Vitamin deficiencies are often associated with a host of health problems, but the link between vitamin deficiency and poor sleep is usually overlooked. Studies have started to show relationships between certain vitamins and quality of sleep.
Between 50 and 70 million U.S. adults suffer from some form of sleep disorder, including insomnia, according to the American Sleep Association. If that’s not enough, Americans spent $41 billion on sleep aids and remedies in 2015. That’s more than they spend on any other ailment, making sleeplessness the biggest epidemic facing the nation today.
Vitamin A plays an important role in setting our circadian rhythm - our body’s programming of when we sleep, for how long, and when we wake back up.
Apart from rods and cones, there are cells in our retina that are responsible for setting our circadian rhythm, known as intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). In these cells, a protein called melanopsin exists and its function is to communicate to our brain that it is daytime in response to blue light entering the eye.
When blue light from sunshine enters our eyes, Vitamin A translates it into a signal that tells our brain it is daytime. When these signals reduce significantly as the sun sets, our brain knows that it is nighttime. This means that Vitamin A plays an essential role in helping us fall asleep on time, get high quality sleep, sleep long enough, wake up feeling rested, and staying alert and energetic throughout the day.
Essentially, without vitamin A, our brains cannot know when it is daytime and cannot maintain a steady circadian rhythm. When this happens we are less likely to feel alert in the daytime, less likely to feel relaxed in the night time, and less likely to get adequate, regular, restful sleep.
But Vitamin A is not alone in helping control our sleep cycle - it has a partner that is essential for maintaining our circadian rhythm. Vitamin E is known for being extremely good for skin and nails, but it is also an antioxidant that will help with your sleep and more efficiently re-energize.
Throughout the day as our bodies turn food into energy, we naturally create free radicals or oxidative stressors that are released into our body. If not stopped, these free radicals floating around cause us to remain in a state of stress all night. That can lead to difficulty falling asleep even though we feel tired or causing us to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night feeling wide awake.
Vitamin E seeks out, scavenging throughout our bodies looking to neutralize these free radicals by donating a hydrogen molecule to each of them. Essentially, just like our skin needs Vitamin E to prevent tired skin from free radicals, the rest of our body needs it for the same reason - to keep us feeling energized by stopping free radicals from zapping all our energy.
But that’s not it. While Vitamin E is balancing away free radicals it’s also the most essential vitamin to create more energy. All day and especially while we’re sleeping, Vitamin E turns other nutrients into energy so that when we wake up we feel refreshed.
How is stress involved?
When we are feeling stressed throughout the day our body uses up Vitamin A and Vitamin E as they try to cope with stress. To put it simply, when we get stressed our body responds by flooding our bloodstream with hormones and having a whole bunch of physical reactions. And, in an attempt to calm these changes, the body needs to use all the fuel at hand to slow our pulse and relax our bodies. As this is happening throughout the day we end up not having enough of these vitamins in our system to do both and our bodies prioritize the process of destressing over sleep.
Now if we assume that we’re all not going to suddenly be less stressed every day, then we need to make sure our bodies get extra doses of Vitamins A and E so we don’t run out - that way our body can do both destress and manage our circadian rhythm.