The importance of a quality, restorative night’s sleep cannot be understated. Put simply, when you sleep well, your whole life is better. Most people realize this, although it is, of course, easier said than done. Plenty of evidence links sleep abnormalities, disruptions, and inefficiencies to immunological issues, mood related imbalances, chronic and pathological disease progression, and of course… lack of energy and drive.
It’s no wonder that in the modern age of anxiety and chronic disease, more people than ever are experiencing sleep problems. In fact, in the United States alone, about 25 percent of Americans experience acute insomnia each year. So, that’s one in every four people. And for chronic insomnia sufferers — meaning continuous and regular difficulty falling and staying asleep — that number is up at roughly 60 million Americans; including nearly half of all adults over 60 years old. Staggering!
Fortunately, there are many herbal and natural substances which can support a better night’s sleep, and, idealistically, placate the continuous torment of insomnia – the loss of energy and vitality, the need to repeatedly dose up on stimulants to simply function in a reasonable way.
Let’s take a look at some of the most reliable herbal sleep support aids:
Although useful for much more than sleep, Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) is used by many for relaxation and thus to facilitate a better night’s rest. Lemon Balm is a wellspring of an herb – it is traditionally and currently used for immune support (possesses antiviral properties), anxiety reduction, digestive support, and much more. From the mint family, it is a pleasant characteristically lemony tasting plant. Experientially, Lemon Balm seems to have a way of mitigating the jitters and tension that can arise from consuming too much stimulants. Sometimes, people simply can’t get into a solid sleep because their body is still metabolizing stimulant compounds, whether from coffee, prescriptions, or otherwise.
Valerian is quite well-known as an herbal sleep aid, as its popular usage even in the U.S. spans back decades. This notoriously “funky” smelling herbal root can invoke sleep sometimes in even the most resistant of users — the most wound-up folks who find nothing can help them to sleep, other than perhaps heavy-duty pharmaceuticals. This is because Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) modulates GABA-ergic transmission – in essence modulating the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter that is associated with alcohol and benzodiazepines. This is not to suggest that it is intoxicating in the same way, only that Valerian can slow things down in a potentially similar way mechanistically, though it is not fully understood pharmacologically. That said, a quick search of PubMed will reveal quite a bit of research on Valerian root.
Passiflora incarnata, or Passionflower, is a beautiful perennial vine native to a large portion of the United States. It has been used in traditional medicinal systems of North America, and South America for hundreds of years. It is known to be a terrific sedative for a restless mind, and can aid in helping anxious individuals get to relax and sleep. Passionflower, somewhat like Valerian root, has been demonstrated in research to have pharmacological effects on GABA receptors. Indeed, there is some promising research out there showing that Passionflower’s traditional usage as an anxiolytic, and sleep-aid is legitimate and should be studied more.
A lot of people know of Chamomile in tea form as a sort of “Grandmother’s Remedy” for getting to sleep when it seems elusive. A member of the Daisy family, Chamomile flower has been used at least as far back as ancient Egyptian times. The volatile oils (aka essential oil) of the flower as well as the flavonoids, such as Apigenin, are the primary bioactives discovered in the herb. Apigenin, being found in many other plants — but yet in a particularly large concentration in Chamomile – has been a significant compound of research with many possible health supporting attributes ascribed to it. There are pharmacological dynamics at work that indicate it can be an effective relaxant and sedative. On the whole, Chamomile appears to be health-supportive and a pleasant, gentle way to help one unwind and facilitate sleep.
In addition to sleep support of the herbal ilk, utilizing a naturally occurring hormone (that you’ve probably heard of) is another tried and true method of supporting restful sleep. This hormone is none other than melatonin. It is secreted in the Pineal Gland in the brain, and is essentially responsible for the rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle; levels of it begin to concentrate just before it’s time to sleep, as darkness is a cue for it to secrete.
Melatonin is one of the most popular supplements in modern times, but many people find that it helps them to sleep, but not necessarily stay asleep, as it is rapidly metabolized. That is, unless one doses a large amount (for most people 5 milligrams and up is considered high) – and in that case grogginess is often a reported side effect the following morning. To get around this issue, one may want to find the smallest possible dose of melatonin that helps them fall asleep smoothly, and use adjunct lifestyle and/or herbal methods to help them actually obtain a deep, restorative sleep; and in the end, ideally restore the entirety of the sleep-wake rhythms on an ongoing basis.
The Ultimate Combination
For folks that have extremely resistant insomnia – that is, it just seems like they need superpowers on their side to get a good night’s rest, fortunately there are products out there on the market that can still potentially help. Most of these types of products combine several safe and effective herbs, alongside melatonin. This is because together there can be a synergy created whereby multiple pathways are affected and some level of saturation, potentially, occurs. As previously alluded to, because melatonin has a short half-life when ingested, it can be terrific in helping induce sleep — but not necessarily in helping people STAY asleep, or sleep through the night without significant interruption. This is, of course, extremely important in gauging a restful sleep. That’s where the addition of the herbal components can come in handy, as many of them have plant compounds that stay active longer, and work through different means, so that a more restful longer sleep can occur — allowing the body to go through its optimal phases of reparation and restoration.
Finding products that work
Many people will initially hop over to their local drug store and find whatever is there in the limited selection of herbal products, or otherwise whatever is the least expensive, and when that product does little to nothing for them, they will write off ‘alternative’ or natural supplements as being useless or even worse, “Snake Oil”. However, it is quite possible that they simply have either not ever tried a high quality product where there are definitely bioactive levels of compounds, haven’t given it a fair chance to work, or have had other confounding factors present.
Finding what works for each individual can sometimes be a challenge, as we are all of course unique in our ways of responding to and metabolizing compounds – whether naturally-occurring or synthetic – however if individual herbs or melatonin by itself is not working well, consider trying a combination sleep formula like our sleep tincture with a blend of 6 herbs, as this could be more effective especially for those with extremely stressful lives or those who need potent sleep support in order to get back on track.