How Does Serotonin Affect Sleep?


Serotonin Basics

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that relays information to different parts of the brain. Serotonin regulates many of the vital systems in the body, including our cardiovascular, immune, and gastrointestinal systems. Serotonin also indirectly or directly controls most brain functions, such as mood, sexual function, and sleep cycles.

Serotonin, Melatonin, and Sleep

  • In "The Secrets of Serotonin," Carol Hart explains that serotonin has a close relationship to the body's sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin levels are highest in the brain stem when you are awake and active, and almost completely absent when we enter REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. During sleep, the body's level of melatonin rises sharply. The production of melatonin is dependent on its synthesis in the pineal gland, which is powered by serotonin. While light increases the production of serotonin, darkness spurs on the synthesis of melatonin. Paired together, these two neurotransmitters are key in maintaining the sleep cycle.

Disrupting the Rhythm

  • Hart notes that anything that disrupts the rhythm of serotonin and melatonin production will disturb the natural sleep cycle. When you suffer from jet lag, for instance, your serotonin production cycle follows that of your home time zone and has trouble getting on track. During the winter, when sunlight inadequately triggers the production of serotonin, sleep cycles can also be interrupted.

Increasing Serotonin

  • The "Consumer's Guide to Psychiatric Drugs" lists several different recommendations for increasing your serotonin level naturally. These suggestions include things as simple as eating a carbohydrate-rich diet to the more difficult challenge of mastering a skill. This text also claims that repetitive motions like chewing gum or knitting can help increase serotonin. Exercising and exposure to bright light also increase serotonin production, particularly during the winter.

Other Sleep Suggestions

  • Practicing good sleep habits is also helpful for slowing down the production of serotonin and increasing the production of melatonin. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and make sure to wake up the same time every morning. Your bedroom should be dark and comfortable, not too cold but also not too warm. Avoid watching TV or working in bed.

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  • The Consumer's Guide to Psychiatric Drugs; John D. Preston and Mary C. Talaga; 2004
  • The Secrets of Serotonin; Carol Hart; 2008
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