It’s interesting to consider that how we feel, and act is related to special chemical messengers floating around in our bodies. There’s a plethora of different hormones that work as chemical messengers. They send signals that influence how we feel, which then influence our behaviour. These chemical messengers stimulate many things, for example,melatonin makes us feel sleepy,ghrelin makes us feel hungry and serotonin makes us feel happy.

The chemical messengers that float around are called neurotransmitters when they are broadcasting in our brain – they’re called hormones when they are carrying messages via our blood. For simplicity let’s call them hormones today.Some hormones help promote sleep, while some do the opposite and have a stimulating effect. The stimulating hormones can promote wakefulness, which anyone who has experienced sleep troubles before will tell you, is not an ideal state to find yourself in at bedtime.

We need our ‘wide-awake hormones’ to be higher in the morning to help us crank up for the day. We need our ‘sleepy hormones’ to be highest at bedtime to settle into a restful sleep. Luckily, there are dietary, lifestyle and supplement options we can look at to keep this dynamic system working healthily.

Sleepy Hormones to promote sleep

1. Melatonin

You could think of melatonin as the star player in the team of sleep hormones. Its release is stimulated by a warm, dark environment. According to research, the ideal room temperature for optimal sleep is around 16 - 20 °C. Melatonin levels are naturally and directly influenced by the movement of the sun across the sky. When the light fades as the sun sets, this is the signal for melatonin to be released. 5-HTP (5-Hydroxy-L-Tryptophan) is a naturally occurring amino acid that is a precursor in the biosynthesis of melatonin in the body.

Top tips for healthy melatonin levels:

  • Take a 5-HTP supplement – our bodes use 5-HTP to make melatonin. 5-HTP supports healthy sleep onset and sleep maintenance.
  • A warm, dark, sleep environment – this helps with optimal melatonin levels.
  • Avoid blue light exposure at night - stay off devices for 2 hours prior to bed time, as the blue light emitted can delay melatonin release. Another option is to use a blue light filter – the Night Shift setting on IOS and Twilight Ap for Android are a couple of options.

2. Serotonin 

Often referred to as our ‘happy hormone’, our bodies make serotonin using 5-HTP. Our bodies make melatonin out of serotonin, so 5-HTP is often taken as a supplement to support heathy serotonin and in turn melatonin levels. Some of our serotonin is made by probiotics in our gut too.

Top tips for healthy serotonin levels:

  • Take a 5-HTP supplement to help provide the body with the raw materials to use in the healthy synthesis of serotonin and melatonin.
  • Maintain a healthy microbiome by eating plenty of prebiotic fibre which feeds beneficial probiotics. Kumara, kiwifruit, slightly green bananas, and flaxseed are all high in prebiotic fibre.

3. Prolactin

Prolactin is more of a minor player in the sleep hormone game, in comparison to melatonin. Level rise just after sleep onset. Animals injected with the hormone become sleepy very rapidly. Interestingly, prolactin is elevated after orgasm, causing sleepiness. As the name infers, prolactin is also involved with lactation, or milk production and influences maternal behaviour.

Top tip for healthy prolactin levels:

  • Drink enough water - prolactin levels are influenced by hydration levels, aim for 6-8 glasses per day.

Wakeful hormones that can hinder sleep

1. Cortisol 

This stimulating hormone creates feelings of alertness, helping us to bounce out of bed in the morning. Extra cortisol is secreted when we are stressed too. Caffeine stimulates the secretion of cortisol, that’s where the energising effects of coffee come from. Cortisol levels see-saw with melatonin, so when one is high, the other is low. High cortisol levels mean that melatonin may not reach high enough levels to perform it’s starring role in sleep onset.

Top tips for healthy cortisol levels

  • Limit caffeine – try to avoid caffeine consumption after 2 p.m. As well as coffee, tea also contains caffeine, in smaller amounts. This includes green tea – sometimes people are surprised that green tea and black tea both come from the same plant.
  • Interact with a pet – studies have shown that spending time with pets can bring down excess cortisol levels. Scientists call it ‘stress buffering’ - most of these studies focus on cats and dogs.

2. Adrenaline

This is a stimulating or excitatory hormone. It’s released more if we are stressed and produces very useful effects. It enhances our ability to run faster and helps our brain think faster to escape danger. However, excess levels can be detrimental to sleep. If our adrenaline levels are too high it can affect REM sleep, a phase of sleep important for cognitive function, memory and mental wellness.

Top tips for healthy adrenaline levels:

  • Regular exercise – this helps our bodies clear excess adrenaline. It doesn’t need to be an intense sweat session, even a simple 20-minute stroll can have a positive effect.
  • Mindfulness meditation – throughout the day, bring your attention to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and physical sensations. Staying ‘in the moment’ has been shown to lower adrenaline levels.

Some FAQs:

So, is it true we need 8 hours of sleep every night?

Yes, the general scientific consensus is 7-9 hours for an adult aged between 26-64 years old.

Can I use the weekend to catch up on missed sleep?

Catching up on missed weekday sleep by having extra weekend snoozes can have benefits, according to the Journal of Sleep Research. A very significant Swedish study of 38,000 people over a thirteen-year period showed that people who indulged in weekend catch ups had better health outcomes, when compared with people who did not.

5-HTP supports getting to sleep and staying asleep. 

5-HTP is very popular for people who want to support healthy serotonin and melatonin levels. 5-HTP is converted to serotonin in our bodies and then to melatonin.

Having the right amount of melatonin is crucial to maintain normal sleep.

Science has shown that healthy sleep has positive influences on:

  • Mental wellness
  • Normal appetite
  • Maintenance of healthy weight
  • Normal, healthy inflammatory response by the immune system
  • Physical co-ordination
  • Cognition and memory
  • Athletic performance

Who should not take 5-HTP?

5-HTP is not suitable for people who are taking antidepressant medications. It’s important to check with your health professional before you start taking a new supplement if you are on medication.

Who should take 5-HTP?

Anyone who is looking to support healthy sleep can take 5-HTP. It is essential for the biosynthesis of melatonin. 5-HTP supports the healthy production of melatonin, the most influential of sleep hormones. When our sleep hormones are at optimal levels we can settle into a restful sleep.

BioBalance 5-HTP is an extract derived from the Griffonia simplicifolia seed. Our bodies use 5-HTP to make our chemical messengers for sleep. This supplement provides support for healthy circadian rhythm as well as help with getting to sleep and staying asleep. Shop BioBalance 5-HTP online.

Always read the label and use as directed. If symptoms persist see your healthcare professional. BioBalance, Golden Bay .