Tag Archives: Serotonin

027 – 10 Tips for Better Sleep


Sleep Stuart Miles FDPSleep is extremely important for the whole body.  The brain is no exception.  When we are recovering from PTSD we need are brains firing on all cylinders.

PTSD introduces some difficult barriers to sound sleep.  Hyper-vigilance and nightmares are two obstacles that those with PTSD face.

However, a good night’s rest starts with the same foundation for both those with PTSD and the rest of the population.  Once the foundation is in place we are better equipped to deal with specific difficulties.

The foundation

Several sleep improvements list exist.  I link to a few of them below.  Here are the 10 things I have found helpful.

1. Get plenty of light.

What?  I thought dark was necessary for sleep?  Well, it is.  However, getting plenty of intense light in the morning can help set of up for sleep at night.  Daylight intensity triggers our brain to produce serotonin—an important brain chemical, especially during the day, for emotions, thinking and energy.  It is made by the same gland in the brain that produced melatonin—an important brain chemical for nighttime for rest that is produced in the dark.

2. Get plenty of physical activity.

Yes, that beloved topic…exercise! Exercise is excellent for reducing stress and balancing out brain chemicals.  It is usually best to do it early in the day or at least 4 hours before bed.  Your body needs time to cool down and recover.

3. Make sure it is dark.

Just as we need light during the day to help our brains fully function.  We need dark to help the properly function while we sleep (see above).

Experiment with getting rid of as much light as possible.  Sometimes window blinds are not enough.  Curtains over windows (or experiment with putting up a thick blanket.)  Clock radios, cell phones, cordless phones, chargers, and other electronics can also be a source of light that might affect our brain activity.

The experts also say the light from TV or computer screens can interfere with melatonin production.

4. Limit or Eliminate Caffeine

It is a stimulant.  People often report that it does not affect their sleep.  It may not may or may not affect your ability to fall asleep.  But it does affect your ability to get the proper rest your brain needs.

At the very least limit your caffeine intake to 1 or 2 servings a day.  Stop caffeinated beverages around 2 pm (about 8 hours before bed).

5. Eliminate Nicotine

It is a stimulant.  

6. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and it can help someone fall asleep.  However, it interferes the deep, restful and restorative stages 3 and 4 of the sleep cycle.  In other word, you may fall asleep more quickly but you will not rest as soundly.

7. Watch what and when you eat.

A big meal may make you sleepy but it won’t typically give you a good night’s rest.  Digesting a heavy or spicy meal has been shown to interfere with a good night sleep.  Try eating a litter earlier in the evening.  Consider making dinner a smaller meal.  Reserve lunch for the spicy or heavy foods.

8. Limit your activity in bed.

Reserve this space for sleep and sex.  From stress to mental stimulation, E-mail, work, electronics each can disrupt our rest.

These last two may be particularly helpful for those with PTSD.

9. Meditation and deep breathing

Practice these techniques during the day.  If necessary apply them as you are trying to get your mind in a restful state around bed time.  Once learned, these can also be useful with we become overstimulated—loud noise, dream, etc.

10. Medication for nightmare reduction instead of a direct sleep aid.

If nightmares are a problem talk with your healthcare provider.  For a long time I use a medication called Prazosin.  It is an older blood pressure medication.  My provider told me that it was about 80% effective in a double blind study at reducing or eliminating nightmares in PTSD patients.

It was affective for me as well.  But be careful.  It can seriously lower your blood pressure—especially as your body adjust to the increasing dose.  So take care when you rise at night, especially to use the bathroom. 

It worked for me.  While I was taking Prazosin I hardly had a nightmare. 

So why did I stop?  I experienced one of the rarer side effect, nocturnal enuresis…aka nighttime urinary incontinence or bed-wetting.

Yet I am glad I took it for a while.  It helped me get better sleep.  The better sleep helped me better deal with the underlying problems.   From time to time I still have PTSD related nightmares, but they are getting less intense and lest frequent.

Question: What has helped you get a healthy, restful and restorative night sleep?

Some Sleep Resources

Image courtacy Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Can small actions make a big difference?

Yesterday I forced myself out of the house as the sun unexpectedly peeked through the afternoon clouds.  My lungs were not up to the trek; but I thought I ought to practice what I encourage others to do—take a walk in the sunlight.

In Episode 004 of Healing the Wounds of War we considered the evidence that bright light (daylight in particular) can help our brains function better by stimulating the release of serotonin (an essential neurotransmitter).  So there I was strolling along at my normal snail pace.  I won’t say that I was happy.  Breathing was a bit difficult and my feet (diabetes related) were not wanting to cooperate.

However, shortly into the walk I made a decision to practice some of the things that I know from science and experience that can help our brain chemistry.  On this day will any of this make a difference?

Douglas Fir with blue sky1-1I set my eyes on the stunning beauty all around me.  The rich blue sky dotted with shades of white and gray clouds.  The sunlight filtered through the 120+ feet tall trees and inspired me to take a deep breath.  The aroma of Christmas trees further drew my attention to the beauty of my surroundings.  Thoughts of gratitude started to occupy my mind.  The fresh cool air and the warm sunshine refreshed me in unexpected ways.

Yet my physical reality seemed largely unchanged.  I still had trouble breathing.  My feet still hurt—although I did not notice it as much for a moment or two.  In short most of my body remained the same.

What had changed was my attitude and perspective—my brain.  Not in some radical way.  Rather in a subtle way that allowed me to not just find enjoyment at that moment, but for many moments after the walk.  My mind was a bit sharper and focused.  My attitude was a bit more hope filled and productivity came with a bit more ease.

Sure, this is anecdotal; but it is also in line with what scientist have observed.  The proper amount of daylight may not by itself radically change your life.  Sometimes all we need is that little bit to bump us to the next level; and that just might radically change our life.

What small things help you take your performance to the next level?

004 Questioning God


DopamineseratoninIn today’s episode we will:

1. We will explore the struggle that can arise in faith as a result of trauma.  We will consider the question: Is it OK to question God?  If so, how?


2. We will take a look at light…

  •  Does light really have the power to change our brains?
  • Impact of light on sleep problems, depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and possible connections to PTSD care.

Jumping right into our main topic for today: Questioning God

  •  Does God mind if we question him?
  •  What about doubts?
  •  What about people of faith from times past?
  • Consider Psalm 77 – He boldly expressed his concerns and…

 Science and the Brain:  In the light…

– Does light really have the power to impact and even change what is going on in our brains?

  •  Serotonin: important brain chemical – clear thinking, emotion control, sleep…
  •  How can we make more serotonin?
  •  How can we have our brains release it so that
  • Taking a walk in the daylight — even on a cloudy day. 
  •  Tryptophan: something you need to eat in order for your brain to make serotonin
  •   Extra Cautions…
  • > If you are on medication that can affect who your body responds to light.
  • > Too much UV light?  How much is too much for your skin and eyes? (ask your Doc.)
  • > You are already taking an antidepressant medication (SSRI or MAO) or other medication that affects your brain chemistry.
  • > Light/Skin/Eye sensitivity or problems

 Some “Light and Brain” Info:

 – How does a lack of sun affect us?, Science Channel – http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/affects-of-lack-of-sun

– Boosting Your Serotonin Activity, Psychology Today –  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201111/boosting-your-serotonin-activity

– Discovering Light Effects on the Brain, The American Journal of Psychiatry –  http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=96553

– Study suggests bright light therapy may improve sleep and brain function post mild TBI,  http://www.news-medical.net/news/20130601/Study-suggests-bright-light-therapy-may-improve-sleep-and-brain-function-post-mild-TBI.aspx

– Can light make us bright? Effects of light on cognition and sleep. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21531248

– Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain, Lancet –  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480364

– Unraveling the Sun’s Role in Depression, WebMD http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20021205/unraveling-suns-role-in-depression


(NOTE: The following links are provided by way of reference only.  There are many resources available on the web and some may contain differing views, facts and opinions.  This podcast, and HART does not endorse any of the authors, their views or products.  This is only a sample of articles that you may find helpful.  Always investigate for yourself.  Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes that could impact your health.]

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