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Insomnia: Relief for Night-time Racing Mind

With new clients, there are two high-impact symptoms that I prioritize and address rapidly and aggressively:  constipation and insomnia (or poor-quality sleep).  To become wildly satisfied clients, they need to see major results – and fast.  Helping your clients to get quick relief increases their confidence in you as a practitioner and also their faith in their own ability to feel better and be truly well.

I have written before about various causes of insomnia and how they can be supported quickly and effectively.  This week’s video focuses in particular on those client who lie down to sleep but find their mind racing with worries, responsibilities, fears, and their ever-present “To Do” list.

Biochemically, there are two key processes which our clients must master each night in order to sleep well:

  • Secreting Melatonin.  And in particular, secreting enough melatonin to overcome their level of cortisol.  An adrenal stress hormone, cortisol should naturally be low at night, allowing melatonin to become dominant in brain receptors.  Our behavioral choices affect cortisol levels directly.
  • Shifting from Glutamate to GABA.  When we are wide awake during the day, Glutamate is the dominant neurotransmitter which is stimulatory.  At night, GABA, our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, should become dominant.  Sufficient GABA inhibits neural transmissions enough to allow sleep.  Our behavioral choices affect this balance.

Of course, we’re all going to help our clients to reduce stress by understanding and prioritizing their primary foods.  But it  takes time to build rapport and trust.  As a first priority, make sure your client has good “sleep hygiene”.  When we expose our brains at night to full-spectrum light – which mimics daylight – the pineal gland secretes less melatonin which can delay or prevent sleep.  This includes TV and computer screens.  Individuals with chronically elevated stress, who have recently endured great trauma/crisis, or who suffer from inflammatory disorders may also have inappropriately high levels of cortisol at night.  When we expose our brains to highly stimulatory activity such as video games, unsettling email, stressful discussions, or alarming/violent television, we promote more secretion of the stimulatory neurotransmitter glutamate.  Encourage your clients to choose only dim-light, relaxing activities in the evening, especially the full 1-2 hours prior to bedtime e.g. warm bath, calming music, meditation, gratitude journaling, light and fun reading.  Most people have no idea how much they might be impairing their sleep by doing email or searching the web for a couple of hours leading right up to bedtime.  These simple things matter!  Here is a patient/client handout about Sleep Hygiene that you can use in your own practice.

As bedtime nears, the brain should naturally make a smooth transition from predominantly glutamate to predominantly GABA, the most prevalent inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  This transition can be impaired and/or delayed in our clients who are chronically stressed,  have genetic impairment in the ability to balance neurotransmitters, and/or have neural toxicity e.g. mercury.  We can gently boost this transition and thus calm the brains of clients wide awake with “racing minds” by supporting them with two key amino acids about 6o minutes prior to bedtime (both together, on an empty stomach):

  • Taurine.  Both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter itself, taurine increases GABA receptor sensitivity.  I recommend clients with these symptoms take 1ooomg taurine.  Many common brands are available; Jarrow is one I often recommend for ease of access.
  • N-acetyl cysteine.  This amino acid suppresses the brain’s synthesis of glutamate and promotes conversion to GABA.  I recommend 5oo-1ooomg NAC.  As with taurine, it is easy to find.

There are some combination formulas such as Metagenics Trancor which combine these amino acids in a single formula.

So many of our clients are desperate for sleep.  And unfortunately end up turning to highly-addictive sleep medications which can present major drug withdrawal challenges down the road.  Give them a reliable alternative.  Help them to address the true root cause of their challenges.  And watch how quickly they become wildly satisfied with your support!

34 Questions for “Insomnia: Relief for Night-time Racing Mind”

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  1. 17
    carole Mills says:

    I read that GABA won’t cross the blood-brain barrier without Grape extract and/or rosmarin..(I chew some rosemary herb)..is this correct?

    • 17.1
      SAFM Team says:

      This is a write-up that will interest you and includes a fairly comprehensive summary of related research: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594160/ . There is in fact evidence that GABA can cross the blood-brain barrier to *some*, variable degree in people. We already know that BBB permeability varies from person to person and over time, based on similar factors that affect intestinal permeability e.g. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159116300551 . However, it’s also likely that GABA taken orally has an impact on the central nervous system and brain via its impact on the enteric nervous system in the gut. My clinical experience is that some people notice relaxing, calming effects from GABA supplementation while others do not. No surprise at all given the likely bio-individuality at play relative to the gut/brain axis.

  2. 16
    Brian Moyer says:

    I’ve been supplementing with 600mg sustained release NAC every morning on an empty stomach for about three months. The benefits have been nothing short of amazing, however, they now seem to be wearing off. I’ve had much more energy, positive outlook, greatly decreased procrastination and more productivity. It rocketed me out of a rut I’d been in for years.

    I’m considering just upping the dose, but I’d rather get a better idea of what’s going on if I can and figure out if I’d be better off adding a support supplement instead.

    Does anyone have an explanation or even a guess as to why I’ve gotten such great effects and why thry’re now wearing off? Desperate for help, thank you in advance.

    • 16.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Indeed, a practitioner would need to understand specific details of your case in order to give you salient insight/guidance. The body may have deficiencies but once these are repleted, adding more won’t result in better or sustained effects. On the other hand, the dose you are taking is not large relative to studied dosages. This may be of interest to you: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036554/ . NAC helps to provide regulation of glutamate action and can help with some of the neurological effects you mention. You also make more glutathione which helps to heal/protect the brain from excessive glutamate action. A win-win. But to your point, other cofactors (e.g. B Vitamins) are involved. Importantly, you also may have made other hidden or less noticeable lifestyle changes which are contributing to your experience e.g. intake of stimulants, MSG, artificial sweeteners can also increase glutamate action, thus increasing your body’s need for NAC until you can make different choices. Food for thought! You might consider speaking with an AFMC-certified practitioner to do a deeper diver on your unique case: https://practitioners.schoolafm.com/

  3. 15
    Daniel says:

    They use Taurine in energy drinks so if it increases GABA receptor sensitivity why would they be using it in the drinks?

  4. 14
    Grant says:

    Hi Tracy,

    You have a real talent in your ability to write about this stuff!
    I know this is a rather old article your wrote but I’m hoping you might still be able to help.

    I’ve had struggles with Insomnia (staying asleep, not getting to) for over 10 years and am currently taking a combination of: St Johns Wort, L-Tryptophan, Phenibut, Ashwaghanda, Fish Oil, Resveratrol, Grape Seed Extract, Astaxanthin, Pinebark extract & Probiotics. Yes! it’s crazy. These have helped but I still find myself waking after 4-5 hours. I usually listen to a podcast for 20-60min and fall back asleep but I still can’t say I feel on top of the world after a night’s sleep.

    When you wrote about NAC being stimulating for some people due to toxicity and lack of Cysteine levels it really rang true. I tried it ages ago and found my sleep getting worse. How would you recommend improving Cysteine levels? or is this a bigger ‘gut’ issue?

    I’m going to try B6 as well as per your suggestions.

    • 14.1
      SAFM Team says:

      On behalf of Tracy thank you for your kind words, Grant – she is truly amazing at writing about body’s interconnectedness 🙂
      To answer your question about the cysteine, the human body can usually manufacture it from the amino acids serine and methionine, but you need enough folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 for that to be possible. To improve cysteine levels you need more protein-rich foods and strong stomach acid.
      From what you shared, indeed it would be worth looking into the gut and/or toxicity to get to the root cause of your long-standing sleep issues. Another place to investigate would be adrenal hormones and food sensitivities. Hope your sleep improves soon!

  5. 13
    Sue says:

    Hello,

    I have taken b6 in the past and I notice when I do I dream too much at night and wake up from the dreams. Do you know why b6 can cause excessive dreaming? Thank you.

    • 13.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Oh yes, Vitamin B6 is a key co-factor for making serotonin, the necessary precursor to melatonin. While some individuals with insomnia do need more Vitamin B6 due to insufficient serotonin production throughout the night, if you take too much, then excessive serotonin may cause your dreams to be overly vivid and haunting on some level (not necessarily nightmares, just overly potent or disturbing). As with any vitamin or nutrient, some people need it in supplement form and others don’t. We are all different in terms of nutrient intake but also genetics, lifestyle requirements, and our ability to fully utilize nutrients we take in (e.g. impaired conversion to final forms that the body can actually use). You may or may not need supplemental Vitamin B6, or the dose you reference experiencing may simply have been too much.

  6. 12
    Cat says:

    Is there a form of this combo that is available for children?

    • 12.1
      SAFM Team says:

      I don’t know of a child-specific supplement formula to offer, but I would direct you to resources such as “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics” by Dr. Kenneth Bock. He certainly presents evidence that children can struggle with the same type of glutamate overload and a need for more taurine and NAC. He gives insight into dosage ranges by age as well. These amino acids could technically be taken as loose powders, but they would need to be mixed into something strongly flavored e.g. yogurt, apple sauce with cinnamon, as the flavors are quite potent.

  7. 11
    Kaye says:

    HI! I have tested high (off the charts) for taurine on my organic acids test and I am wondering if this could be adversely affecting my sleep at all? New onset insomnia. Brought on by stress, but now unable to get out of the vicious adrenal/insomnia cycle. Taking NAC, melatonin did not help.

    Thank you,

    K

    • 11.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Ah – this is an interesting topic! And a great example of how urinary and plasma amino acid data can sometimes vary dramatically. Supplemental NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine) intake could drive high urinary taurine synthesis (and thus wasting of excess via urine) because cysteine is the precursor to taurine (which requires active Vitamin B6). This could especially be the case (again with NAC supplementation) if the body is impaired from the two other pathways via which we can process cysteine: glutathione synthesis and sulfation. For the former, if there are insufficient key cofactors available for the formation of glutathione from the NAC (e.g. glycine, selenium), and the body must choose an alternate pathway for processing the cysteine.
      For sulfation, molybdenum is a key cofactor, so a deficiency there might promote more cysteine (again, especially from your higher intake of NAC) usage in making taurine (and thus spilling excess in urine). Other options… There could also be some level of kidney dysfunction causing poor resorption of taurine and allowing wasting in the urine; realize that in this case urinary taurine might be high while plasma taurine might be suboptimally low. And of course, high intake of exogenous taurine from foods (especially poultry and shellfish) could also create a surplus that the body is purposefully managing. Another amino acid called beta-alanine specifically competes with taurine for reabsorption at the kidney levels, so that is another possible root cause of urinary elevation which would also potentially drive down plasma levels (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501114/); some sports drinks or protein blends have substantial levels of beta-alanine. So coming back around to your question, there are indeed a few ways via which taurine might be wasted in urine and drive your levels down. For adrenal stress-mediate insomnia in particular, I would consider calming adaptogenic herbs and also l-theanine for calming prior to bedtime (e.g. Xymogen’s “CortiSolv” – you may need 2 or 3 capsules at once). And of course sleep hygiene prior to bedtime (perhaps for you – even the ~3 hours before bedtime) can play a key role. I would also eliminate all caffeine after about 10am.

  8. 10
    john says:

    Congratulations, I am impressed with you knowledge, it is excellent. I have sleep myoclonus, i got it from a viral infection last year and i was treating it with homeopathy and magnesium whihc did fine. This year i got meningitis from the viral infection from whihc i am recovering, but the sleep myoclonics came back and i would like to know your recommendations for dealing with it, thank you in advacne for your response.

    • 10.1
      SAFM Team says:

      Thank you for your kind words! I don’t have major experience with this dynamic, but I would encourage you to think about possible connections to Restless Leg Syndrome and the connection with consistent dopamine synthesis and transmission. RLS is often coincident with SIBO and insufficient iron absorption into the body resulting in suboptimal iron availability in the brain for dopamine synthesis. Of course, oxidative stress and tissue damage from your meningitis has undoubtedly impaired neural transmission regardless. I would also check your RBC Magnesium and make sure it’s in the upper third of the RR; your needs may have changed over time. I would also check ferritin and (assuming you are male) I would want my ferritin to be at least around 100. I would be sure to be taking in ample omega-3 fatty acids to allow flexible cell membranes. And I would also use phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine supplementation to help with cell membrane integrity and neural transmission. These may interest you: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3946114 and http://www.gidoctor.net/client_files/file/Turnbull_Chapter_Final.pdf . It’s not unreasonable at all that your immune system was so busy countering the meningitis that you developed some significant microbial imbalance in your gut which is now affecting nutrient absorption/availability. I would also check Vitamin D (~40), Vitamin A (upper half RR), and RBC Zn (not serum, again wanting upper half RR). I hope that helps. A savvy functional medicine practitioner doing a deep dive into your current labwork and symptoms and diet could definitely partner with you to figure out the details!

  9. 9
    Pippa says:

    Hello,
    I would appreciate if you could tell me how long one would have to be taking the following combination in order to see some improvement in insomnia.

    L- tryptophan 1000 mg
    NAC. 600 mg
    Taurine 1000mg
    melatonin 1mg

    I know I cannot expect immediate results but what time frame should I pursue before trying some other avenue for my insomnia.

    Thank you

    • 9.1
      SAFM says:

      Of course, I cannot speak to your unique situation, but generally, these types of agents will bring fairly immediate relief *IF* they are addressing the root causes of your particular insomnia. Typically within 2-3 days at most. Keep in mind that the body is dependent on Vitamin B6 to convert tryptophan into serotonin and then melatonin. In some people, it’s also very critical to eliminate caffeine (all beyond 10am, including chocolate, or in a few cases, any caffeine at all) and to practice calming “sleep hygiene” at night in the hour or so before bed (no phone, computer, TV, etc.). We are all unique individuals, and some of us are very sensitive to modern practices that confuse the brain.

  10. 8
    Chris says:

    Thanks so much for the racing mind support! I have taken the taurine (1000 mg) and NAC (500 mg) combo the last few nights and it has worked wonders for me. I am curious though if these amino acids have any adverse effect on the kidneys?

    Thanks

    Sleeping Again

    • 8.1
      SAFM says:

      Good for you! Certainly you should discuss your unique situation with your physician, as we cannot give individual guidance in this forum. In healthy kidneys with normal, healthy filtration and excretion, I know of no cause for concern. In fact, taurine can be protective against various types of common nephropathy (e.g. from diabetes). This may be of interest: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2994373/. If there is pre-existing kidney dysfunction, disease, or impaired filtration, then all supplementation needs to be carefully evaluated, including amino acids.

  11. 7
    Helga says:

    Hello Tracy,
    Thank you for the informative posts!!!
    I could not find the link to the constipation article you mentioned, could you please share that?
    Thank you very much!
    Helga

  12. 6
    Angie Lee says:

    This is incredible! Very helpful! Appreciate you and your work, Tracy! <3

  13. 5
    Leah says:

    Hi there,

    Can NAC impair your sleep?
    I tend to take it in the mornings and I notice I don’t always sleep the best the nights I take take it. I also notice it weakens my nails.
    Do you have any idea why these things would happen?

    Kind regards,
    Leah

    • 5.1
      SAFM says:

      Hmmm…I am not aware of that association. But of course, we are all unique individuals, and there are always exceptions to every trend. There are many available supplement formulas which include NAC because of its ability to help promote conversion of glutamate to GABA in the brain, thus calming the brain. Dosage is going to make a difference too; for promoting sleep support, I don’t generally recommend more than 500-600mg at most. For some, even 250-300mg is sufficient. Higher doses of NAC definitely promote detoxification in the body (so there may be an effect there in terms of stimulating some stress hormones or brain activity) especially if your body is generally lacking optimal cysteine support. As you may know, this is why its used as first-line therapy in the ER for acetaminophen toxicity. Any type of accelerated detoxification can also cause a shift in electrolytes or hormones, both of which could have an impact on your nails. It’s a rough assembly of puzzle pieces, but perhaps it helps!

      • Wanda Ganjon says:

        I can not sleep at night I lay awake all night, my mind is not racing and I do not feel sleepy
        until 5:00am.and I have to be at work by 5:30am I do have insominia which I took medicine for in
        the past which had bad side effects and I had to stop taking it,is another option that I could take
        that would help me sleep?

        sincerly , Wanda Ganjon

        • SAFM says:

          Hi – I am sorry you are struggling so much. Alas, I cannot adequately or responsibly give individual guidance via this type of venue. There are many hormonal or digestive or nutritional reasons why your sleep may be impaired. A health coach could help you get to the bottom of it all for your unique case! In general, I would make sure that you aren’t consuming any caffeine or sugar or chocolate at all after about 11am in the morning. Some people are much more vulnerable to the effects of stimulants than others. It can indeed make a big difference 12 hours later. Assuming you don’t have kidney issues, I would also add in some magnesium glycinate (about 300-400mg) with your dinner. As this article highlights, it’s also critical to stop exposing your brain to full-spectrum light (TV, computer, phone) for at least a full hour before bedtime. Don’t watch anything alarming in the evening (e.g. crime show, nightly news). Don’t bring computers or phones or TVs into your bedroom at all. These seem like simple items, but they are powerful! Beyond that, this general page may have some guidance that is helpful to you: https://schoolafm.com/ws_clinical_know/sleep-remedies-that-work-neurotransmitter-and-hormones/ . It sounds like melatonin might help you (taken about an hour before bedtime), but see what resonates the most with you in this article. I wish you the very best of getting to the bottom of this, so your body can start to better thrive!

  14. 4
    Shanna Getto says:

    Not a question, a thank you…

    Wow. Just wow. Racing Mind is me! It’s been me for YEARS! And it’s just random stuff! Like how I wonder if maybe grapes would be good in egg salad…what?! SHUT UP! I gave up on Lunesta and Ambien – they either don’t work at all (hit or miss for me) or I don’t know I’m going into insomnia mode until it’s too late to take them. When they do help, the morning hangover is almost as bad as if I’d drank myself to sleep instead. Didn’t realize until your video above that I’m probably over doing the melatonin. I’ll give that a rest (ha!) and try the amino acids you mentioned.

    And by the way, you’re a wonderful speaker and I’m guessing that you’re an engaging educator as well.

    Warm regards,
    Shanna

  15. 3
    Heather Conley says:

    Tracy do you have a handout on sleep hygiene?

  16. 2
    Robin Wile says:

    Hi Tracey,
    I am SO inspired by you and your approach to wellness with your clients! I really appreciate all of your knowledge and your pearls of functional medicine! It is so generous of you to share all of this with us, I plan to study every semester you have available to us starting in January. I plan to register for that one a week or two.
    I am more than excited to start my journey as a health coach!!!..I feel so confident I will really be able to help people by following your tips, knowledge and education.
    Many many many thanx!!!!

    Ps. May I ask if you have any words of guidance or protocol for someone that is on prescription medicine for depression to feel better and be able to transition into alternative treatment. I understand you shouldn’t stop cold turkey. This is my 25 y/o daughter in law whom I adore! She is a young mom of a 4 y/0 and 5 month old. She breast feeds. It breaks my heart!!!

    Robin 🙂

    • 2.1
      SAFM says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words and enthusiasm, Robin! Yes, antidepressants require slow, gradual withdrawal to avoid major side effects. Minor-to-moderate side effects are pretty much a given and just require some stamina and determination to “get through them” to the other side. I often talk with clients about the fact that what they experience during withdrawal is in fact not their “new normal”. It’s just a hurdle to get over. If an SSRI has been taken for longer than a few months, then I recommend a two-month withdrawal of halving doses every two weeks until it can no longer be done and then going every other and then every third day. It can be helpful to supplement with 5-HTP (a precursor of serotonin) about half-way through the withdrawal (starting small ~50mg – very first thing in the AM and perhaps again just prior to bed if needed to help with sleep). You will also need to ensure sufficient Vitamin B6 intake as this is needed to make serotonin (best in the form of a high-quality B-complex e.g. Thorne Basic B). It’s important not to overdo serotonin support, as this might cause serotonin overload, but many people who are on SSRIs actually need more serotonin (which the SSRI medication does not do; it simply makes your brain think it has more serotonin than it does – a strategy that eventually depletes the serotonin itself). Some people also need dopamine support (i.e. tyrosine ~500-1000mg, perhaps mid-day) as well but not everyone (ongoing SSRI use depletes both serotonin AND dopamine). Otherwise, I recommend a few preparation steps to take before starting withdrawal: make sure both Vitamin D and magnesium are optimal. I also recommend getting rid of stimulants in the diet (e.g. sugar, caffeine) before starting withdrawal. And also increasing intake of clean, healthy fats, especially saturated fats (e.g. organic butter, coconut oil).

  17. 1
    Theresa Chabot says:

    Can you take Melatonin, 5HTP, Taurine, and N-acetyl cycsteine at the same time? Also, in the case of Melatonin, you say that it isn’t for long term, so if it helps, then they stop taking it and can’t sleep, then what, or will fixing the gut, or eating correctly help the body to naturally produce melatonin?

    • 1.1
      SAFM says:

      Yes, you can. But I generally find they aren’t all necessary together. As you likely know, the melatonin and 5-HTP are addressing low serotonin and/or low serotonin-to-melatonin conversion. Taurine and NAC are addressing poor glutamate-to-GABA conversion which allows the brain to go into an inhibitory state (which allows melatonin to work properly). I don’t find most people have issues with both dynamics, but again, each person is unique. Keep in mind that if a person is toxic, then N-acetyl cysteine may actually impair sleep (vs. help) by upregulating detoxification and increases epinephrine transiently. So be sure to evaluate each addition separately to ensure all are helping vs. holding back. I do generally believe it’s better to help people’s bodies to make optimal levels of hormones on their own; of course, sometimes this isn’t physiologically possible. But I think it’s worth a try. If a person needs both melatonin and 5-HTP, then it’s very likely there is an overall issue with low serotonin production which usually has its roots in the gut. Make sure they are taking a B-complex that includes some P5P form of B6 and also methyl forms of both folate and B12. Methylation is required to make serotonin (and other N/Ts). Effective protein digestion is necessary for optimal amounts of tryptophan to be available for serotonin production, so think too about the potential for low stomach acid. Or poor nutrient absorption due to dysbiosis? Be creative and thorough! Great question 🙂

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