How Serotonin Affects Your Wellbeing
We know serotonin has something to do with happiness, but for many of us, there are still a lot of questions around what it actually does and how it affects our wellbeing.
Serotonin may be on more of our minds lately as we all look for ways to increase happiness, boost wellbeing and override those dreaded feelings of anxiety and depression. Let’s face it, the long winter months and extended periods of lockdown are doing nothing for our mental health.
You may be wondering how serotonin can play a role in boosting your mood, maybe you’re unclear on the link between serotonin and sleep, or what the difference between serotonin and dopamine is. If you already know a little about how this hormone works, maybe you want to know how long it takes for serotonin to replenish. Here, we’re going to break down the facts and arm you with everything you need to know in order to feel better, sleep longer and live happier.
Serotonin is a ‘neurotransmitter’, meaning it communicates information throughout the brain and body. It’s primarily found in the central nervous system and it contributes to feelings of happiness and wellbeing, but may also affect sleep and appetite too.
They’re often paired together as the ‘happy hormones’, but they operate quite differently. While serotonin is primarily involved with digestion and hormonal activity, dopamine helps control body movements and coordination. Dopamine does however play a role in the brain’s pleasure center and can be linked to feelings of euphoria and heightened concentration which is where it is perhaps most comparable to serotonin.
Serotonin has many functions in the body (it helps with our digestion and even blood clotting), but it’s perhaps most known for how it helps regulate our moods. Often referred to as the ‘feel good’ hormone, serotonin is crucial to our overall sense of wellbeing. It is commonly associated with feelings of happiness and contentment.
There are many factors at play when it comes to our mood and ultimately, everyone is different. However feelings of depression and/or anxiety have been commonly linked to low levels of serotonin. There is no single cause of low serotonin. However, there is a link between certain vitamin deficiencies (e.g. vitamin B6 and vitamin D) and a lack of serotonin. Keeping these vitamins topped up is one way to help support serotonin levels.
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While a link between serotonin and sleep has been widely researched, the results still remain unclear. Melatonin is thought to be a crucial hormone in our sleep cycles and there is a direct link between this and serotonin. Your body needs the former in order to make the latter. So while the serotonin-melatonin relationship can certainly contribute to conditions such as insomnia, there are almost always other factors at play.
Ultimately it varies from person to person and depends on factors such as alcohol and drug exposure and how well your body produces the hormone. Unfortunately, it’s unclear. Studies have suggested it could take anywhere between a day and an entire week.
While the short-term effects of alcohol can appear to boost the overall effects of serotonin including feelings of happiness and ease, long-term alcohol exposure can impact the serotonin receptors in our brains that allow serotonin to function properly within the body.
There are many food sources that contain serotonin but your body also requires other vitamins such as vitamin B6, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in order to produce the hormone.
These key nutrients can be found in foods such as:
• Leafy greens
• Fatty fish
• Nuts and seeds
• Fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt and tofu
A good combination of diet, exercise and light exposure is a solid place to start. Try to get 10 to 15 minutes outside in the sun everyday. This will increase your vitamin D levels which in turn helps to boost serotonin levels. Exercise is also a great way to help with this and generally boost your mood and positive outlook.
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