Today I’m addressing a great question I received on a recent tryptophan blog about insomnia and the use of the amino acids GABA and 5-HTP in a combination product together with melatonin, and what the next steps should be when you are not getting the expected results. And if continuing with tryptophan is a good idea when it seems to be causing a migraine and isn’t leading to a whole night’s sleep. Here is the question:
I have suffered from insomnia for most of my life. I just got your book and am loving it! Thank you for all that you do. My symptoms seem to be high for both low GABA and low serotonin [here is the questionnaire].
I also believe I have a blood sugar problem, so I’m starting to follow your suggestions for that.
I’ve been taking a supplement for sleep that has both GABA and 5-HTP in it, along with melatonin. It worked for a year, however it just recently stopped working.
I thought maybe I should try tryptophan. After taking only 220 mg per night, along with 5 mg of melatonin, I was able to sleep, but not through the entire night. However, the next day I woke up with a horrible headache/migraine. I know it was the tryptophan because I did a trial and tried a night without it and then again with it and the nights I took it, sure enough, the migraine would return.
I must add that I had bloodwork done and tested low for melatonin, which is why I was adding the melatonin into my protocol.
My question is: do I continue with a higher dose of GABA, 5-HTP and melatonin, since it worked for a year i.e. do I up the dosage of the supplement I’ve been taking? Or do I continue trying different doses of tryptophan?
I shared this response in my comment (with some additions for this blog post).
Always first address the nutritional foundational aspects
Firstly, I was glad to hear she is loving my book The Antianxiety Food Solution (my Amazon link) and implementing dietary changes. This is so foundational to any protocol for both anxiety and insomnia. Too often, someone hears me talking about the amazing amino acids and forgets the nutritional basics of real whole food, quality animal protein (like wild fish, pastured eggs and chicken, grass-fed red meat), organic veggies and fruit, healthy fats (like olive oil, coconut oil and butter), fermented foods and broths, and no gluten, caffeine or sugar.
I don’t ever have clients push through
With regards to her trial of tryptophan I shared that I don’t ever have clients push through on a product that is causing any adverse effects, and especially when it’s a migraine. She was smart and trialed the tryptophan twice to make sure it was the tryptophan that caused the migraine and not something else.
Capitalize on what has worked and increase one at a time
With regards to the GABA, 5-HTP and melatonin I shared that I always like to capitalize on what has worked in the past (or is currently working) and would rather increase the 5-HTP and/or melatonin and/or GABA one at a time.
Notice that I said increase these products one at a time. She is taking a combination product so it’s impossible for her to do this. Maybe her GABA levels are now good (because her progesterone levels have improved due to be on a regular zinc supplement or because she has been doing regular yoga sessions) and maybe she needs more serotonin support (because her estrogen levels are off because of recent exposure to xenoestrogens in plastics).
Even though is research showing that a combination product containing GABA and 5-HTP improved sleep and sleep duration more than the use of either of the two amino acids alone, based on her feedback, if we were working together I would have her do each of the GABA, 5-HTP and melatonin separately. This way it’s easy to mix and match and increase one and possibly lower the other, until the ideal combination is found for her unique needs at this time in her life.
She may even find she only needs GABA or only needs 5-HTP or only melatonin. She may also find she needs sublingual melatonin for helping her fall asleep and timed-release melatonin for helping her stay asleep.
She mentions the amino acid questionnaire so it sounds like she is clear on her symptoms: low GABA physical anxiety affecting her sleep and low serotonin mental worry-type of anxiety affecting her sleep. So as she trials the individual amino acids she can see how she does symptom-wise in order to find the ideal amount.
Other factors to consider with insomnia
It’s often straight-forward with the amino acids and the great thing is that one you have the correct combination you will see results in a few days to a few weeks. But There are other factors we may need to consider with insomnia:
- Keep in mind that 5-HTP can raise cortisol and low blood sugar can indicate adrenal issues so looking at high cortisol as a factor in the sleep problems would be something to consider. A 4-collection saliva test will measure this and my favorite product for lowering high cortisol is Seriphos. Other nutrients for adrenal support may be needed too.
- Just addressing low blood sugar can often improve insomnia. Eating to support blood sugar swings, early morning sunlight and no blue light after dark can make a world of difference.
- Other sleep factors we always want to consider: sex hormone imbalances, parasites (they are more active at night and can keep you awake and play a role in high cortisol), accidental gluten exposure, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), candida, sleep apnea and mouth breathing, EMFs (WiFi in the home, commuting with the iphone on, a new cordless phone etc.) and medication side-effects (benzodiazepines are a common one).
I really appreciate questions like this being posted on the blog so others like you also get to benefit. This question also demonstrates just how our needs for certain nutrients can change over time and how we may to keep adjusting what we are doing.
In case you have questions about specific products that I use with clients, here is my supplements blog and more information on GABA for the physical type of anxiety and 5-HTP/tryptophan for the worry-type of anxiety.
Can you relate to this scenario? Feel free to ask your questions about sleep, GABA, 5-HTP, tryptophan and melatonin and share your experiences with these products and how they have helped you or if you’ve had issues with any of them.