There are a handful of strategies that can augment or improve sleep quality while remaining consistent with the Wheat Belly lifestyle. Many people who banish all wheat and grains from their diet experience improvement in sleep duration and quality, further enhanced by our efforts to cultivate bowel flora. (Bowel flora metabolites have a major influence on sleep and dreams.) But, given life stress, transitional changes as you get further into this lifestyle, bad habits, and other factors sometimes make additional efforts necessary. But getting sufficient quality sleep can take you further down the path of health.
Melatonin should be the first nutritional supplement choice for restoring sleep patterns.
Melatonin is not a sleeping pill, as it does not share the characteristics of prescription sleeping pills: It does not adversely modify sleep patterns, it does not become habit-forming, and there is no withdrawal process when stopped. It simply “resets” your circadian clock to make your brain and body receptive to sleep. Numerous other benefits have been identified, including 70 percent reduction in tension headaches, 50 percent reduction in migraine headaches, reduction in chronic pain, and reduction in symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal effects of stress. Melatonin has also been shown to improve prediabetic measures, such as reduction in triglycerides, reduction in blood pressure during sleep (reducing an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease called nondipping, in which blood pressure fails to drop during sleep, like it normally should), and modest reduction in waist size. Accumulating data also suggest advantages in preventing, even treating, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers.
Because insufficient or disrupted sleep contributes to weight gain, you’d expect that improved sleep via melatonin supplementation would result in weight loss, and it does, though the effect is modest, about 5 pounds over 4 months. No sleeping pill can accomplish the range of positive health effects achieved by this potent hormone of circadian rhythms.
Melatonin, available at health food stores and drugstores, is easy to use. Start with a small dose (e.g., 0.5 milligram) about 1 hour prior to bedtime, and increase the dose with every use until you achieve the desired effect. Doses can range as high as 12 milligrams per day or more. If you manage to fall asleep but struggle to stay asleep, consider either a higher dose and/or converting to a time-release preparation. If you experience a “hangover” effect that persists upon awakening, take your dose earlier in the evening.
The younger you are, the earlier you should take your melatonin dose. Adolescents, for instance, who wish to fall asleep at 10:00 p.m. may need to take it as early as 7:00 p.m., while people over 60 years old generally do fine by taking it 30 minutes before the desired sleep time.
Given the substantial health benefits of melatonin, should everyone take measures to increase it, regardless of whether sleep/circadian issues are present? This is not yet clear. But even if you don’t struggle with sleep issues, melatonin supplementation should be considered for any form of endocrine disruption—such as thyroid disease, adrenal dysfunction, or infertility— given that this regulator of circadian rhythm modulates numerous hormonal levels. It should also be considered as you age, as over age 50 or so, circadian hormonal rhythms are blunted, leading to dysfunction of several hormonal systems, such as reductions in testosterone and growth hormone, partially restored by melatonin supplementation.
You can add to the melatonin effect by supplementing tryptophan, an amino acid that also triggers melatonin release from the brain and increases serotonin levels, making it useful for improving mood over time, as well.
Tryptophan or 5-Hydroxytryptophan Supplements
Serotonin levels in the brain can be increased by taking tryptophan or its closely related 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).
Brain serotonin levels can drop with weight loss, resulting in food cravings, low mood, irritability, anger, and argumentativeness. While the conventional medical answer is to prescribe brain serotonin– increasing antidepressant drugs, you can increase serotonin levels a natural way and reduce the negative emotions and carbohydrate cravings. Some people like the effects of these supplements so much, especially the favorable effects on mood, that they continue taking them long after the wheat and grain withdrawal is nothing more than a bad memory.
Tryptophan can be taken alone or, even better, with melatonin. Tryptophan can also be taken during the day, e.g., 500 to 1,000 mg three times per day. Alternatively, it can be taken at a higher dose once per day at bedtime to encourage sleep at a dose of 1,000 to 3,000 mg. Supplementation increases brain serotonin and melatonin, which benefits sleep at night and mood during the day. Tryptophan can be taken by itself or in combination with melatonin and tends to not leave any residual effects upon awakening. Tryptophan is most effective taken on an empty stomach.
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) In addition to its helpfulness in reducing cravings during grain withdrawal, 5-hydroxytryptophan can also be used to enhance sleep. Supplementation has been shown to extend deep REM sleep, suggesting that sleep is deeper and more restorative with its use. As with melatonin, dose needs vary; most people take between 25 and 200 mg at bedtime.
Note that 5-HTP should not be used in combination with antidepressant medications, especially anyone taking a prescription antidepressant or carbidopa for Parkinson’s disease. This may cause an excess in serotonin levels. 5-HTP however, be used in combination with melatonin.
Lactobacillus reuteri yogurt
While anecdotal, I am receiving feedback from users of the L. reuteri yogurt that deep, child-like sleep is experienced by some.
Unlike accelerated skin healing, reduced skin wrinkle depth, increased strength and muscle mass, and anorexigenic effects that are experienced by most on the yogurt, deeper sleep seems to be enjoyed by less than half of people following this idea. I don’t have an explanation for the variability of this effect. But I can tell you that I have personally experienced it.
Stress, bad habits (reading or working late), decades of sleep deprivation through medical training and practice all contributed to many years of bad sleep for me, often necessitating high-dose melatonin and/or tryptophan. But, with consumption of the L. reuteri yogurt, my sleep is scary wonderful: Deep, dream-filled sleep, minimally interrupted by awakenings (very unusual for me), the kind of profound sleep I last remembered having when I was a kid. And this is with no melatonin or tryptophan.
So I cannot predict whether you will enjoy this benefit like I and some others have but, even without it, you can still enjoy all the other benefits of cultivating L. reuteri in your gastrointestinal tract.