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They'll all fall

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Banana and milk or melatonin as a sleeping aid

One of the most important things for quality life is getting enough and good quality sleep. A natural sleeping aid is a mixture of (preferably warm) milk and bananas. Somebody asked me why this worked - here's my answer:

Either of them by themselves will also work somewhat, though there's a positive interaction. Note that this will pull towards increased weight - but bad sleep patterns will usually push even more in that direction.

Background: Bananas is a good source L-tryptophan and simple carbohydrates. L-tryptophan is an amino acid, and it gets converted to 5HTP in the brain, which again gets converted to serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter) which again gets converted to melatonin (which is the natural controller of hormonal rythms in the body, especially sleep).

There are several interactions with milk. One is that L-tryptophan only cross the blood-brain barrier if it is not in competition with too many other amino acids. When you drink milk, your body release insulin (milk sugar is quite effective at this), which "push" most amino acids from your blood into storage (in lean body mass - this is OK). That makes the tryptophan available for the synthesis above. In addition, milk contains calcium (which is calming.) Oh, and warm milk is a source of L-tryptophan in itself.

Note that the rate-limiting step of the serotonin to melatonin conversion is hypothized to be the availability of noreniphrine (noradrenaline), so drinking green tea in the daytime might help. Possibly even better with caffeine free green tea extracts at night.

What's the pull towards increased weight? You're getting high GI carbohydrates fairly shortly before bedtime[1], so your body will be going through an insulin/blood sugar swing, and you'll burn less calories during the night. This can make a difference.

Referring to another post: I agree that melatonin is an excellent natural sleep aid - I often recommend it. And while it is probably the sleeping aid in existence with least side effects, people should still know how to use it. Extreme doses will work as a reliable contraceptive, and if you start off with too high doses, your body will sort of adapt and high doses will *stop working*. I was stupid enough to start at 3mg, and had a slightly mixed up hormonal balance for at least half a year afterwards. When I use it now, I use about 1mg - but the effect isn't as good as it probably would have been if I'd never overdosed.

Melatonin is primarily a sleep rythm restorer. It's best to take it depending on when you're going to get UP, not when you want to fall asleep, and it should preferably be taken at the same time every day. For getting up at 7, I usually took melatonin at 23:30, and went to sleep at 00:00 to 00:10. You'll find that you get unbelivably tired, and then you just fall asleep as you lie down. For many, there's a fairly short window, though - and at least I had the effect that if I fought off the sleepiness from melatonin ("I'm just going to finish this chapter"), I couldn't get to sleep at all. One expert I discussed this with thought that was due to me using too high doses, though.

Oh, and the natural trigger for melatonin is lowered light levels. This is messed up by electric lights and living "in the wrong place". Where we were made to be - just about the equator in africa - there's just 15 minutes of sunset as the sun goes from "high day" to "night". Then, a few hours after this, you get tired. And sleep. And it all feels just right.

Instead, we keep on electric lights, which are way too dim and stay around too long. This mess up the melatonin system.


OK, I'm finished babbling now.


[1] Actually, from theory I'd recommend taking milk+banana 1 to 1.5 hours before bedtime - as I said, there's about 45 minutes from intake of melatonin until full sleepy effect, and there should be time for the other reactions to occur to produce the melatonin.

9 Comments:

  • Will a banana milkshake work? I don't really like milk :(

    By Anonymous BG, at 2:00 AM  

  • Sure, it should work fine. Slightly less effect than with warm milk, but it should be OK.

    I've got a series of mental or physical techniques for falling asleep easily, too. The post above was just a slight edit of a discussion post. If you're interested, I'll try to remember to do a writeup on that, too.

    By Blogger Eek, at 2:00 PM  

  • No thanks, I don't have much trouble to get sleep.

    Though I do notice a huge difference between sleeping in different climates.


    I was in France for two weeks (about a week ago) and there I slept light and woke up early, because of the temperature. I was really vivid during the day and even in the morning. My days were a lot longer than my days here, because I got up early in the morning (about 8 or 9) without having to force myself and I went to bed at about 4.

    But over here (10 degrees colder) I have deeper sleeps and a lot more trouble to get up in the morning. I get tired more easily and wake up (and get up) way later in the morning.

    Plus I can't remember yawning in France, but here I start yawning (not a lot, tho) after about 10 hours of being awake.


    Does the climate / lighter sleeping have anything to do with it? Are there ways to change how deep I sleep?

    By Blogger Lifestyle with BG, at 9:45 PM  

  • You wrote: "What's the pull towards increased weight? You're getting high GI carbohydrates fairly shortly before bedtime[1], so your body will be going through an insulin/blood sugar swing, and you'll burn less calories during the night."

    Truth is, the natural melatonin triggered by the high GI carbs will block insulin. (Melatonin is an insulin blocker.) Therefore, the burning of body fat while sleeping will not be hindered. The carbs may actually restock liver glycogen, which is now believed to trigger better fat burning while sleeping. See the "hibernation diet" website for the science behind it all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:25 PM  

  • yes, I had problems to sleep but I kind of solve this eating this kind of things before going to sleep.. besides bananas are a good source of potassium (which can be linked to the nerves) and milk is necessary for the calcium of your bones, it's a perfect combination... much better than having to take any pill to zzzz

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:08 PM  

  • Thank you so much for this post. I have been suffering from some miserable bouts of insomnia and do not want to resort to prescriptions. I will be avidly following your advice here :)

    Again, thank you. :)

    By Blogger Lea, at 7:45 PM  

  • I've been trying this for the past few days and it seems to be working so far. Though, I often have problems with insomnia; I'm a college student which makes it difficult to get away from those dim lights - specifically my laptop - before going to bed. Is there a specific time I should put away the computer before going to bed? An hour? A half hour?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:46 AM  

  • I tried to get Melatonin from Boots the chemist the pharmacist told me that it is dangerous and is only available on prescrition in the UK. He showed me the British National Fomulary drug book used by doctors and the long-term side effects are horrendous. I will stick to banana and warm milk will try some tonight or tomorrow. Been nibbling bombay mix tonight (not very good before bedtime) so will try it tomorrow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:07 PM  

  • Backlit screen, melatonin danger

    WRT looking at backlit screens: This can significantly impact your sleep pattern, and you need a fair bit of time to get down from it. I don't think the research has shown whether it is even fully possible to recover; the last I saw was something that noted damage to sleep pattern from one hour of looking at a backlit screen. If at all possible, try to move your looking at screens earlier in the evening, and screens without backlight later. Maybe restructure to read from paper instead of a screen at the later times, or get a Kindle or similar?


    WRT melatonin: I've just now tried to search the research record for long term effects of melatonin use; I can't find anything that says more than "We don't know yet". There's just not been any studies that look at this long term in a way that lets us conclude that it is safe. There is no particular reason to think it is unsafe, and there is a fair bit of research on mice, rats and drosophila (fruit flies) that show significant benefits (improved cognitive function, improved diabetes handling, extended lifespan) - but no really significant long term human studies to make sure there's no ill effects.

    I can't easily get at the British National Formulary page (http://www.bnf.org/bnf/go?bnf/current/PHP2149-melatonin.htm) - it's IP-restricted to the UK - so I can't directly say how safe it is, but I do note that it is available over the counter in many countries.

    The banana + hot milk method will have the advantage of letting your body produce melatonin by itself; there are certainly more levels of regulation in that, so it has less risk of negative side-effects (apart from the extra calories).

    By Blogger Eek, at 12:25 AM  

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