If you are not getting a good night’s sleep each and every night, you are not only depriving yourself of the energy you need to make the most of each day, but you are also putting your health at risk!
The 2010 Sleep in America poll recently released by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that upwards of 75% of Americans believe that poor sleep is associated with health problems and that approximately 20% report missing work or family functions because they were too sleepy.1
These findings are hardly a surprise since more than 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep disorder, and sales of over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids are at an all-time high. Americans are losing sleep over money worries and the economy, job stress, and relationship difficulties. Falling asleep is hard, staying asleep is even harder, and the health risks increase with each sleepless minute.
Although insomnia isn’t considered a disease by itself, it can lead to numerous health problems. Lack of sleep may result in reduced energy levels, lack of motivation, slower reflexes, irritability, disorientation, dark circles under the eyes, and fatigue. Sleep is also the time that the body rejuvenates and repairs itself. Without sleep, the immune system suffers and the number of natural cells that fight viruses and cancers decline.
But there is hope … and it doesn’t come in the form of a prescription drug. There are natural solutions to insomnia and other sleep disorders that work with your body to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake refreshed.
Melatonin and the science of sleep
Our sleep/wake cycle is governed by circadian rhythms, with two daily peak times for sleeping, night and midday. As the sun goes down in the late afternoon, the cells in the retina of the eye send a message to a cluster of nerve cells known as our circadian clock, located in the hypothalamus deep in the center of the brain. The circadian clock then signals the pineal gland to produce the hormone melatonin.
When melatonin is released by the hypothalamus, it causes drowsiness and lowers the body temperature, and ultimately it induces sleep.
Melatonin levels peak at about 2 a.m. in normal, healthy young people and about 3 a.m. in older people. The maximum amount of melatonin released in the bloodstream of older people is only half of that of young adults.2 The delay in timing and decrease in intensity of the melatonin pulse is a natural result of the aging process, and in fact, low production of melatonin at night is associated with insomnia in patients aged 55 years or older. The good news is these patients have been identified as being more likely to respond to melatonin supplementation.3
By giving your body the natural sleep inducers it needs—melatonin, GABA, and taurine—and naturally reducing stress and anxiety with proven medicinal herbs like passion flower, magnolia, and bacopa, you will go a long way toward getting the healthful sleep you need.
In addition to melatonin, there are other natural sleep aids available. Some, like melatonin, are produced naturally in the body but production can decline with age making supplementation necessary.
Others are natural herbs and nutrients which can be used to re-establish a normal sleep rhythm. Also, a number of these nutrients pacify nervousness and alleviate stress, which can contribute to disrupted sleep rhythms.
Another natural sleep aid: GABA
GABA (Gamma Amino-Butyric Acid) is naturally produced by the body and is the main inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitter in the brain. Its function is to decrease neuron activity and inhibit nerve cells from over-firing. Too much brain activity can lead to restlessness and insomnia, but GABA works to inhibit the number of nerve cells that fire in the brain, reducing anxiety and allowing a restful nights sleep.45
Normally, our brain produces all the GABA we need. But our GABA levels may become depleted from poor diet, illness, or exposure to environmental toxins. GABA levels also decline with age and a deficiency can result in insomnia,6 anxiety, irritability, and depression.
GABA sleep studies
A recent double-blind, placebo controlled study at the UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, followed 18 patients with sleep disorders who were given either a placebo or a supplement containing GABA. Before they started the supplement, it took the treated group about 32 minutes to fall asleep. After taking the supplement, it only took about 19 minutes, on average. Before supplementation, the duration of their sleep was about 5 hours, and after supplementation it increased to about 6.83 hours. There was virtually no change in the placebo group.7
Based on these findings, along with personal accounts, raising GABA levels seems to have a significant impact on quality of sleep.
Like melatonin and GABA, taurine is manufactured in the body. Taurine is a non-essential amino acid produced by the body through the synthesis of two other amino acids, methionine and cysteine. It performs many functions … It regulates heartbeat; maintains the stability of cell membranes; transports calcium in and out of cells; and regulates the activity of brain cells.
It is in the brain that taurine assists with sleep. Taurine supports brain neurotransmitters and helps regulate the release of melatonin and GABA in the brain. If your taurine levels get too low, it may cause anxiety, epilepsy, hyperactivity and poor brain function. On the other hand, sufficient taurine levels are believed to contribute to a feeling of calmness, essential to restful sleep.8
Harvest a good night’s sleep with relaxing herbs
One of the most common issues affecting sleep is anxiety. If you can calm your nervous system with natural, time tested herbal remedies prior to going to bed, you can reduce the affects of anxiety and get a healthy night’s sleep. Here are three herbs that have proven stress and anxiety relieving properties:
Passion Flower Extract (Passiflora incarnata) was used by Native American Indians as a sedative and sleep aid.
Today, it is revered by herbalists the world over for its sedative and tranquilizing abilities and is approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness.
In addition to passion flower’s traditional use for depression and nervous disorders—including gastrointestinal complaints of nervous origin—it is also used to relieve tension headaches, muscle aches and spasms, pain, hyperactivity, insomnia, epilepsy, to alleviate anger, and help lower blood pressure. Although it is a central nervous system depressant, it does not leave people feeling groggy or drugged.
Many herbalists recommend passion flower for treating Parkinson’s disease because of its antispasmodic compounds.10 Passion flower can also be very effective in relieving nerve pain such as neuralgia and shingles (a viral infection of the nerve endings).
Magnolia Extract (Magnolia officinalis) from the Magnolia tree contains potent antioxidants, and is a powerful non-addictive antidepressant that alleviates stress and anxiety, without the tranquilizing side effects of drugs. When we suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression, it’s common to have trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep. In fact, insomnia is strongly connected with clinical depression and may even be depression’s first recognizable symptom.
Magnolia extract takes the edge off, and improves quality of life … without the risk of side effects you might get from a pharmaceutical antidepressant. Dozens of animal studies have shown that it acts as a non-addictive, anxiolytic (antianxiety and anti-stress) agent at low doses.1011
Bacopa monniera—named Brahmi in the Ayurvedic texts, probably for Lord Brahma, the Hindu creator of the world and originator of Ayurveda—is recognized as a powerful brain enhancer.12
It is still considered to be the greatest herb in Ayurveda for treating age-related mental decline, as well as for improving cognitive processes, including comprehension, memory and recall. It also enhances the crucial coordination of these three aspects of mental functioning, and helps increase one’s ability to solve problems.
For four weeks, 35 patients were treated for anxiety neurosis. After treatment they were assessed for clinical anxiety levels, maladjustment levels, mental fatigue rate, and immediate memory span. The patients who took bacopa had a 20% reduction in anxiety levels. Their maladjustment and mental fatigue were significantly lower than before treatment, and their immediate memory-span scores were significantly increased.
In other words, bacopa improved memory and productivity by reducing anxiety and related problems.13 A number of compounds have been identified in bacopa, including bacosides A and B, two chemicals that improve the transmission of impulses between nerve cells in the brain.14 These bacosides regenerate synapses and repair damaged neurons, making it easier to learn and remember new information. Bacopa also increases serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and relaxation.
Give your body what it needs to sleep
Healthy sleep is a natural part of life and the lack of it can shorten yours. By giving your body the natural sleep inducers it needs—melatonin, GABA, and taurine—and naturally reducing stress and anxiety with proven medicinal herbs like passion flower, magnolia, and bacopa, you will go a long way toward getting the healthful sleep you need.
- National Sleep Foundation, 2010 Sleep in America poll
- Bourne RS, Mills GH. Sleep disruption in critically ill patients – pharmacological considerations. Anaesthesia. 2004 Apr;59(4):374-84.
- Dean W, Morgenthaler J, Fowkes, SW. Smart Drugs II. Smart Publications, 1993, 2000. Petaluma, CA.
- Jha SK, Yadav V, Mallick BN.GABA-A receptors in mPOAH simultaneously regulate sleep and body temperature in freely moving rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2001 Sep;70(1):115-21.
- Gobaille S, Schleef C, Hechler V, Viry S, Aunis D, Maitre M Gamma-hydroxybutyrate increases tryptophan availability and potentiates serotonin turnover in rat brain. Life Sci. 2002 Mar 22;70(18):2101-12.
- Wang SX, Li QS. Effects of sleep deprivation on gamma-amino-butyric acid and glutamate contents in rat brain. Di Yi Jun Yi Da Xue Xue Bao. 2002 Oct;22(10):888-90.
- Shell W, Bullias D, Charuvastra E, May LA, Silver DS. A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of an Amino Acid Preparation on Timing and Quality of Sleep. Am J Ther. 2009 May 4. [Epub ahead of print].
- Birdsall T. Therapeutic applications of taurine. Alt Med Rev 1998;3(2):128-136.
- Hoffman, David, The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts, April 1998.
- Kuribara H, Kishi E, Hattori N, Okada M, Maruyama Y. The anxiolytic effect of two oriental herbal drugs in Japan attributed to honokiol from magnolia bark. J Pharm Pharmacol 2000 Nov;52(11):1425-9.
- Maruyama Y, Kuribara H, Morita M, Yuzurihara M, Weintraub ST. Identification of magnolol and honokiol as anxiolytic agents in extracts of saiboku-to, an oriental herbal medicine. J Nat Prod 1998 Jan;61(1):135-8.
- Singh HK, Dhawan BN. Neuropsycho-pharmacological effects of the Ayurvedic nootropic Bacopa monniera Linn. (Brahmi). Indian J Pharmacol 1997;29(5):S359-65.
- Singh RH, Singh L. Studies on the anti-anxiety effect of the medyha rasayana drug, Brahmi (Bacopa monniera Wettst). Part 1. J Res Ayur Siddha 1980;1:133-48.
- Rastogi S, Pal R, Kulshreshtha DK. Bacoside A3 – a triterpenoid saponin from Bacopa monniera. Phytochemistry 1994 May;36(1):133-7.