Serotonin, a neurotransmitter and hormone plays a significant role in regulating circadian rhythms and emotions of an individual. Like other neurotransmitters, serotonin is produced in different parts of the body but targets the brain. This article discusses why serotonin is essential for a good night sleep, read on.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter synthesized in several parts of the body to influence several physiological functions. It is mainly found in the intestinal wall, large blood vessels and the central nervous system (brain).

Functions of serotonin

Serotonin as a neurotransmitter relays signals between nerve cells and neurons hence regulating their overall intensity.

It also plays a significant role in the central nervous system and overall body functions. Serotonin plays some role in bone marrow synthesis and breast milk production.

1. Sleep

The hormone regulates the sleep and wake- up cycles by stimulating the part of the brain that controls sleep. Waking and sleeping all depends on the area of the brain stimulated and the serotonin receptor involved.

2. Mood

Serotonin controls levels of anxiety and happiness, therefore controlling one’s mood in the long run. Low levels of serotonin leads to anxiety and depression.

3. Clotting

Serotonin helps in the formation of blood clots. The hormone is released by the platelets in the event of bleeding. Its release leads to vasoconstriction hence reduction of blood flow and finally clots formation.

4. Nausea

The gut produces more serotonin when you eat something disgusting or one that you are allergic to. This way the body increases transit time and expel the allergen in diarrhoea. Serotonin also stimulates the nausea area in the brain resulting in vomiting.

  1. Sexual functioning

Low levels of serotonin leads to increased libido while its increase leads to low libido. Therefore serotonin is vital in regulating sexual desires in human beings.

Can I suffer from low levels of serotonin?

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. Therefore, the most common symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings
  • Poor memory
  • Unstable moods

Use of recreational drugs such as ecstasy, leads to the release of large amounts of serotonin from the body. Confusion and restlessness are the primary immediate symptoms of serotonin depletion.

Treatment for low serotonin levels

The serotonin selective Re-uptake inhibitors help increase levels of serotonin by preventing serotonin transmitters from absorption. This way serotonin constantly remains high in the brain hence elevating moods. Examples of SSRI’s include:

  • Citalopram
  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline
  • Vilazodone

Can serotonin hormone supplement help with depression? The serotonin supplements have been used to boost moods for some time now.

A serotonin supplement relieves symptoms of depression by boosting serotonin levels in the body. Unfortunately, it is impossible to measure levels of serotonin in the brain. Because of this reason, it is not known whether such supplements are useful across all individuals.

  • Serotonin supplements also help control symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.

Side effects of Serotonin supplements

The SSRIs have some side effects, but they decrease from 2 to 4 weeks of use. Here are the common side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Increased sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth
  • Tremors
  • Reduced libido

 

What is serotonin syndrome?

Also known as serotonin toxicity, serotonin syndrome occurs when one takes more than one serotonin-boosting drugs at the same time. High levels of serotonin lead to excessive stimulation of the CNS and serotonin receptors. Here are other factors that could lead to serotonin toxicity:

Drug interactions

Use of illegal drugs and prescribed drugs may lead to serotonin syndrome as a drug that affects serotonin may be taken at the same time. Symptoms do not occur immediately but after 6 to 8 hours.

Do not take serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors with migraine drugs and triptans. These two classes of medications may increase chances of toxicity.

Carcinoid tumours

Cancerous tumours mostly in the digestive tract may lead to increased production of serotonin. Because most carcinogenic tumours have no symptoms, a routine check-up is essential for early diagnosis and medical management.

Signs and symptoms of serotonin toxicity

Here are the common signs to look for:

  • Confusion
  • A severe headache
  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Dilated pupil
  • Persistent diarrhoea
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Irregular heartbeat

Note that use of a single drug is unlikely to lead to serotonin toxicity.

Is serotonin syndrome treatable?

Treatment for this condition mainly focuses on managing symptoms to restore the normal serotonin levels. Immediate discontinuation of the drugs may help alleviate specific symptoms.

A case of severe serotonin toxicity may require hospital admission and close monitoring. The most common medications used to treat this syndrome include those that help relax stiffened muscles, control blood pressure and inhibit continuous production of serotonin in the body. Additionally, one may be given intravenous fluid therapy to help maintain oxygen levels at peak and reduce chances of dehydration due to excessive sweat.

How can I naturally boost my serotonin levels?

Apart from treatment with serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors, one can boost their levels of serotonin by:

Modifying the diet: Tryptophans are a class of amino acid that can be found in selected foods. Tryptophan helps in positive change of mood simply because it increases levels of serotonin levels. Here are foods to eat to boost your serotonin significantly:

High protein foods: Foods such as cheese and turkey contain tryptophan. Regular consumption of these foods will increase your serotonin levels to a greater extent.

Bananas: Bananas are great mood boosters. They only improve one’s moods if the serotonin they contain reaches the brain.

Lactalbumin is a protein found in milk that is said to contain more tryptophan than most proteins. One should just consume a reasonable amount of milk to boost their serotonin levels.

Exercising: Exercising helps your brain refocus. This way you are able to forget your stress for a while. Exercise has anti-depressant effects that help increase levels of serotonin in the brain.

Mood induction: If you alter your thoughts a bit using psychotherapy or self-induction, serotonin may increase significantly. Always remember that there is a close relationship between serotonin and mood.

Meditating: Meditation helps relieve depression and promote a positive outlook on the life events that could be leading to stress. This way serotonin is significantly improved.

Exposure to bright light: Bright light is a common treatment for seasonal depression. Light has shown to reduce depressive episodes especially in women with the dysphonic disorder and those suffering from depression in pregnancy.

SOURCES AND REFERENCES

1.Depression medication (May 2014)

https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/286759-medication

  1. Serotonin syndrome (June 2016)

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/serotonin-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354758