Natural Sleep Aids To Encourage A Restful Sleep
Getting enough sleep is as important to our health as getting enough nutrients and oxygen. Studies have shown time and again that sleep plays a vital role in immune function, memory, learning, mental health, and even the physical repair of the body.
Even if we don’t understand all the science behind it, we know what lack of sleep feels like: terrible. Poor sleep contributes to many health consequences such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, as well as an impaired sense of well-being and productivity. Sometimes, even after implementing good “sleep hygiene” habits, such as a dark, cool, quiet room, no screens close to bedtime, and no caffeine later in the day, sleep can still be elusive. Our body can benefit from certain minerals, herbs, and foods that help us ease into sleep and stay there. Let’s take a look at some of the “heavy hitters” in the sleep aid category.
There are hundreds of different species of passionflower and some of have been used for centuries as alternative medicine. The passiflora incarnata variety is most common as a herbal health supplement. Passionflower contains and appears to boost the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows the activity of the neurons in the brain, thus promoting feelings of calm and relaxation. It is these relaxing properties that are believed to contribute to the positive effects passionflower has on sleep. Studies show that people with mild sleep troubles fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when taking passionflower.
To calm the mind, slow racing thoughts, and improve sleep quality without the negative side effects of medication, give passionflower a try. It is available dried, so it can be used to make a warm bedtime tea, or as liquid extract, capsules, or tablets.
The most commonly used form of valerian comes from the root of this flowering plant and has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. Studies have shown it to be effective as a sedative without the groggy side effects of medication. But how does it work? As with many herbal medicines, it is hard to isolate the one component that makes it effective, when it is likely that it is a combination of many properties that bring about its benefits. However, there are a couple of elements that have been shown to cause it to act as a sedative.
First, the plant contains oils such as valerenic acid which have sedative properties and secondly, it inhibits the breakdown and destruction of GABA in the brain, increasing GABA’s calming impact. These sedative effects lead to improved sleep overall. Studies have shown that valerian helps people achieve deep sleep faster, stay in deep sleep longer, and that it doesn’t negatively impact regular sleep cycles. It comes in powder or liquid form, in pills, or as a dried herb for making tea and is obviously best taken close to bedtime. It is also best to take regular breaks from valerian so your body doesn’t become immune to it’s soothing, sedative effects.
Nestled just above the very middle of our brain, the pea-sized pineal gland plays a large role in our wake-sleep cycles. Although this gland is inactive during the day, around 9pm, or when darkness has fully set in, the pineal gland begins to produce a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin causes you to feel calm, less alert, and sleepy. Melatonin levels remain elevated in the body for about 12 hours and then start to drop as the pineal gland goes inactive for the waking hours. This drop in melatonin brings about raised levels of energy and a more alert state.
Besides the 12 hours on/12 hours off rhythm, the pineal gland is also affected by light and darkness, so turning off artificial lights at night and allowing natural light in during the day both help the body maintain proper melatonin levels for a healthy sleep cycle.
For people who find they are not tired at bedtime and struggle to fall asleep, supplemental melatonin can help reset the biological sleep-wake cycle. There are also several foods that are naturally high in melatonin such as rice, barley, oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, asparagus, and tomatoes. Whether in food or supplement form, a dose of melatonin about an hour before bedtime and keeping the lights low will cue your body to relax and prepare for sleep.
Chamomile is a plant from the Asteraceae family that include daisies and sunflowers and has been used for centuries in herbal medicines. It is, in fact, one of the oldest and most widely documented medicinal plants in the world. Although it is used for many ailments, such as digestive troubles, sore throats, and inflammatory conditions, it is possibly most highly thought of for it's calming and sedative effects. It is common to think of curling up in the evening with a warm cup of chamomile tea to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
So what is it about chamomile tea that aids sleep? One reason is the flavanoid, apigenen, found in abundance in chamomile tea, which binds to receptors in the brain that promote sleep and relaxation. Some people believe the effects of chamomile to be slow or negligible, but that is the nature of many herbal medicines—they often work slowly and incrementally, but they also have few side effects. And aside from the effects of the compounds in the tea itself, we cannot overlook the soothing properties of a bedtime ritual that includes the making and sipping of a warm beverage to prepare our bodies and our brains to slow down and drift off to sleep.
5-Hydroxytryptophan—commonly known as 5-HTP—is produced in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. Once produced, 5-HTP helps the body produce more serotonin—a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycles and promotes restful sleep. Serotonin then helps the body produce melatonin which is another very important sleep hormone. These two powerful hormones regulate our daily sleeping and waking rhythms, helping us prepare for sleep as it gets dark and the day draws to a close.
So how do we increase 5-HTP levels? Since our bodies don’t make tryptophan naturally—we must absorb this essential amino acid from the foods we eat. We can boost our dietary intake of tryptophan, which the body then converts to 5-HTP, by eating foods such as turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, spinach, milk, and bananas. We can also take 5-HTP supplements which are manufactured from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia. As we age, natural levels of 5-HTP appear to decline, so it can become necessary to add tryptophan-bearing foods or supplements to boost sleep.
With its ability to increase serotonin and melatonin, 5-HTP can enable high-quality sleep and keep the body’s sleep rhythms in tune.
Magnesium is incredibly important in the body. In fact, it is one of the seven “macrominerals,” or minerals the body needs in larger amounts to function properly. The body utilizes magnesium in hundreds of cellular reactions. It contributes to bone health, brain, heart, nerve, and muscle function, fighting inflammation, relieving constipation, and lowering blood pressure.
In addition to all of this, it can help you get a good night’s sleep. So how does it help? First, it plays a role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you feel calm and relaxed. A calmer nervous system leads to a deeper and sounder sleep. Second, it helps maintain healthy levels of GABA—a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and relaxation. Third, it helps regulate melatonin—a hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles.
Since our bodies don’t produce magnesium, we must consume magnesium-rich foods and supplements to supply what is needed. Foods that are a good source of magnesium include dark leafy greens, seeds and nuts, legumes, whole grains, dark chocolate, squash, broccoli, avocado, bananas, and oatmeal.
If sound sleep seems elusive, try adding more of this sleep-promoting essential mineral to your routine.
If you find that your mind tends to run at night and you can't get it to slow down, you might need some support to help your body get a restful sleep. Click on the link to read our blog about GABA and how it can help you manage your stress and sleep issues. https://www.herbesthealth.com/blogs/news/sleep-aids-gaba