What Is Serotonin and How Does It Affect Your Sleep?

Richmond Gbenga · Mar 10 2020

Serotonin is a super important chemical with a wide variety of functions in the human body. It’s also referred to as the happy chemical, mainly because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness.

The scientific name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine [tongue twister for sure] but you can go with 5-HT for short. Serotonin [5-HT] is mainly found in the brain, bowels and blood platelets, and is a neurotransmitter.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the nervous system that regulate several processes and functions in your body, from sleep to metabolism.

Serotonin is produced from the essential amino acid, tryptophan. This amino acid enters your body via your diet and is mainly found in foods like cheese, pineapples, salmon, nuts, red meat, etc. Other ways to boost your serotonin level include; regular exercise, light therapy, mood induction, and getting more of those key nutrients from supplements.

Studies have linked serotonin with depression. Initially, it was believed that low serotonin levels caused depression, but recent findings show that while low serotonin doesn’t necessarily cause depression, increasing serotonin level via selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs] is among the most potent treatments for depression. Serotonin is also believed to play a role in appetite, memory, digestion, and maintaining mood balance.

So, how does serotonin affect your sleep?

As a precursor to melatonin, serotonin helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles as well as the internal clock.

This sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a small gland in the brain known as the pineal gland, which receives and interprets light and dark signals from the eyes. Chemical messengers then translate these signals in forming melatonin -  a special hormone that helps you fall asleep.

Serotonin’s role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle is complex considering it helps maintain sleep and can also prevent you from falling asleep. But, basically, high levels of serotonin are linked to wakefulness and lower levels - with sleep.

According to clinical psychologist, Joseph M. Carver, stress is a common cause of low serotonin levels, resulting in a snowballing feedback cycle of disrupted sleep, depression, anxiety, and fatigue during the day.

An imbalance in your serotonin level can affect a lot of your body functions, particularly, your sleep cycle. More so, too much serotonin building up in your body can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome with symptoms that can affect the brain, muscles, and other important parts of the body.

So, there you go!

Healthy lifestyle choices like; getting up consistently at a particular time, eating healthy, and exercising regularly - can improve your serotonin level, jump-start your day, and prepare you for a good night’s sleep.

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