Sleep is a process that rejuvenates and refreshes us. But for many people who suffer from insomnia, depression and other mood disorders falling asleep does not come easy. Night cramps and other neurological disorders can also make it hard to get the rest we need. One of the most common causes of insomnia is a dysfunction in the production and release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Depression and insomnia can both result from imbalances in serotonin, a neurotransmitter synthesized from L-tryptophan. This chemical messenger is important in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin and, among other functions, plays a major role in regulating sleep, alleviating depression, controlling mood, appetite, and sensitivity to pain. Serotonin regulation is the basis for the action of anti-depressant medications like Prozac, Paxil and Effexor.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in the production of serotonin. A profound malfunctioning of the central nervous system, neurologic disorders, muscle weakness and insomnia can result from a deficiency of this crucial nutrient. The effect of Vitamin B6 deficiency on sleep is similar to the effect of serotonin depletion, in terms of decreased deep body temperature, altered REM patterns and shortening of the periods of deep sleep.
Vitamin B6 has been found to be effective in the treatment of night leg cramps. One study showed significant remission and reduction in frequency, intensity and duration of leg cramps in 86% of patients taking B complex capsules. The study concluded that B complex supplements are a relatively safe and effective alternative to prescription drugs in the treatment for nocturnal leg cramps.
Although this nutrient can be obtained from food sources such as chicken, eggs, fish, yeast, carrots, avocados, bananas, brown rice and whole grains, a supplement containing 10 to 75 mg of vitamin B6 is often recommended for those suffering from sleep disorders.
Since this is one of the few vitamins that can have toxic side effects, such as irreversible neurological damage, when taken in high doses above 2 grams per day, it should be consumed after consultation with your physician. It is contraindicated for use in those with Parkinson’s disease who are on L-dopa treatment as it can reduce the effectiveness of the drug.
Other Nutrients That Can Help
Although Vitamin B6 is can relieve insomnia, it is best taken in combination with other B-vitamins that affect brain and neurotransmitter function like B12 (cobalamin) and B1 (thiamine). Vitamin B12 promotes sleep and modulates the circadian rhythm and brain temperature. It has been used to successfully treat serious circadian disorders. B12 is best consumed as methylcobalamin, a form that supports and maintains the nervous system and promotes healthy levels of brain chemicals.
Thiamine deficiency can also cause sleep disturbances. Folic acid (Vitamin B9) is also very important for maintenance of nervous system integrity and, when taken along with other vitamins, can regulate serotonin production and mood. Calcium and magnesium are important for regulation of nerve and muscle impulses and supplementation can prevent muscle cramps, and promote relaxation.
Besides these nutrients, there are a number of herbs that reduce anxiety, nervous tension and promote relaxation. Taking all these elements in a well-formulated sleep supplement can help you avoid addictive prescription medications that cause side effects and substance dependence.
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