransmitters

The first action is to avoid anything that encourages the production of “stimulating neurotransmitters” during the second part of the day, particularly an excess of proteins. 

In fact, a diet that is too rich in tyrosine increases the production of stimulating neurotransmitters: dopamine, noradrenaline adrenaline and competes with serotonin, the relaxation hormone



The second action to take is to give your brain all the resources necessary for serotonin and melatonin production:

  • Trytophan: this is an essential amino acid, which is why a sufficient intake of proteins at the start of the day is important.
  • Iron, found in red meat, its assimilation is improved by vitamin C.
  • Folic acid or vitamin B9, found in leaf vegetables.


The third action is to encourage the movement of trytophan in the brain through the blood-brain barrier, also known as the membrane that separates our blood vessels from our neurons.

Movement through this barrier is active and insulin plays a dominant role in it. I’m sure you’ve noticed that eating sugary foods at the end of the afternoon has a relaxing effect, doesn’t it?

However, be careful! If you systematically turn to the biscuit tin, your waist size will feel the effects of it…


The right strategy

A snack containing seasonal fruits and nuts will significantly help you to relax. The sugar content in fruit stimulates insulin production and encourages the movement of tryptophan through the famous blood-brain barrier.

Almonds and other nuts contain fatty omega 3 oils and magnesium which have a natural anti-stress effect.


The fourth action is to preserve melatonin production

As we’ve already mentioned in “10 simple tips to get to sleep naturally” (faire lien), melatonin is a delicate hormone that is only produced in the dark.

Therefore, you must absolutely avoid turning on the light if you get up during the night. If you must, use a torch and make sure to avoid leaving your television or computer screens on standby in the bedroom where you sleep.


Corrective solutions

In some cases, it is difficult to modify your diet and lifestyle alone, so sometimes you should turn to physiotherapy or food supplements:

  1. Adaptogenic plants like escholtzia, rhodiola or eleutherococcus regulate the production of stimulating neurotransmitters.
  2. Griffonia simplicifolia contains a compound 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptohan) which is the intermediate model between tryptophan and serotonin. And, unlike serotonin, 5-HTP can cross the brain-blood barrier and enter the brain.
  3. Lastly, you can take melatonin supplements.