We’re all about the science here at Bearaby!
One of the reasons we’re so dedicated to weighted blankets is because of the promising research and results that weighted blankets have delivered in the field of sleep and mental health. But how exactly does sleeping with a weighted blanket translate into better, healthier sleep? One of the answers is hormones.
Our hormonal system is an incredibly complex and intriguing aspect of our health. Hormones control just about everything including our stress levels, mental health, weight, appetite, immune function, reproductive health, and even our longevity.
One particularly interesting hormone is serotonin. Serotonin has a huge impact on both our overall sense of wellbeing and the quality of our sleep. Let’s find out more about serotonin and how we can optimize our serotonin naturally.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a small molecule that acts as both a neurotransmitter within the central nervous system and a hormone in the peripheral nervous system. This means that it has a huge effect on communication throughout the entire body and influences key aspects of our health like digestion, mood, and sleep.
Serotonin has been called a “happy hormone” – and for good reason! When we experience a serotonin hit (such as after exercise, enjoying a sunny day, or eating the right snack) our mood improves and we tend to feel happier.
Depression medications often focus on serotonin for this reason. A common class of depression drugs–SSRIs–improve mood by keeping serotonin in our system longer. This increases the amount of serotonin available to our brain and encourages more stable, positive moods.
Serotonin, however, is much more than a happy hormone. In fact, this molecule is known to be a major communicator and facilitator throughout the body and even has a special role for sleep.
Serotonin And Circadian Rhythm
In the 1960’s, researchers believed that serotonin was responsible for lulling us to sleep each night. Later on, we switched tracks and believed that it was responsible for wakefulness. Now, we have settled on the more likely conclusion that well, it just depends.
Serotonin maintains our circadian rhythm by managing our sensitivity to light. During the spring and summer seasons when we are exposed to more light, serotonin reduces our sensitivity to keep our sleep schedule on track. Conversely, when daylight wanes in fall and winter, serotonin increases our sensitivity to light, preventing us from sleeping too much when exposed to longer bouts of darkness.
Along with modulating our light-sensitivity, serotonin is also the chemical precursor to melatonin - the key hormone that makes us feel sleepy at night.
Serotonin And REM Sleep
Studies show that increased levels of serotonin correspond with decreased time spent in REM sleep. While we need a balance of REM and non-REM sleep, it is during the non-REM sleep that our brain rests and our body regenerates. Stages N3 and N4, both in non-REM sleep, are the most restorative stages of sleep and leave us feeling well-rested. Increased serotonin levels help to increase the amount of time we spend repairing and healing at night.
Warning: Low Serotonin!
It’s obvious that serotonin takes on some mighty tasks, so what happens when our serotonin levels are too low?
The biggest signs that our serotonin levels have dropped is poor sleep and bad moods. Serotonin is key in maintaining a regular sleep cycle, so if you’ve been struggling to get on track for a while, this hormone might have something to do with it. Increases in anxiety or depression are also key signs that serotonin is either too low or not being used properly by the body.
The causes of low serotonin vary from person to person. These are some common reasons you might be experiencing a slump:
Prolonged periods of stress
Poor diet (we make serotonin from healthy proteins, vitamins, and minerals)
Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and artificial sweeteners
Lack of sunlight
Natural Ways To Boost Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is a natural molecule that our body creates, so there’s no reason we can’t combat low serotonin by enhancing our body's ability to create this hormone. Here are our favorite ways to boost serotonin and enjoy better health naturally:
1. Weighted Blankets
Of course weighted blankets are our favorite remedy! We love using a weighted blanket like the Tree Napper to dissolve our excess stress at the end of the day and prepare for a truly restorative sleep. Under the deep touch pressure of a weighted blanket, your brain is naturally cued to release stress and fall into sleep mode. Stress-free sleep gives us the natural energy to make more serotonin and stay happy.
2. Healthy Diet
Serotonin is made from the food we eat, namely tryptophan, vitamin B6, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. We need an adequate amount of high-quality foods to increase and maintain better levels of serotonin. Try adding bananas, eggs, salmon, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, chickpeas, black beans, spinach, kale, yogurt, or tofu to your diet to give your body some extra-healthy serotonin building blocks.
Movement keeps the blues away, partly because exercise is known to boost serotonin in the brain. Research shows that exercise has the same – if not better effects – on boosting serotonin and banishing depression as medication.
4. Massage and Bodywork
We love massage as a way to bust stress, and now science says that this therapy is more than a self-care treat. Massage reduces cortisol levels and increases serotonin, leaving our muscles and brains relaxed.
5. Light Therapy
Depression can be associated with lack of sun exposure. Depleted serotonin is thought to be a main cause of seasonal affective disorder during these darker months. When possible, spend at least 10-15 minutes outside each day. Investing in light therapy can be a solution when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
If lifestyle changes aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to add in a natural supplement. Encourage serotonin formation with a pure tryptophan, green tea, SAMe, or 5-HTP. Probiotics are great for enhancing our gut health which improves digestion and serotonin production.
7. Sleepy, happy people
The Bearaby team might just be the happiest people on earth. This is because we truly care about our sleep! We know full well how important a good night’s sleep is for our health, stress levels, and overall happiness. (Okay, maybe we also just love to sleep!)
Our loftiest dream is to change the world by helping people sleep better. It might seem like a simple tool, but a weighted blanket has mighty powers. By helping reduce anxiety and improve sleep, they don’t just help us feel more rested, they make us more calm, balanced, and happy in our waking lives. We believe that better sleep makes for happier people, and therefore a better world. Won’t you join us?
Supercharging Your Serotonin With Weighted Blankets
Let’s find out more about serotonin and how we can optimize our serotonin naturally.
Serotonin is a hormone that plays a big role in our sleep, digestion, and mood.
Low serotonin levels can cause depression and anxiety, as well as sleep trouble.
There are many natural ways (like slipping under a weighted blanket or exercising daily) to boost serotonin to improve our sleep and feel happier.
Did you know?
A 2017 study shows that laughing with friends or loved ones releases endorphins and makes us feel happier.