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Insomnia Insights – the science

Insomnia insights - PerformancePro

In the final part of this series of Insomnia Insights, we look at the science behind the changes PerformancePro director Dan Boulle made to tackle his insomnia. We also suggest a way forward for your own health and fitness.

In Part 1 of Insomnia Insights, The Truth is… , Dan shared the impact his lack of sleep was having. In Part 2, Tackling Insomnia, he identified that the one big change he needed was made up of eight small changes. In Part 3, Beyond Better Sleep, we shared the significant impact of these changes in helping Dan achieve better sleep.

Here we look at the scientific explanation behind each small change.

Insomnia Insights – Stimulants

For Dan, the first step in tackling insomnia was to look at the stimulants he was consuming and how they were affecting him.


Most of us are aware that caffeine found in coffee, and many other drinks, is a stimulant. It gets into our system quickly, maybe 20 minutes or so and you’re feeling the effects.

Caffeine has many attributes and is a psychoactive drug as it affects the brain. More precisely it blocks the effects of adenosine which builds up during the day making you tired and wanting sleep.

Caffeine can also increase levels of adrenaline and brain activity. Amongst other things, this leads to greater alertness and stimulation which can happen just when you need to be calming everything down ready for sleep.


Alcohol doesn’t always have to be viewed as the enemy, but when we are talking about sleep it has a negative impact in various ways.

Whilst alcohol may help you get to sleep it disrupts your sleep cycles, resulting in more time spent in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is less restful than deep sleep. Alcohol also relaxes muscles including those within the nose, mouth and throat resulting in increased snoring which also leads to less restful sleep. Finally, it acts as a diuretic so having taken on extra fluid you are far more likely to wake up in the night needing the toilet.

Alcohol can also lead to unwanted weight gain.

Insomnia Insights – Internal Health

The next step for Dan was to look at his internal health including his gut health.

Probiotic (Symprove)

Intuition tells us that by improving our gut heath by using a probiotic it may well play a larger part in overall wellbeing as well as contributing to improved sleep.

Whilst research is still equivocal, a picture is starting to emerge that suggests gut bacteria help regulate hormones and the neurotransmitters that affect our sleep.

It appears that through a cascade of events gut bacteria influence the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates how sleepy we are. In addition, it is believed that good bacteria help produce a chemical called GABA that exerts a calming effect on the brain. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can also be lowered with good gut health.

So, all in all, more potential for improved sleep!

Pre biotic

Pre biotic is a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines ie. essential food for your gut bacteria. So by feeding your gut bacteria you are helping maintain a good balance which can lead to improved health.

Now there are plenty of foods that naturally contain pro biotic such as oats, legumes, beans, bananas, berries and asparagus.

One of the bi products of gut bacteria digesting pre biotic fibre is the production of butyrate. Research indicates that this can influence gene expression, block the growth of cancerous cells and help provide fuel to healthy cells so that they can grow and divide normally. Butyrate also has anti inflammatory affects on the colon.

And finally, the primary reason it was on Dan’s list of eight insomnia tackling changes, it has been shown to help improve sleep if taken before bed.

Insomnia Insights – External Environment

Dan then turned to his external environment recognising that in the winter months especially, he can often go several days without seeing daylight.

Vitamin D

It’s important to note that the research isn’t unequivocal but Dan’s rational is

“I live in a low sunlight environment. As sunshine is the key catalyst for the synthesis of Vit D, a little extra isn’t going to do any harm!’”

Vitamin D acts more like a hormone and the way it affects the body is quite complicated. But it is now believed that Vitamin D has a more far-reaching impact than first thought, possibly helping combat, cancer, depression and improving physical strength. Vitamin D has to go through a conversion stage within the body which in turn enables it to interact with Vitamin D receptors (VDR) within our cells. Dan started taking Vitamin D3.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have a myriad of benefits including better heart health and mental state. In addition, they may also help with diseases associated with mental decline.

Another benefit most of us know about is Omega 3’s support of decreased joint pain in people suffering from arthritis. In studies Omega 3 was also shown to improve the length and quality of sleep.

So having a greater sense of wellbeing, longer and deeper sleep, plus fewer aches and pains could all be attributed to Omega 3…!

No screen time before bed

In a nutshell, these devices emit light of a blue wavelength, which tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime.

The body’s internal clock controls what is known as our circadian rhythm, in other words when to sleep and when to be awake and alert. This internal clock takes its cue from day light and more specifically the blue light spectrum within normal light. As the day fades into dusk and finally into night, the amount of blue light registered by the brain falls and triggers the release of a hormone called melatonin. This in turn signals the brain to get tired and go to sleep.

So by looking at screens late into the night we continue to register too much blue light leading to shorter poor quality sleep.

There are solutions to this, for example using glasses that filter out blue light or using software on your electronic devices that adjusts the level of blue light according to your time zone.

Dan’s solution is much simpler, just don’t have screen time.

Reading before bed

The research around this is massive and varied. For Dan it was simple,

“Reading relaxes me, makes me sleepy and helps me get through the annual reading list I set myself on 1st January every year. Currently, I’m reading one of Malcolm Gladwells books ’Tipping Point’, worth a read.”

In conclusion

In reality there are no major surprises when considering these insomnia insights. Bringing this handful of very simple acts together, however, can make a massive impact. It takes a little bit of discipline but it’s more a question of re-organising things. Once you are in the habit, it becomes easier.

Give it a go and hopefully you’ll enjoy the transformative effect as well!

Whatever your starting point with improving your general health and fitness, PerformancePro can help.

Ready to take your first step and make some changes? Book your free consultation with PerformancePro today >>




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