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Improve Sleep for Insomnia via Amino Acids and Deep Breathing

1… 2… 3… 4… How many of us have tried counting sheep, or other things that never seem to work, just to get some sleep at night? Insomnia can strike a person for a good many reasons, including: worry or fretting, stress or anxiety, racing thoughts, sleep cycles being off kilter (light therapy can sometimes help), hormones or metabolic reasons, and even due to being overly tired, among other things. However, there are two natural things you can do to help you sleep… take certain amino acids, and perform certain breathing exercises.

Studies have shown that increasing oxygen levels through deep breathing exercises, contrary to popular belief, can actually help induce sleep rather than wake you up. This is due to the connection with CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in the body, which I will go into later.

Interestingly, amino acids can also help relieve insomnia. Two of the common 22 amino acids, in particular, are able help calm the mind and induce rest in a weary but aggravated body.

Insomniacs need oxygen, and amino acids for serotonin

Adults with insomnia were studied and given relaxation techniques, including deep breathing exercises (do not forget about bedtime yoga!) as part of information included in complementary and alternative medicine or naturopathic medicine techniques. These insomniacs, after being informed of these easy activities at bedtime, had higher rates of continued use.

Deep breathing exercises aside, it is not just increasing oxygen levels alone that help you relax and slumber, but reducing CO2 levels in the body. Amino acids actually play a vital role in this process.

In a fascinating cross-species study that compared plants, insects, animals, and humans, the levels of CO2 and anxiety were investigated. Anyone who has woken up in the night due to a panic attack knows what I am speaking about here. CO2 levels are higher in correspondence with anxiety or negative emotions.

There is a neurological ‘fear circuit’ that is not entirely understood, but evidence reviewed on the amino acid GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) may help modulate anxiety that is CO2 induced. That is, if you take the GABA amino acid, it could help calm the mind, anxiety, and troubling thoughts so you can sleep.

Another amino acid that is known to be a natural sedative is tryptophan (like what makes you tired from turkey meat), plus serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) and melatonin also help you induce sleep.

GABA and tryptophan are commonly available as supplements at health food stores and drug stores as a sleep aid. So breathe deeply and reduce the amount of CO2 in your body, plus take amino acid GABA and/or tryptophan to complement this for a good night’s rest.






L-Glycine for Sleep

The next time you’re feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, consider adding L-glycine to your diet. A non-essential amino acid found predominantly in proteins, L-glycine is created in the body from another amino acid, serine. L-glycine has a variety of functions, such as protein production and as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the spinal cord and brain. 

It is because of the amino acid’s inhibitory function that researchers at the Institute for Innovation and University of Miyazaki in Japan wanted to study the effects of L-glycine on insomnia symptoms by improving sleep quality. Researchers Makoto Bannai, Nobuhiro Kawai, Kaori Ono, Keiko Nakahara and Noboru Murakami report that insomnia affects about 30 per cent of the population.

Symptoms can include sleepiness, fatigue, inability to focus, memory deficits, and irritability, so finding an efficient treatment for insomnia is vital.

For the experiment, 10 healthy participants were recruited and baseline measures of sleeping patterns were recorded. In the randomized, crossover trial, the participants were given either three grams of L-glycine or a placebo half an hour before bedtime. Their sleep time was restricted to an average of 5.5 hours for three nights in a row. Their insomnia symptoms were evaluated using a visual analog scale, questionnaires, and various performance tests.

L-Glycine Effects on Sleep Quality

Researchers Bannai, Kawai, Ono, Nakahara and Murakami found that reaction time was significantly reduced for the L-glycine group when doing the psychomotor vigilance test. The amino acid group also tended to do better for the other forms of performance tests.

Self-reported symptoms of insomnia were improved only for the first day of sleep deprivation for the L-glycine group, but objective measures were improved up to the third day. The researchers also found that when compared to the placebo, the L-glycine participants had significantly less feelings of fatigue and improved sleep quality.

Based on findings from rat experiments, the researchers believe that the improvement in sleep quality stems from L-glycine’s ability to lower the body’s core temperature, which occurs naturally during sleep.