Sleep removes toxic waste products from the brain and lack of deep sleep increases the risk of poor well-being, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and a host of other diseases. According to the American sleep researcher, Dr. Stasha Gominak, poor sleep quality is often linked to vitamin D deficiency. First of all, we need vitamin D to synthesize acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is necessary for reaching the deep sleep stage. Secondly, certain gut bacteria need vitamin D in order to produce vitamin B5 and other B vitamins that are necessary for proper sleep. On the other hand, taking high-dosed supplements with vitamin B5 and B12 may in some cases make it difficult to fall asleep. A healthy sleep pattern requires both vitamin D and B vitamins in the exact right amounts.
Dr. Stasha Gominak is a neurologist and sleep researcher who wanted to find out why so many otherwise young and healthy patients had difficulty with falling asleep. Many of the same patients also suffered from a mild degree of sleep apnea. Dr. Gominak had noticed that the young people had difficulty with entering the deep sleep stage that is characterized by slower brain waves, where the body is motionless, and where toxic metabolic waste products from the activities conducted during the waking hours are removed from the brain. Also, the young patients failed to reach the important REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage where we dream. This stage is vital for our ability to recollect and process experiences. Patients who sleep poorly like this often complain of fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms. Some of the patients lacked vitamin B12, which was hardly a surprise. However, when Dr. Gominak checked their vitamin D status over a period of time, she also found that all the patients lacked vitamin D
In the 1980s, the German scientist, Walter E. Stumpf, had already written scientific articles in which he described the many vitamin D receptors (VDR) in cells in the part of the brain that controls our sleep pattern and ability to enter and exit the deep sleep stage. His articles, however, were forgotten right until Dr. Gominak took a renewed interest in the subject. She carried out a two-year study and concluded on behalf of the study that many sleep problems are linked to being vitamin D-deficient. This is a problem can easily be corrected with vitamin D supplementation.
The brain, vitamin D, and acetylcholine
Thalamus is a part of the cerebrum (the large rounded structure of the brain) that controls our awareness, attention, and sleep. The cells in thalamus contain many vitamin D receptors and when the vitamin enters the cell nucleus, it activates the production of acetylcholine. This process also requires the basic component choline and vitamin B5
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter with many functions in large parts of the nervous system, including the parasympathetic nervous system that is particularly active when we sleep, digest our food, and recharge.
According to Gominak, people with sleep disorders lack acetylcholine which results in insufficient activity in the parasympathetic nervous system and overactivity in the sympathetic nervous system, which is normally activated by fear, stress, and physical strain.
Acetylcholine has a number of important functions and helps us stay awake and alert during the day and fall asleep and move through the different sleep stages at night. Acetylcholine enables us to remain motionless in our deep sleep stage. There are no drugs available that contain acetylcholine but the body is able to synthesize it, provided it has enough vitamin D, vitamin B5, and choline. Choline is found in large quantities in egg yolks.
If we are able to produce enough acetylcholine we can sleep properly. According to Dr. Gominak, the brain is then finally able to repair cellular damage caused by many years of insufficient sleep. The need for sleep may even increase additionally because the brain needs a much more extensive and thorough clean-out.
Acetylcholine is vital for the autonomous parts of the nervous system that consist of:
Vitamin D, B vitamins, and the gut flora
Doctor Gominak also explains how important it is to have enough vitamin D to help the healthy gut bacteria thrive. She focuses on four specific types of bacteria – actinobacteria, bacteroides, firmicutes, and proteobacteria, each of which produces eight essential B vitamins. If there is not enough vitamin D, these healthy gut bacteria are replaced by other gut bacteria that do not need vitamin D and are not able to produce B vitamins.
In order to optimize the gut flora, our blood levels of vitamin D must be at least 60 ng/mL. We can also take strong B vitamins for three months to boost our levels.
However, taking high-dosed B vitamin supplements beyond the point where the gut flora has reached its optimal B vitamin status may cause trouble. In fact, it may result in difficulty with falling asleep or lying awake at night, just like it can cause heart palpitations and excessive thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep.
Dr. Gominak says that there is still a lot we do not know about the optimal dose of vitamins, and she says that it depends on the body’s endogenous production and the amount we get from our diet and from supplements. Her hypothesis is that it is best if our gut flora is able to produce as much of the required B vitamin as possible.
She refers to animals such as bears that hibernate and don’t eat anything for several months. The animals still need B vitamins to support basic but slowed-down metabolic processes and Dr. Gominak believes that the animals are still able to synthesize and store vitamin B6, vitamin B5, thiamin, and vitamin C. Humans, on the other hand, have lost their ability to produce vitamin C as part of their evolutionary development. According to Dr. Gominak, vitamin D and a healthy balanced diet are of primary importance for maintaining a symbiotic and varied microflora in our gut, in our skin, and in our mucous membranes. We can nourish our bacteria so that they can provide us with vitamins, enzymes, lactic acid bacteria, antibiotic compounds, and other essential substances. It is not enough to take supplements of lactic acid bacteria and other types of probiotics unless we continue to nourish all our beneficial bacteria.
Ezgi Dogan-Sander et al. Association of serum 25 hydroxyvitamin D concentrations with sleep phenotypes in a German community sample. PLoS ONE 2019
Gominak SC. Vitamin D deficiency changes the intestinal microbiome reducing B Vitamin production in the gut. The resulting lack of pantothenic acid adversely affects the immune system, producing a “pro-inflammatory” state associated with atherosclerosis and autoimmunity. Med Hypotheses 2016
Gominak SC, Stumpf WE. The world epidemic of sleep disorders is linked to vitamin D deficiency. Med Hypotheses 2012
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